Processed foods cause inflammation in the body.

There are many foods in our diet today that can help reduce or increase local inflammation in the body.  Inflammation is important when the body is processing foreign particles and for healing.  For example if there is a wound with exposure to bacteria then our body naturally kills the bugs by bringing cells of the immune system to the site of infection.  The body can also promote inflammation in unnecessary situations because of outside stressors such as diet, lack of exercise, and depression.  Is it a good thing if we are constantly exposed to inflammation?  According to recent studies there is evidence that too much inflammation over time can result in an elevated risk of chronic disease and its progression.
One of the most prominent food choices in the standard American diet is the type of oil used in cooking and how the oil is cooked.  Vegetable and olive oils contain a ratio of different fatty acids that play important roles in metabolism.  The omega-6 fatty acid is most commonly found in partially hydrogenated oils, margarine, and any food with a long shelf life (pastries, chips, crackers).  These types of oils promote inflammation in the body.  The omega-3 fatty acid is found in cold-water fish, flax seeds, walnuts, and green leafy vegetables.  They are anti-inflammatory to the body.  If there is more omega-6 in the diet, then it excludes beneficial properties of the omega-3 fatty acid.  The ideal ratio for omega-6 to omega-3 should be 4:1.  The current ratio is thought to be closer to 16:1.   The 4:1 ratio is associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality rate in the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.  We need the omega-6 fatty acids in our diet, but over consumption of processed foods has led to an increase in many diseases associated with the pro-inflammatory components of these types of oils.
One of the simplest ways to reduce the amount of omega-6 in the diet is to read the ingredient list on all of your foods. Look for partially hydrogenated oil, which is the source of trans-fat.  Companies are required to label their products under the nutrition facts if they contain trans-fat.  Try to keep the amount of the trans-fat source of omega-6 to a minimum and increase the amount fish and green leafy vegetables in the diet.

Heather Wickett
NWNM Work Study
Medical Student NCNM

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