Make smart choices to reduce the risk of chronic disease
First the bad news:
Chronic diseases in U.S. kids and teens are on the rise. Well established evidence now links chronic conditions including asthma, allergies, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, autism, mood and behavioral disorders to chronic inflammation, which is at the root of chronic illness (1).
Chronic inflammation develops as a maladaptive response of our immune system, when ongoing triggers stimulate attack of our cells and tissues. These triggers include factors as far ranging as pollution, stress, poor diet, poor sleep and lack of exercise.
Now some good news:
Growing scientific evidence finds that reducing or removing these inflammatory triggers can play a valuable role in treating as well as preventing many chronic diseases.
Making smart food choices
can be one way
to get kids on the road to
Food is information:
Once we swallow and begin digesting our food, it breaks down into components which can include bioactive molecules. These substances can be beneficial bioactives, which inform cells and tissues how to support the body's optimal health. In this category are vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, and healthy fats.
Additional bioactives exist, which can turn on unhealthy biochemical pathways and among other harmful effects, create the fire of chronic inflammation. Some examples include
pesticides, artificial additives, the endocrine disruptors BPA and dioxin, and yes (you knew this was coming)... unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates.
So how do fats and carbs turn on chronic inflammation?
Too many carbs and not enough fat in the diet tips the balance towards inflammation. The low-fat craze of the 1980's and 1990's was based on findings at the time linking saturated fats to elevated cholesterol and heart disease. Turns out that the science of dietary fat, cholesterol, heart disease, sugar metabolism and genetics is more complex than was known back then (2). Replacing necessary fats with extra carbohydrates can flood the bloodstream with too much sugar which results in chemical reactions that lead to inflammation.
Too much omega-6 fats and not enough omega-3 fats in the diet creates inflammation. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential fats that our bodies need to optimally function but can't make on our own. We must get these fats from our diet. While most of these fats (3 and 6) reduce inflammation, some types of omega-6 fats increase inflammation. A diet with roughly equal amounts of 6 to 3 is ideal. Because processed foods tend to be rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats, eating this type of diet significantly puts us at risk, giving people 14 to 25 times more omega-6 in their diet than omega-3.
Foods rich in omega-3 fats include fish, nuts, algae and leafy greens, while vegetable oils carry the pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats.
Refined carbohydrates are processed plant foods that have been stripped of their naturally occurring fiber, vitamins, and often healthy fats. Examples include white bread, pasta, baked goods and other sugary snack foods. Stripped of their nutrients that slow down digestion, these foods cause a rapid spike in blood sugar when ingested. Elevated blood sugar is now known to contribute to chronic inflammation by causing oxidative stress (a form of stress to our cells) and by releasing releasing pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines and free radicals.
Trans fats, which dominated the processed food industry until recent years have been shown in numerous studies to contribute to inflammation. They have been specifically shown to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Most of these fats were artificially created in laboratories as cheaper replacements for natural fats, which appealed greatly to the packaged foods and restaurant industry. These fake fats were additionally manufactured to produce a desirable taste and texture to appeal to consumers. Fortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made the preliminary determination in 2013 that these foods (which include partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) are no longer recognized as safe in food.
Tune in to my next post to read how to use fats and carbs to turn off chronic inflammation.
To learn more about chronic inflammation, check out my article, The Link Between Inflammation and Chronic Illness.
To learn more about phytonutrients, check out my article, A Rainbow of Phytonutrients.
1. Minihane et al. Low-grade inflammation, diet composition and health: current research evidence and its translation. British Journal of Nutrition, 2015; 1DOI
2. Lawrence et al. Dietary fats and health: dietary recommendations in the context of scientific evidence. Advances Nutrition. 2013 May 1; 4(3):294-302