There is a fair chance you have heard about inflammation and anti-inflammatory foods and drugs.
But what, exactly, is inflammation, and what has it to do with sugar?
Inflammation – friend or foe?
The inflammatory response is a normal activity for our immune system. In fact, we need it!
When injured or infected, the body’s immune system comes to our defence by bringing chemical messengers that act as a repair team, killing off pathogens causing infection, clearing out damaged tissue, and creating an environment that enables healing. This response is called inflammation.
But on-going dietary and lifestyle factors can cause this defense mechanism to overstay it’s welcome or become dysfunctional and act inappropriately, leading to damage and disease of the body. This can result in a myriad of symptoms and disease, including but not limited to:(1-3)
- Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Respiratory diseases, such as asthma
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Functional disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease
- Mood and mental disorders, such as depression
- Allergic disorder
- Type 2 diabetes
There are many factors that influence the inflammatory response, including lack of sleep and exercise, poor gut health, excess weight, and persistent stress and exposure to toxins, pollutants and some medications.(1;4) However, what we eat and drink plays a significant role.
Added sugar and inflammation
Consuming high amounts of added or free sugar and heavily refined or processed food and drink is implicated in causing a sudden spike in blood glucose levels as well as the dramatic drop that can follow, which activates the systemic stress response.(1;5-6)
This then triggers a spike in the inflammatory response, and is normal.
However, eating and drinking these persistently and consistently can contribute to on-going low-grade inflammation. This is unhelpful to overall health.
What to do
Fortunately, there is much we can do to limit this!
For example, whole foods like fruit and veg can contain compounds considered to be anti-inflammatory.(7) Leafy greens provide antioxidants and anti-inflammatory flavonoids and intake of high fibre foods are correlated with lowered inflammation.
Here are some things to consider limiting and enjoying everyday to discourage chronic inflammation:
- Added and free sugars
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Refined carbohydrate-rich foods
- Heavily processed foods, such as confectionary, refined oils, processed meats and deep-fried stuff
- Chronic stress. Moments of stress are fine, but try not to let them dominate each day
- Brightly coloured whole veg and fruit
- Omega-3 rich oils from oily fish, walnuts, flaxseed, chia and hemp seed
- Leafy greens, such as spinach, rocket and kale
- Spices and herbs, such as ginger, turmeric and parsley
- High fibre foods, such as whole veg, fruit, legumes and seeds.
In addition, drink plenty of water, get moving and undertake some de-stressing activities, as all will help keep in managing inflammation.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut Med)
- Bosma-den Boer, MM, van Wetten, M, & Pruimboom, L (2012), Chronic inflammatory diseases are stimulated by current lifestyle: how diet, stress levels and medication prevent our body from recovering. Nutrition & Metabolism. 9(32) http://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-9-32
- Galli SJ, Tsai M, Piliponsky AM (2008) The development of allergic inflammation. Nature, 454(7203):445-454.https://doi:10.1038/nature07204
- Kolb, H. & Mandrup-Poulsen, T. (2010) The global diabetes epidemic as a consequence of lifestyle-induced low-grade inflammation. Diabetologia,53(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-009-1573-7
- Nat Immunol (2017). A current view on inflammation. 18(825).http://doi.org/10.1038/ni.3798[No authors listed].
- Dickinson, S. et. al (2008) High–glycemic index carbohydrate increases nuclear factor-κB activation in mononuclear cells of young, lean healthy subjects. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(5). https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1188
- Jameel, F., et. al (2014). Acute effects of feeding fructose, glucose and sucrose on blood lipid levels and systemic inflammation. Lipids in Health and Disease, 13(195). http://doi.org/10.1186/1476-511X-13-195
- Minihane, A. M., et. al. (2015). Low-grade inflammation, diet composition and health: current research evidence and its translation. The British Journal of Nutrition, 114(7), 999–1012. http://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114515002093