Sugar, Sugar, Sugar. It’s in the news and at the tip of everyone’s tongue. You have likely heard that you should cut down your sugar intake for various reasons, but did you know that one of the biggest reasons to be mindful of your sugar intake is to reduce inflammation in your body?
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Recent studies have shown that consuming added sugar such as sugar-sweetened beverages increases inflammatory markers in the body. In fact, a study looking at nutritional data from over7,000 adults showed that consuming just 5% of your daily energy from added sugar was enough to raise inflammation markers in the body. For the average person, this amount is less than what’s typically found in one can of soda.
Before getting into why it’s important to lower systemic inflammation, an explanation of inflammation is needed. Inflammation happens when your body responds to an outside exposure perceived as an attack, perhaps from a virus, bacteria, or wound. It activates immune cells to target the damaged area, creating inflammation as a way to recruit more immune fighters. The inflammatory immune response can be both positive and harmful. In the case of a small cut, the rallying of the system is helpful in the healing processes. The challenge occurs when this inflammation is no longer short term like with the common cold, cold, but persists day in and out, such as is the experience when getting the majority of one’s nourishment from fast and processed foods abundant in refined grains, added salts, lab-made fats, and added sugars. On a regular and consistent basis, this has the significant potential of throwing your body out of whack. The body responds by rallying the inflammatory cascade.
Chronic inflammation can affect your body in many ways. First, it can create a host of undesired symptoms such as joint pain, mood alterations, and fatigue. Beyond these uncomfortable symptoms, chronic inflammation has been tied to the development of many more serious chronic diseases that are prevalent in society including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Particularly of interest during the current pandemic, chronic inflammation can also weaken your immune system, making you prone to more frequent infections. In fact, a recent study in JAMA looking at over 200 patients in Wuhan, China determined that those with the highest inflammatory markers had the worst COVID outcomes.
In looking for ways to lower inflammation, it is important to think about how to replace pro-inflammatory foods containing higher amounts of added sugar with other flavor-filled, anti-inflammatory foods. This journey will look different for each person and there is no one size that fits all for reducing added sugars.
A first great step is to add naturally sweet foods that contain anti-inflammatory phytonutrients to your diet. Phytonutrients are the chemicals found in plants that give your favorite fruits and vegetables their bright colors. These chemicals are known for their antioxidant capacity and ability to lower the amount of inflammation in your body.9Adding fruits and vegetables to your nourishment is a great way to reap the benefits of naturally sweet foods. In addition to enjoying plant foods, herbs and spices can take a meal to the next level. Many spices, including ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon, have been linked to lowering systemic inflammation. Some great ideas to incorporate more spices, fruits, and vegetables into your diet include adding chili and lime to mango, cinnamon and peanut butter to a banana, or roasting garlic, thyme, sweet onion and lemon alongside your favorite vegetables. As a bonus, stock your pantry with herbal and green teas for a flavorful, anti-inflammatory drink to sip on throughout the day. These above flavor combinations are so powerful and supportive of whole body health.
— Maya Feller MS, RD, CDN
About Maya Feller
Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition is a registered dietitian nutritionist who is a nationally recognized nutrition expert. In her practice, she provides medical nutrition therapy for the management of and risk reduction of non-communicable diseases. Maya received her Masters of Science in clinical nutrition at New York University, where she is adjunct faculty. Whether addressing the nation or working one on one and with groups, Maya believes in providing nutrition education from an antibias patient-centered, culturally sensitive approach. Maya is dedicated to promoting nutrition education that helps the public to make informed food choices that support health and longevity. Maya shares her approachable, real food based solutions to millions of people through regular speaking engagements, writing in local and national publications, via her social media account on Instagram, @mayafellerRD, and as a national nutrition expert on Good Morning America, GMA3: What You Need to Know and more.She is the author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes for a Healthy Life.