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Chronic Inflammation and Nutrition

Inflammation is a natural part of our body’s defense systems in which we remove any harmful irritant, dead cells, or toxins and begin the healing process. Acute, or short term, inflammation is what we think of when we bump our knee or stub our toe. It involves heat, redness, swelling, and usually pain. Chronic, or long term, inflammation is repeated or constant internal inflammation that can be associated with long term problems such as diabetes, heart disease, COPD.

Inflammation can be caused by many things: chemical exposure, physical damage, bacteria or even things such as stress. A lesser thought of source of inflammation is our diet! What we eat directly impacts our inflammatory response and can really impact our likelihood of developing and propagating chronic inflammatory diseases. Some common culprits of inflammation include: sugar, refined starches, trans-fat, and omega 6 oils (commonly found in refined vegetable oils).

Sugar is something that has invaded almost every area of food and can be found in everything from a can of soda to the fries at McDonald’s. The World Health Organization currently recommends that no more than 5% of your caloric intake be from sugar which would be about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons a day. For comparison, your average 12 oz can of soda will have about 40 grams of sugar! Now, there are many different types of sugar and not all sugar is bad. To keep things simple, the best course of action is to try and limit the amount of added sugar in your diet. This would mean that in place of eating your granola bar, eat some berries or fruit instead. Additionally, eating whole fruits is preferable to drinking fruit juice, due to the added fiber and nutrients you get with eating the whole fruit. Avoiding added sugars can really help reduce spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels which can start the inflammatory process.

Refined carbohydrates fall into a similar category as sugar in that they are broken down into sugars in your body so that you can use it for fuel. Refined carbohydrates are foods such as pastas, white bread, white rice, or cereals. These foods are typically processed in a way that removes much of the fiber and micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) that the foods would naturally have. This leaves you with a simplified food that will break down quickly and increase blood sugar levels while not actually giving you any of the nutrients you need. Better choices include things such as whole wheat options for pasta and bread, sprouted grain foods, and brown rice.

Trans-fats are oils are created through the process of refining unsaturated fats. There has been a large push against their use and the FDA banned their use in 2018 following several studies demonstrating a harmful effect. However, trans-fats can still occur and be in a variety of foods. Some common foods to avoid would be: fried foods, anything with vegetable shortening such as certain baked goods, pizza doughs and some microwave popcorns, non-dairy creamer and generally anything that has hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list.

Omega 6 is the final culprit on our list. There is nothing inherently unhealthy about omega 6 oils, and they are actually healthy for your heart! The issue arises between the ratio we create between omega 6 and omega 3 oils. The ratio should be 4:1 for omega 6- omega 3, however we over consume omega 6 oils as they are found in many common vegetable oils such as corn or soybean oil. When in overabundance, the Omega 6 oils are processed by the body into inflammatory molecules that can be harmful, rather than helpful for the body. Eating foods high in Omega 3 oils such as fish, walnuts, and chia seeds, can help us reach our optimal ratio between the two oils to ensure we are providing the best care for our heart.

Overall its best to try and avoid foods with added sugar, refined carbohydrates, and with hydrogenated oils. The easy way to do this is to limit the amount of processed foods you eat and prioritize eating whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and anything you can make in your own home.


Author: Edgar Vargas, PT, DPT

Dr. Edgar Vargas, PT, DPT received his Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with emphasis on Exercise Science from California State University, Long Beach graduating Cum Laude. He later received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Chapman University. He has clinical experience in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings including orthopedic and neurologic. Through his treatments, Edgar aims to treat the patient as a whole by listening to and understanding the individual needs of the patient. He seeks to educate each patient so that they may become confident in managing their conditions.Outside of the clinic, he spends his time rock climbing, traveling, and relaxing with his family and friends.

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