As the role chronic inflammation plays in disease has come to light, fighting inflammation with dietary changes has become an increasingly popular topic. Health care professionals, therapists, mom bloggers, and celebrities all have their take on what inflammation means and how to treat it. There can be a lot of misleading and even contradictory information out there, but there are a few basic tips you may find helpful when making dietary choices:
Know your inflammatory foods and how they work
You'll often hear that red meat is bad for you. What you won't hear, or maybe won't understand if you haven't researched it, is why. The first time my nutritionist told me to stay off red meat she followed up her suggestion with "because of the prostaglandins, you know." And while I didn't "know," I certainly made sure she thought I did, so I just nodded my head and accepted the fact that I would be eating less In-N-Out. What I learned several years later put all the puzzle pieces into place for me: macrophages, a type of cell involved in chronic inflammation, produce prostaglandins. If you have an inflammatory condition and your macrophages are releasing prostaglandin, putting more prostaglandin into your body through diet will only perpetuate the inflammation. So when someone throws you a list of inflammatory foods and tells you to stay away from them, do your research. Find out the mode of action of each food in your body and discover what causes the inflammatory response. Knowing how an inflammatory agent works helps you stay away from it, because you understand what it's actually doing to your body. Knowledge truly is power.
Learn to listen to your body
Based on who you talk to, you should be on the gluten free diet, paleo diet, FODMAP diet, GAPS diet, or any other number of fix-it, fad diets. The problem with these is that they don't take into account that every BODY is different. A girl once told me that after she was diagnosed with her food allergies she did research on her ancestry and discovered that none of the foods she was allergic to were found in the diet of her ancestral people. The evolution of your people group sometimes plays a role in what your body can and can't accept. For example, though soy is often touted as a health food, and whole continents of people consume it on a daily basis with no problems, it is also listed as one of the 8 most common food allergies. If your ancestors evolved in a European or African culture you may be more susceptible to a soy allergy than someone with Japanese ancestry. These are things to take into consideration as you experiment with taking out or adding in certain foods. As you begin to try cutting out different things, you will absolutely learn how to hear what your body is saying about what it likes and what it doesn't like. The hard part then becomes having the self-control to stay away from the foods you know your body doesn't like...
Listening to your body includes "good" foods, too!
Listening to your body sometimes means cutting things out of your diet even when you're told it's anti-inflammatory and good for you. Coconut oil is supposed to be the most amazing thing since sliced bread - my body hates coconut oil. When looking through lists of anti-inflammatory foods (that is, inflammation-fighting foods), realize that maybe not everything on that list will work for you. You can be allergic to absolutely anything, and it is vital that you obey the voice of your body telling you what it doesn't want to eat. Choose to listen to your body.
Talk to a doctor or nutritionist
Changing your diet can be dangerous depending on your health conditions. Make sure you discuss diet with your doctor, and get a referral for a nutritionist if you are able. A nutritionist will be able to ensure that your body is getting the proper nutrients even if you have to cut some foods out. She or he can also do testing for certain types of food allergies, which can be quite helpful in making the best dietary choices for your body's needs. Do remember, it is your body, you are the one who has to live in it, and these are your choices. No one else gets to make them for you, so step up and be empowered.
Mattson Porth, C. (2011). Essentials of pathophysiology: concepts of altered health states (3rd ed.). Philidephia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.