“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a common saying we’ve all heard. Although it’s quite an exaggeration (we all know apples aren’t a cure-all), perhaps the person who first said this was onto something. It is common knowledge that everyone should eat healthy food such as vegetables, fruits and lean meats and avoid bad foods like processed meats, sugars, highly refined food and saturated fats. But why?
Research has shown that bad foods create a chronic inflammatory response in our bodies, which, over time, causes diseases like diabetes, heart disease and even autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in America are due to inflammation, including heart disease, cancer, COPD/lung diseases, strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and kidney disease.
The bad foods have become part of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Think about what most people normally eat throughout the day. Breakfast is usually cereal, milk and bacon. Cereal is made of highly refined grains with tons of added sugar like high fructose corn syrup and food dyes to make it pretty. Bacon is processed meat, full of preservatives. Lunch is usually more processed meat on bread made of bleached flour, and finally, dinner is even more processed meat with some veggies. Thanks to this diet, we are exposed to inflammation throughout the day.
Considering the substantial amount of inflammation we are exposed to, it is no surprise that heart disease is the number one cause of death in America or that approximately one out of every ten people you see today has diabetes. Significant amounts of research point to inflammation as the root cause of all these diseases.
To be clear, inflammation is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, inflammation is the body’s natural response to perceived threats. For example, every time we get sick, our body’s immune system creates an inflammatory response to destroy whatever is causing our ailment. Once the sickness subsides, the inflammation should subside. However, if the inflammation does not, that is when trouble begins. Inflammation leads to increased free radicals, which are molecules whose sole purpose is to destroy. If there is nothing to eliminate the free radicals (like the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables), they start to target healthy tissues, which in turn causes another inflammatory response and creates a perpetual cycle of destruction. Therefore, eating foods that cause inflammation leads to long-term damage to our bodies and diseases.
One way to remedy this is by consuming food that helps to combat inflammation. Eating certain foods has been shown to decrease inflammation in our bodies; these foods are part of the anti-inflammatory diet. The anti-inflammatory diet is an eating plan consisting of food rich in nutrients, vitamins, fiber and minimally processed whole grains and phytochemicals (healthy chemicals made by plants). The Mediterranean, plant-based, DASH and MIND diets are anti-inflammatory diets because they encourage consuming many fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and unsaturated fats and limit highly processed grains, meats, refined sugars and oils.
Research surrounding anti-inflammatory diets is on the rise because they demonstrate the ability to decrease inflammation in our bodies. For instance, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve diseases clinically, meaning improve symptoms or in some cases reverse the disease. Furthermore, the Mediterranean diet decreases the risk of developing these inflammatory diseases. Anti-inflammatory diets are recommended to people suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
The research is clear: eating an anti-inflammatory diet is good for you. Now the question is, how do you do that?
First, talk with your primary care doctor about starting one of these diets. The next step is to educate yourself. There are many respected online resources that offer more information about these diets. Harvard Medical School has a quick-start guide to an anti-inflammation diet, while Cleveland Clinic has information on a Mediterranean diet and Mayo Clinic offers sample menus for the DASH diet. After learning more about these diets, plan how to change your eating habits. Start with small, practical changes, such as buying more of your favorite fruit when grocery shopping. Understand that the minimum goal is to make 80% of your weekly meals anti-inflammatory; however, if you can eat 100% anti-inflammatory meals, then you will reap all the rewards.
In conclusion, will an apple a day keep the doctor away? Probably not, but an apple, plus many other fruits, vegetables, unprocessed whole grains and healthy fats will help keep inflammation away. Furthermore, this eating method will help you live a healthier life.
If you don’t have a primary care doctor, the providers at Northeast Georgia Physicians Group would be happy to talk more with you about your health. Schedule an appointment today at ngpg.org/providers.