"Inflammation and Diet: Fitter, Faster, Stronger" was written by Pip Taylor. Pip is an accredited sports nutritionist and accredited dietitian, professional triathlete, author and mother of two. Pip recently had her first book published, 'The Athlete’s Fix’. Check out Pip's favorite snacks for fueling workouts here.

 

Acute inflammation is the body's natural and healthy response to injury, illness or stress. Inflammation is part of the healing process and necessary for athletes. But when inflammation becomes pervasive and chronic, then it becomes detrimental. Chronic inflammation is increasingly being recognized as the primary cause of many health issues, rather than just a symptom. Inflammation can accelerate progression of obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease, digestive and gastrointestinal issues, arthritis, asthma, allergies and some cancers [1]. Thankfully, chronic inflammation is something that we can, to some extent, reduce through lifestyle choices. Diet, exercise, sleep, stress, pollutants, are all major contributors but diet is often the easiest for us to change.

 

Top Sources of inflammation:

 

  • Sugars and sweeteners: When blood sugar is high, the body produces more cytokines, a type of inflammatory marker. Sugar affects blood sugar levels, causing hormonal responses which prompts inflammation. Many other health issues have been linked with the consumption of excess sugar including diabetes, obesity and other associated inflammatory conditions[2].
  • Refined grains and carbohydrates: White bread, biscuits and other refined carbohydrates are quickly converted in the body to sugars, leading to a rapid insulin response and production of free radicals[3].
  • Omega 6 fats, trans fats and hydrogenated oils: Omega 6 oils are essential within the body but most diets provide an excess of Omega 6’s in proportion to Omega 3’s. The ideal ratio is somewhere around 1:1 or 2:1 (Omega 6: Omega 3), however many standard western diets sit at around 16-20:1[4]. Vegetable oils, (including corn and soy oil) which are the most commonly used in fast foods and packaged foods, are rich in Omega 6’s.
  • Gut irritants such as alcohol and individual food intolerances: anything that irritates or disrupts the mucosal lining of the gut wall will result in inflammation[5]. A permeable barrier separates the gut from the internals of the body, letting in select molecules (nutrients, water) and keeping others out (large food particles, bacteria, viruses etc). An irritant such as alcohol, or gluten in the case of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, can compromise the barrier so that foreign substances are allowed into the body that would not normally be there – eliciting an inflammatory immune response.

 

Top foods to curb inflammation:

 

  • Fatty fish: salmon, sardines
  • Leafy greens: spinach, kale, broccoli
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Herbs and spices: ginger, turmeric, chili and cinnamon.
  • Garlic and onions
  • Beetroot
  • Carrots
  • Berries and cherries
  • Olive oil
  • Probiotics: natural yogurt, kefir, kimchee, sauerkraut, kombucha
  • Dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa

Athletes and Sports Foods: The stress of exercise means that requirements for nutrients are increased. High intensity exercise requires an adequate supply of energy. Sports foods can help provide readily digested and convenient sources of fast acting energy to delay onset of fatigue and support performance. Higher carb intake in and around sessions will help support immune function and hormone production. But too great a reliance on sports foods can mean that wholesome, real foods are neglected.  Getting the balance right means paying special consideration to key workouts as well as races that warrant the use of specialized sports foods. Rather than think of foods as being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the context and timing of when and how they are eaten needs to be considered.

 

Check out Pip's favorite snacks for fueling workouts here.

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[1] Welberg, Leonie. "Metabolism: Sugar on the brain." Nature Reviews Neuroscience 15.9 (2014): 563-563. [2][2] Yang, Quanhe, et al. "Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults." JAMA internal medicine 174.4 (2014): 516-524. [3] Bengmark, Stig. "Processed foods, dysbiosis, systemic inflammation, and poor health." Current Nutrition & Food Science 9.2 (2013): 113-143. [4] Patterson, E., et al. "Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids." Journal of nutrition and metabolism 2012 (2012). [5] Leclercq, Sophie, et al. "Role of intestinal permeability and inflammation in the biological and behavioral control of alcohol-dependent subjects." Brain, behavior, and immunity 26.6 (2012): 911-918.