- Brian Bender, PhD
Salt and Inflammation: Understanding Anti-Inflammatory Diets
If you struggle with chronic aches and pains, then eating an anti-inflammatory diet might be in your future. You already might be seeing your chiropractor to help ease the aches and pains, but a specialized diet can speed up the process of finding more relief. These diets involve eating foods with nutrients that help their body fight inflammation. Most anti-inflammation diets are heavy in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
When eating an anti-inflammatory diet, you should avoid eating heavily processed foods like lunch meats and junk food. Food with added sugars should also be avoided. One question that many people have about anti-inflammatory diets is in regards to how much salt they should eat, since many of the prohibited foods in an anti-inflammatory diet have high salt levels.
The Body Needs Limited Amounts of Sodium
Sodium is an important nutrient the body needs. The mineral is responsible for helping the muscles relax and contract, and it helps send nerve impulses through the body, too. It helps your electrolytes stay in balance. The kidneys do the job of storing and releasing sodium, and any extra is released in urine.
What Happens When You Eat Too Much Salt?
It is best to avoid eating or drinking foods that have high levels of sodium. If the kidneys are overworked, sodium builds up in the blood. Since sodium holds onto water, the blood volume swells and forces the heart to work harder. Eventually, people who ingest too much sodium can develop high blood pressure. They can eventually have kidney disease, heart failure, or even cirrhosis of the liver.
The extra sodium in the body exacerbates inflammatory diseases. When you eat too much salt, your joints can become disturbed, especially if you already suffer from arthritis. Many people with arthritis already have tendencies to retain sodium as corticosteroids hold sodium as a side effect.
Studies show that too much salt affects the immune system, which can result in tissue inflammation. People who already have hypertension or heart problems have an increased inflammatory response when they have too much salt. This can result in organ damage and other chronic, life-threatening problems.
Salt intake creates a problem for people with disorders beyond arthritis. Studies of patients with multiple sclerosis also had more problems when they ate foods with high salt content. The studies showed that salt caused some immunological processes to flare, which often resulted in painful inflammation.
How Much Salt Do You Need?
There are several FDA recommendations for salt intake based on age, weight, gender, and race. Many recommendations include only eating what is already in the foods you eat and not adding any salt. It is easy to find other salt-free spices to add flavors to your food. Many foods, like dairy products, vegetables, and lean meats, already have sodium in them, and adding table to them can be overwhelming for the kidneys.
Anti-inflammatory diets are not magical cures, but they can help reduce problems relating to arthritis or other inflammatory problems. Anti-inflammatory diets are considered healthy because they do not include processed foods with high sugar and sodium content.
Foods to Avoid
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet takes a bit of an adjustment. If you have been eating processed, salty, and sugary foods, you might have a few days where you do not feel well. Your body has to adjust to the changes in the diet. It is worthwhile to make the change, as your body will begin to feel better rather quickly. You might notice changes within a week or two.
Greasy foods: Foods like French fries or mozzarella sticks sure do taste good, but they can exacerbate inflammation. It is best to avoid foods that are fried and covered in breading. Think of how you feel shortly after eating high-fat, fried foods, and you will see why you should avoid them. Because something is fried in vegetable oil does not make it a vegetable, and too much vegetable oil can be taxing on the body.
Sweets: Any food with added refined sugar is off limits in an anti-inflammatory diet. Sweets have very few nutrients. The refined (white) sugar increases blood pressure, which increases inflammation. The foods might taste delicious, but the body’s reaction is not worth the momentary joy. A true anti-inflammatory diet does not include any added sweeteners, even honey, agave, and maple syrup.
Sugary beverages: For many people moving to an anti-inflammatory diet, dropping sugary beverages is the toughest. If you go on an anti-inflammatory diet, you cannot drink sodas or juices. These all contain high amounts of added sugars, and many are high in sodium. Even diet sodas should be off-limits to get the most benefits from the diet.
Processed meats: Processed meats have incredibly high sodium levels. They also have unhealthy saturated fats which can increase inflammation. Processed meats include sliced lunch meats and hot dogs.
Fatty meats: Lean meats like chicken and turkey are generally safe for anti-inflammatory diets. But, you should avoid eating cuts of red meat that have significant amounts of fat in them.
Processed dairy: It is best to avoid eating foods that have high levels of trans fat, like margarine and coffee creamers. Watch out for sugary yogurts, too, as many flavors and brands have as much sugar as ice cream. While you’re at it, avoid ice cream, too.
Gluten: Many people have adverse reactions to wheat. Whole grains are healthy choices for the body, but be sure your grains do not have extra sugar added.
What You Should Eat
The goal with an anti-inflammatory diet is to eat real food that has not been processed. Many people consider the anti-inflammatory diet to be similar to the keto diet, but with a few more choices. Studies show the keto diet to be anti-inflammatory, but because people eat fewer calories while on it.
The best choices are foods like colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those that grow above the ground. Do not overdo the fruits, especially because they contain high levels of natural sugars. Foods that are red or green include nutrients that fight inflammation.
The verdict is mixed on whole grains. In the keto diet, no bread from wheat or oats is allowed. But, in an anti-inflammatory diet, whole grains with plenty of fiber are beneficial.
Nuts have nutrients that can fight inflammation. But, be careful because they are high in calories and many are coated in salt. Have no more than a handful of nuts each day.
Dairy products like eggs, cheese (not shredded), and heavy cream are also beneficial. Choose dairy products that do not have added sugar, and avoid shredded cheese because it often has unexpected ingredients - some even have wood fiber!
Fish and lean meats. These all have inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Instead of covering your meat in salt, use spices like turmeric, curry powder, and garlic to fight inflammation.
About Dr. Wells
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of Anchorage patients from different health problems using physical rehab therapy, chiropractic care, and massage therapy designed to help give long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe, Organic Facts, and Thrive Global. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.