Does your diet promote chronic inflammation? While most Americans might be baffled by the question, it’s one we should all be able to answer. Why? Because it’s becoming increasingly clear that chronic inflammation is at the root of many serious illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many cancers.

You may think of inflammation as the body’s response to injury, resulting in heat, skin redness, swelling, and pain. And indeed, this is a normal response, as it brings blood and immune activity to areas of injury or infection. However, this emergency healing reaction is not what we’re concerned with here.

There’s another type of inflammation, quiet and stealthy, that can lead to a host of systemic problems if it persists─chronic inflammation. This condition develops largely due to lifestyle factors such as stress, obesity, sedentary habits, consuming high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and hydrogenated fats, as well as exposure to environmental toxins like tobacco smoke, common household cleaners, pesticides, and more.

So how can you defend yourself? The first step in managing chronic inflammation is determining your level. C-reactive protein and homocysteine are key markers, measured with simple medical tests. While these tests usually evaluate risks for heart disease, C-reactive protein may also be used to assess inflammation in arthritis, diabetes, and more.

How is chronic inflammation linked to extra pounds? It turns out that inflammation-causing toxins are often stored in fat cells, enabling the body to protect itself from damage to organs and blood vessels. However, the more toxins we consume, the more “protective” fat the body may produce.

The good news is that you can simultaneously minimize inflammation and delete extra fat, starting now! Learning how specific foods and supplements influence this stealthy foe is the best strategy for containing it, and slashing your risk of numerous health problems. Ready?

• Enjoy a wide variety of fresh, whole foods. Eat with the seasons! It’s easy if you shop your local farmer’s market.

• Boost your intake of lean, high-quality protein from whey protein shakes, organic meat and poultry, cage-free eggs, and clean, sustainable seafood.

• Be vigilant with daily fish oil supplementation, which is your #1 anti-inflammation ally.

• Move away from processed/junk/fast food items. No matter how convenient they seem, the price you pay is compromised wellness. Is it worth it?

• If you love carbs, stick with intact grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole oats. Many commercial “whole grain” products have the same glycemic index as white flour items.

• Avoid any products─especially drinks─made with high fructose corn syrup.

• Eat more beans, legumes, and raw nuts and seeds. They’re tasty, cheap and healthy!

These tactics are simple, affordable, and they yield powerful benefits. Why not claim your optimal health now? You’re entitled!