There are about 37 trillion cells in the human body (yes, teams of researchers have counted) and every one of them is encased by a cell membrane. Cell to cell communication occurs by chemical signals that are transmitted and received across this cellular membrane.
Because inflammation is a process that entirely relies on cell to cell communication, the health and the composition of these cell membranes are of critical importance to the process. When cell membranes are constructed with “healthy” building materials, the process of inflammation will be less severe…even if the triggering stimulus is identical.
So what are cell membranes made of? This may surprise you; they are composed almost entirely of…fat.
Not just any fats either, your cell membranes are made of the fats and oils that you eat.
The three main categories of fat
Nutrition science divides fats and oils into three main categories:
These are fats that are generally solid at room temperature. Butter, lard, beef fat, and coconut oil all contain significant concentrations of saturated fats. Current science has demonstrated that saturated fats are not the demons that they were once believed to be but…not too fast, animal sources of saturated fat should still be limited. Coconut oil may be used for high heat cooking and baking.
These are healthy fats/oils which can be liberally included in the diet. Food sources include avocados, nuts, seed, and olive oil.
These are the oils that have the greatest anti-inflammatory nutritional benefits, but they’re also very vulnerable to oxidation, rancidity, and chemical conversion into unhealthy, pro-inflammatory fats.
The two types of essential fatty acids
There are two families of polyunsaturated fats that play an important role in the inflammatory process. They ‘re known as “essential fatty acids” because we cannot make them…they must be consumed in the diet.
The essential fatty acids are:
- Omega-3: These are the healthiest oils of all. The best food source is cold water fish. Plant sources like hemp seed, flax, chia, and walnuts are great but need to be activated before they have their anti-inflammatory effects. Having cell membranes made of omega-3 oils will make you less prone to inflammation.
- Omega-6: When Omega-6 oils occupy a large percentage of your cell membranes, you will be more prone to inflammation. These less healthy fats are found in large amounts in corn oil, vegetable oil, and soybean oil. These Omega-6 oils can also be chemically “hydrogenated” which turns them into “trans fats.” Trans fats are used extensively in processed, packaged foods but they are devastating to cell membrane health and major promoters of inflammation. If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on a food label…stay away.
Dietary fats play a central role in cell membrane health and cell membrane health plays a central role in the inflammatory process. As a result, making adjustments to the fats that you eat is the single most important dietary change to help control inflammation.
6 inflammation fighting fats to include in your diet
Lets take a tour through the fats to include help control inflammation:
1. Olive oil:
Extra virgin olive oil should be the main oil you use in your kitchen.
2. Nuts and nut butters:
Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, and nut butters without added ingredients are a part of an anti inflammatory diet.
Hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds can all be a delicious and nutritious addition.
Cold water fish like wild Alaskan salmon and sardines are natures most reliable source of healthy, anti-inflammatory Omega-3 oils.
There are high levels of of monounsaturated fats in an avocado. Use avocado as a spread instead of mayonnaise.
Even though it contains saturated fats, this plant oil is healthy and useful for high heat cooking and baking.
4 inflammation promoting fats to limit or avoid
And here are the top four fat sources to limit or avoid to help control inflammation:
1. Trans fats:
Avoid them completely. If it says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” do not eat it. Margarine and shortening are made of trans fats.
2. Butter, cheese, full fat dairy:
Conventional dairy cows produce milk products that are loaded with pro-inflammatory saturated fats. Limit them.
3. Beef, pork, and poultry:
Factory farmed animals have unhealthy fats in their meat. You should restrict consumption of meat altogether, and only eat grass fed, or pasture raised animals.
4. Vegetable oils:
Although they may sound healthy, this is where the unhealthy Omega-6 fats come from. Stay away from soybean oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, and palm kernel oil.
A complete “oil change” takes about three months of consistent dietary modification but as you make the changes shown above, you will begin to notice changes to the way you feel within the first few weeks.
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Dr. Joshua Levitt is a naturopathic physician who is widely known for his expertise in treating both common and complex medical problems. In practice, Dr. Levitt draws on his broad knowledge of the science of both conventional and natural medicine and the art of combing the two into a “best of both worlds” treatment strategy. He has over 15 years of direct clinical experience using a unique blend of nutritional therapy, herbal medicine, and physical medicine to treat a wide range of diseases and conditions. His patients and his readers praise him for the ability to educate, motivate, and inspire them with stories and advice that helps them help themselves. In addition to his work as an author, Dr. Levitt owns and runs a private practice in Connecticut, where he is also a clinical preceptor for the Yale School of Medicine.
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