Because no single way of eating works for everybody.
I dropped a brick on my foot yesterday.
Staring down this afternoon at my right big toe, in its current state of swollen, red, stiffened, pulsing pain, I am moved to contemplate not only my clumsiness and stupidity, but also… inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s way of dealing with immediate problems – like infections, fungi, and those times when you distractedly drop a heavy object on an unsuspecting body part. Those kinds of situations result in acute inflammation. It happens, it helps the difficulty, and then when the problem is solved, it stops.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand – the kind of inflammation response that’s mostly internal, and never really goes away – is more and more being considered as the main culprit in a great many other diseases. In the simplest sense, chronic inflammation can cause the body’s defense cells to attack healthy cells, mistaking them for invaders. This Scientific American article says chronic inflammation “has gained recognition as an underlying contributor to virtually every chronic disease—a list that, besides obvious culprits such as rheumatoid arthitis and Crohn’s disease, includes diabetes and depression, along with major killers such as heart disease and stroke.” Not only that, but “the possibility of [chronic inflammation’s] link with a third major killer—cancer—has received intensive scrutiny in this decade.”
And apparently, some of our habits can worsen this condition – or reverse it.
Of course, one thing we can do is change the way we eat. This Huffington Post article and this anti-inflammation diet sheet from the For Dummies series give a good run-down on the diet recommended to reduce or eliminate chronic inflammation. More research is ongoing, but these guidelines are what’s out there now.
A brief summary: eat lots of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats (olive and coconut oils seem the least controversial here), meats that aren’t too fatty, and Omega-3 oils. Some people apparently benefit from avoiding plants from the nightshade family – tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers – but I can’t yet find anything about how to tell whether you’re one of those people. Trans-fats, sugar, refined grains, over-use of alcohol and dairy products, foods cooked on high heat for long periods of time, vegetable oils made from seeds, MSG, and gluten can all increase your inflammation level.
As this Women’s Health article points out, it’s not all about the foods we eat. Pollution, overweight, stress, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, and tobacco smoke can also mess with our internal systems, triggering the inflammation reaction. The more research is done, it seems, the more chronic inflammation is implicated in so many of today’s health problems.
I’m looking at all these factors together, and certain other thoughts pass through my mind. For instance, that much of what these guidelines are telling us seems to involve living a less synthetic, more natural-to-humans lifestyle, involving fewer processed food products, and more moving around. That we really do need to reduce pollution in our physical environment, and the tension and stress in our mental and emotional environment. That in many ways, as a species, we’re our own worst enemy.
That it’s time we started making friends with our bodies, our world, and ourselves.
I’m going to leave you with those thoughts now. Go eat a salad with some olive oil, or take a walk while thinking peaceful thoughts. I’ll join you later. Right now I’ve got to put more ice on my toe.