We’re digging into a big topic today, INFLAMMATION, and I was so happy to invite my friend and fellow registered dietitian, Desiree Nielsen, to share some easy, actionable tips for managing inflammation (and two new hemp mylk recipes) as a gut-expert and someone I totally trust. And you guys, it’s her BIRTHDAY today!!!
You may have seen Desiree on the GUSTO cooking show The Urban Vegetarian or perhaps on the news, or maybe she’s graced your Instagram feed (so worth a follow for the record, she’s a wealth of information). Desiree is also launching a plant-based anti-inflammatory cookbook, Eat More Plants, that is coming August 2019 from Penguin Canada (same publishers as Jillian and my cookbook- which is coming in fall 2019 for those who have asked)! Desiree is beautiful, funny, happy and so so smart and is here today to talk about something that is so important to our everyday health: inflammation. I’ll let Desiree take it from here… and Happy Birthday Girl! xo Tori
Your skin. Your energy levels. Your gut. Your ability to tackle your daily run.
What do all of these seemingly unrelated things have in common?
They are all impacted by your level of chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is a hot topic, with good reason: it affects how you feel on a daily basis and how well you are over time. Most chronic diseases – from celiac disease to heart disease and cancer – are inflammatory states, so taking steps to cool the flames is critical to living a vibrant and healthy life. So join me and take a deep dive into how inflammation arises, how modern living fans the flames and the simple steps you can take to stop inflammation in its tracks.
Despite all of the challenges that chronic inflammation can cause, it could be easy to forget that your body actually needs inflammation. When it works well, inflammation is part of your natural, healthy immune response. If you cut yourself in the kitchen, that redness, heat and swelling you feel is inflammation going to work. It is your body’s first line of defence against the dangers of the outside world. When inflammation works well, it goes to work quickly on an immediate issue and then shuts off when the work is done.
Inflammation has become an issue because so many of us are walking around with chronic levels of inflammatory response every single day. Unless you have inflammatory skin issues like rosacea, acne or eczema, it’s also invisible to the naked eye. You may or may not feel it – or not realize that what you’re feeling is attributed to inflammation – but it’s there. It’s the cheeks of someone with rosacea (like me!) or the irritable tummy of someone with IBS. Inflammation is there in the fatigue of someone with chronic pain, the aches of a marathoner and the mind of someone dealing with depression.
The Origins of Inflammation
To have a better understanding of inflammation, it’s helpful to explore the immune system’s role in the body. Your immune system defends you against all sorts of physical or chemical injuries; modern life is almost tailor made to challenge those defences with daily micro-aggressors. As your body responds to work deadlines and caramel frapps in the same way it does a virus, your immune system may lose its balance between tolerance and action to stay chronically inflamed.
Your immune system presents both physical and biological barriers to potential harm. Your skin is the most obvious barrier…its thick walls help keep the outside world out. However, you have another, more fragile, physical barrier protecting you: your gut!
Your digestive tract, in addition to being the wonderful nourishment machine that it is, is also a critical barrier between you and the outside world. What makes the gut very different from your skin is that your gut barrier is just one cell thick so that it can effectively absorb nutrients. To make things really interesting, you also have trillions of bacteria living in your digestive tract! So, in your body’s infinite wisdom, roughly 80% of your immune activity is centred in and around your gut.
When the gut is healthy and its barrier function is intact, your immune system is in a state of calm surveillance. However, if the gut barrier should falter due to stress, poor diet or disease, the immune system goes into high alert. Similarly, when your community of gut bacteria is healthy and well, it actually communicates with your immune system to help foster appropriate and calm immune responses. The right gut bacteria can actually help lower inflammation by protecting the gut barrier from potentially harmful bacteria and blocking pro-inflammatory immune pathways.
Lifestyle Drivers of Chronic Inflammation
Modern living is fast-paced and filled with less than healthy options for feeding our bodies. So let’s take a look at five key drivers of chronic inflammation.
Stress: This one is a biggie for many of us…and the primary driver of my own inflammatory troubles in my gut and my skin. While many of us consciously know that high stress levels aren’t healthy, few of us recognize how clearly stress shows up in our body. Cortisol, the hormone that marks chronic stress responses, actually interferes with immune function and tends to increase pro-inflammatory markers…which in turn, increases cortisol release. It’s a feedback loop that can make inflammation hard to get under wraps.
Low fibre diets: Fibre, as unglamourous as it may seem, is actually a critical anti-inflammatory compound because it feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut. Well-fed bacteria will help you fight off inflammatory microbes, reinforce the gut barrier and create short chain fatty acids like butyrate that nourish the gut, immune and nervous systems to fight inflammation. Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fibre a day, while men need 38 grams.
Refined sugars and flours: As we move away from whole foods towards a hyper-processed diet filled with rapidly absorbed and nutrient poor carbohydrates, we ride a constant blood sugar roller coaster that drives inflammatory states. Choosing whole grains and unsweetened foods most often is an important part of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Excess intake of inflammatory fats: High fat, high sugar diets are one of the most consistent drivers of imbalanced gut bacteria in the scientific literature. When we eat hyper-processed foods filled with omega 6 and saturated fat from processed oils like corn and soy oils, we drive pro-inflammatory pathways, harm our gut barrier and change our gut bacteria for the worse. Do your best to choose fewer grain and seed oils and eat more sources of healthy fat like avocado, raw nuts, omega3-rich seeds and olives. For those on a whole food, high fat diet such as a lower carb or ketogenic diet, note that saturated fats may be less detrimental for you.
Inactivity: Regular moderate exercise calms the mind and strengthens immunity. Try to move your body daily, even if it’s a brisk walk to pick up your kids from school each day. For athletes, note that strenuous daily exercise can actually create inflammation – which you can manage with careful attention to a healthy diet.
Five Simple Ways to Soothe Inflammation
On the wellness path, it’s important to remember that our bodies are designed to heal. For many of us, soothing inflammation means eating more whole plant foods and taking basic steps to live well. These five strategies may sound too simple to be beneficial, but they are transformative. Nourish your body well and it will respond in kind.
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
I am famous for disliking food rules…but I have to admit, this is the one I tend to live by. I love this ‘rule’ because no matter the style or pattern of how you eat, you can make it work by simply adding more produce to your plate or doubling the vegetables in your favourite recipes.
Each time you eat, try to make ½ your plate fruits (less) and vegetables (more!). For the average person, this means 1-2 cups of produce at every meal. It may seem like a lot, particularly for those of us who enjoy vegetables as a side dish. I would like you to move veggies to the main event! Why? Because each fruit and vegetable comes packed with its own unique mix of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals in addition to gut-friendly fibre.
- Enjoy 1 teaspoon of turmeric a day
Turmeric is a classic wellness food for a reason! Few spices are as well researched; however, that doesn’t mean we don’t still have a lot to learn about how it works best in the body. For that reason, I recommend that people go food first whenever possible. Ideally, try to consume one teaspoon a day, which admittedly takes some dedication. Add it in ¼- ½ teaspoon doses to smoothies, warming golden mylk beverages, popsicles, sauces and stews. Turmeric has stumped researchers a bit by being poorly absorbed and rapidly cleared from the body. Interestingly, turmeric may work directly in the gut, and the polyphenols in turmeric may have prebiotic effects, meaning that it promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Eat fermented foods daily, and consider a probiotic
Understanding the role of the gut in chronic inflammation has completely changed how I practice; for me, anti-inflammatory living now begins in the gut. That means nourishing the right community of gut microbes. I love eating fermented foods daily, such as kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and miso. If you have cabbage in the garden, all you need is salt and a clean glass jar and you can make your own nourishing kraut at home!
If you have serious inflammatory concerns such as psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome or arthritis, talk to your health care provider about taking a clinical strength probiotic. They can be life-changing…. but there is a big variation in what’s available on the shelves. I recommend looking at www.probioticchart.ca or www.usprobioticchart.com for some of the evidence-based products on the market.
- Eat omega 3-rich foods daily
Omega 3 fats help drive anti-inflammatory pathways in the body; particularly because they balance the effect of omega 6 fats that are far more prevalent in our diets, we want to make a daily effort to consume more omega 3s. Omega 3 fats are unique in that they aren’t found in many foods; on a plant-based diet, your main sources will be chia, flax and hemp seeds! Aim for 2-3 tablespoons a day of these nutrient-dense wonders. Leafy greens, grains and nuts will offer additional support. If you eat fish, cold water fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel also provide a good source.
- Be Mindful
As someone who knows firsthand the effects of stress on inflammation, I cannot recommend some sort of mindfulness-based practice enough. Stress is constant in modern life; however, it is our perception of stress that determines our physiological response. Mindfulness practice can take many forms: it can be a simple as taking one-minute deep breathing breaks three times a day, journaling, sitting in nature sans distraction or doing 10-20 minutes of guided mediation a day.
Clearly, our immune system is critical for keeping us strong and resilient as we walk through life. However, it’s our duty to nourish it properly so it can keep its inflammatory responses balanced. By managing stress, moving our body, eating plenty of colourful plant foods and reducing our intake of hyper-processed snack and convenience food, we can cool the flames of inflammation and reclaim our energy and wellbeing.
Nourishing Hemp Mylk
Whenever possible, I love providing anti-inflammatory nutrients through food, as nature intended. Hemp seeds are one of my go-tos because of their high omega 3 content, protein and minerals that promote gut-healing and appropriate inflammation response such as magnesium and zinc. Simpler to make than nut mylk as it doesn’t require straining, each cup of this mylk contains double your daily the omega 3 requirements!
Makes approximately 1 ½ litres
Gluten Free, Nut Free, Paleo Friendly, Vegan, Vegetarian
- 1 cup hemp hearts
- 4 cups water
- tiny pinch of salt
For Golden Hemp Mylk
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch black pepper
- ¼ cup pitted Medjool dates (about 2-3 dates), soaked in hot water for 5 minutes
In a high speed blender, blend the hemp hearts with water and salt until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the turmeric, cinnamon, pepper and dates and blend again for 1 minute.
Store in a bottle in the fridge for up to 4 days; separation is normal for a natural plant mylk. Just shake before serving!
Desiree’s new plant-based anti-inflammatory cookbook, Eat More Plants, is coming August 2019 from Penguin Canada!
To contact or follow Desiree:
Photo credit for the pictures of Desiree: Britney Gill