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National Nutrition Month: Focus on Inflammation

DeeDee Mehren, certified holistic nutritionist and culinary nutrition expert, of Feed Mind Body Soul.

Did you know that there are over 839 million results for nutrition in a single Google search? The sheer volume of information circulating on the internet is enough for anyone to get overwhelmed and call it quits before they even try a new path to wellness. At Gardyn, we’re all about living a healthy life centered around the whole person, starting with a well-rounded approach to nutrition.

During the month of March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign focused on the importance of informed food choices and establishing healthy eating and physical activity practices.

Each week we will focus on common ailments adults are facing in the United States and practical suggestions from certified industry experts on how you can promote a healthy life for yourself and your family.

Gardyn is committed to working with health-focused practitioners and communities to inspire you to live a more harmonious lifestyle.

Inflammation

Forever getting a bad rap, inflammation is part of our bodies’ natural defense system and, according to Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, medical editor of Understanding Inflammation from Harvard Health Publishing and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, plays an important role in alerting us to potential problems.

“People think inflammation needs to be stomped out at all times, but it plays an essential role in healing and injury repair to keep your body safe and healthy,” said Shmerling in Harvard Men’s Health Watch. “Some inflammation is good. Too much is often bad. The goal is to recognize when inflammation is simply doing its job, and when it can potentially cause problems.”

There are two types of inflammation:

Acute – When the body is injured and responds with redness, swelling, and pain.

Chronic – When the immune system is on overdrive and responds for a long period of time with wave after wave of white blood cells attacking healthy tissue and organs.

When inflammation reaches the chronic state it becomes problematic. Research has shown that chronic inflammation is associated with conditions such as some cancers, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and autoimmune conditions. It is currently estimated that 60% of US adults have at least one chronic condition and 40% have two or more.  

Nutrition is a good place to start when battling systemic inflammation, however, jumping into a completely different lifestyle is often an overwhelming step to meet challenging health goals.

A firm believer in making small shifts in behavior that turn into lasting habits, certified holistic nutritionist and culinary nutrition expert, DeeDee Mehren of Feed Mind Body Soul says true health and wellness are not achieved with one-off diets and fads.

“Wellness is a life-long journey focusing on the foundation of a healthy lifestyle which I consider to be the four pillars: nutrition, movement, stress, and sleep,” says Mehren.

“Picture a table with each of the four legs (pillars) holding it up. You could be eating “clean and green” every day, but if you are stressed out and sleeping four hours a night your health will falter.”

The foundation of Mehren’s pillars includes community and purpose.

In terms of lifestyle, Mehren reminds us that chronic stress on a cellular level is equally as harmful to our bodies as it is to our mental health. Food and mood are very much connected.

“What we need to do is be able to switch our autonomic nervous system from sympathetic mode (fight or flight) to a parasympathetic state (rest and digest). While we all have stress in our daily lives, there are simple ways we can control it, and not let it control us.”

deedee mehren

And with 75-90% of visits to doctors linked to a stress component, if left unchecked, could lead to a chronic disease or inflammation.

Finding a trigger to inflammation flareups can be frustrating to narrow down, so Mehren suggests we explore and discover what creates systemic inflammation in us as an individual.

“We are all biochemically different at a cellular level; combining that with our age, sex, activity, and other lifestyle factors and we should have a clue that a one size fits all approach is worthless.”

So, where do I start?

Small changes and implementing new habits slowly are helpful, so let’s start with a foundational knowledge about inflammation, which diets are prone to exacerbate this condition, and which are helpful in treating it at its root cause.

Diets that exacerbate inflammation:

Diets high in refined starches, processed foods, sugar, trans-fats, and those low in omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants, and fiber can increase systemic inflammation.

A typical anti-inflammatory diet includes whole foods rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, quality protein and fiber. Harvard Medical School published an article explaining what an anti-inflammatory diet is – a natural approach using fresh foods and cutting out processed snacks and meals. This helpful infographic highlights leafy greens, nuts, berries, and (good) fatty fish.

Infographic via Harvard Health Publishing

Water: A simple step to fight inflammation

While Mehren’s #1 advice in chronic inflammation is cutting processed food, any easy way to start is with quality water.

“Proper hydration is paramount to good health. We should all drink high-quality filtered or spring water throughout the day. Water should be consumed more between meals than during, and the water should not be too cold so it does not interfere with digestion.

A good benchmark is to drink at least half of your weight in ounces per day. I typically start each day with a half liter of room temperature water to get my system moving and then continue drinking throughout the day. You can also upgrade your water by adding in lemon, apple cider vinegar and/or quality sea salt.

Staying hydrated helps us by decreasing fatigue, alleviating aches and pains, increasing energy levels, recognizing hunger signals, and can also relieve constipation.”

Try Mehren’s Hydrating Anti-Inflammatory Water Recipe.

Image credit, DeeDee Mehren.

Disclaimer: Articles, interviews, and suggestions featured on the Gardyn website should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice from a licensed doctor and/or clinician. Please contact your preferred health provider for personal care and advice.

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