What Unhealthy Food Does to Your Body: Inflammation

When we eat food that upsets the natural balance of our bio-system, our body considers the food an unfriendly intruder and goes to war.

To fend off the intruders, macrophage warriors are dispatched by our immune system to engulf them. Macrophages are white blood cells with big appetites for toxic substances. Their activity signals the rest of the body that a defensive war against invaders is underway.

Inflammatory Defense

Continually eating unhealthy food is much like having a chronic infection, keeping the body on red alert. Soon, our entire system is firing away at the irritating foods, causing inflammation in the bloodstream and tissues.

While the body works overtime to eliminate these toxins, the unhealthy foods create a craving for more bad food.

For instance, many processed foods are loaded with added sugars and trans fats that can inflame the intestines. This type of inflammation makes it difficult for the brain to get the sugar it needs to function well. A lack of sugar in the brain cells causes people to crave sugary foods.

Eating more sugary food fuels inflammation, perpetuates sugar cravings and, not surprisingly, results in weight gain.

Inflammation that persists and serves no purpose damages the body. Many illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, metabolic syndrome and even some mental disorders, are believed to be triggered by chronic inflammation.

10 Tips for Reducing Inflammation

Every bit of food we put into our mouths tips the balance to or away from inflammation and its consequences. The following suggestions can make your diet more anti-inflammatory:

  1. Eat a wide variety of fresh whole foods, especially colorful fruits and veggies.
  2. Focus on eating less-processed, less-refined foods that are low on the glycemic index.
  3. Consume more whole grains, such as bulgur wheat or brown rice, where the grains are still intact or left in large pieces. (Processed whole-wheat flour has nearly the same glycemic index as white flour.)
  4. Avoid foods with high-fructose corn syrup (some companies now label it as “fructose”) and trans fats. Avoid margarine, vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated oils.
  5. Cook with extra-virgin olive oil or expeller-pressed organic canola, sunflower or safflower oils.
  6. Get more of your protein from fish and vegetables (especially legumes) and less from four- and two-legged animal sources.
  7. Get plenty of fiber – 40 grams per day is ideal – by eating more vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains.
  8. Eat cruciferous vegetables (from the cabbage family) regularly.
  9. For a sweet treat, consider plain dark chocolate with 70 percent (minimum) cocoa content.
  10. Get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids by eating fatty fish, ground flaxseed and omega-3 fortified eggs, or by taking a high-quality fish or krill oil supplement.

If altering your diet seems confusing or overwhelming, start by eating less packaged and fast food while adding one healthy vegetable to your daily or weekly diet. When you are comfortable with those changes, make one or two more, and so on.

Sources: Micheal Roizen, MD and Dr. Weil
Photo credit: Torba Hopper

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