Reducing inflammation through diet
By member Kristen Sherman, Muncie, Ind.
Kristen Sherman is a registered dietitian and an international board-certified lactation consultant.
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
There are many different interpretations and theories about the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Was it physical? Maybe mental? The one thing we know is that it must have been uncomfortable.
One recurring and painful thorn for many people is inflammation, which can take many forms. It can be low-level inflammation and we don’t feel the immediate effects. It can occur due to an autoimmune system disease or show up in a common condition, such as arthritis.
In any form it can be constant, nagging and unhealthy. Medication, exercise and stress can all play a role in how you feel this thorn; you may need to see your doctor for specific recommendations on adjusting those. Changes in diet, however, can help improve inflammation quickly.
Some foods increase inflammation—it doesn’t matter how healthy you are. These culprit foods can signal your body to release inflammation-causing compounds. Also, your body can mistakenly interpret a food as foreign and attack it on a cellular level, causing inflammation.
Alcohol can contribute to inflammation, as can large amounts of processed or refined foods. It’s possible to be affected by one or more causes of inflammation. Here’s a list of the most common inflammation-causing foods with suggestions on how to decrease their intake:
Sugars: Most Americans’ diets (sometimes called the standard American diet or SAD) contains a lot of processed sugars. Be on the lookout for and limit sugar, honey, maple syrup, fructose, sucrose and other ingredients that end in “ose.” Instead, try satisfying your sweet tooth with fruit. If you can’t resist a sweet treat, eat a sensible portion occasionally rather than routinely.
Saturated fats: Cheese and pizza with meats are delicious. They’re also two of top foods containing saturated fats (fats found in animal products). Limit your intake of red meats, full-fat dairy products, creamy pasta dishes and grain-based desserts like cake and pie. Try reduced-fat cheeses, vegetable oils in place of solid animal fats and skinless chicken and fish.
Trans fats: This type of fat was once widely used in many processed products. Research prompted the United States (FDA) to not-quite-totally remove it from our foods. Be sure to check nutrition labels for partially hydrogenated oils in order to identify the presence of trans fats. Fast food, fried foods and a limited number of processed foods are the ones most likely to contain them.
Omega-6 fatty acids: A healthy balance of omega-6 combined with omega-3 fatty acids is good for you; an excess of omega-6 alone is not. Limit mayonnaise consumption along with the use of corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, peanut and vegetable oils. Try canola or olive oil as substitutes. Look for these oils in processed salad dressings. Eating more omega-3 rich foods such as fatty fish, walnuts, soy beans, chia seeds and flaxseed gives a good balance of omega-6 and omega-3 foods.
Refined carbohydrates are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and often are not nutrient dense. To reduce inflammation, limit your intake of potatoes and potato products, white rice and white flour products. Instead, aim for whole grain, nutrient-packed choices.
MSG is a seasoning additive that enhances flavors. It’s found in many processed foods: Asian dishes, salad dressings, deli meats, prepared soups and soup mixes and some fast foods. Again, reading labels can help you identify which products are MSG-free and what foods to avoid. Decrease consumption if total elimination of foods containing MSG isn’t feasible. Every bit adds up.
Aspartame: This sugar substitute is found in thousands of sugar-free products like diet soda pop. Some people are more sensitive to its effects, so avoid aspartame entirely if you feel you’re sensitive to it. There are many other sugar-free and aspartame-free options.
Alcohol: Documented negative health consequences of alcohol use are well known. Alcohol is best used in moderation—or better yet, not at all.
Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn. For whatever reason, God chose not to do so. When we receive an answer of “no” or “not yet,” we need to recognize we have some responsibility and can do our part to lessen the pain of our thorns. I suspect that Paul, too, was doing whatever he could to get by each day—he didn’t let his thorn get in the way of his service to the Lord:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
We may not feel strong while tackling the pain of inflammation. We may not be able to handle our own thorns the way Paul handled his. However, he gave us an excellent example of how we can renew our minds and help make our thorns more bearable. Our greatest relief comes from combining prayer with taking action. Tap into both and feel the power of how lifestyle changes such as stress relief, exercise, medication and diet can lessen our discomfort as we face our thorns.
Editor’s note: Kristen Sherman is a registered dietitian and an international board-certified lactation consultant. She also serves as a nutritional consultant for companies launching educational products. Kristen and her husband, Pastor Michael Sherman, have been CHM members since Jan. 2017 and reside in Muncie, Ind.