Choosing natural, colorful foods can help you avoid painful inflammation, nutritionist Julie Daniluk says.

Editor’s Note: Julie Daniluk, a health and wellness expert from Canada, is the author of “Meals That Heal Inflammation” (Hay House). She co-hosts “Healthy Gourmet,” a reality cooking show that airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Story highlights

Julie Daniluk says a healthy eating plan can heal and prevent chronic inflammation

She says to ditch processed sugars, high-glycemic starches that can set off inflammation

Daniluk: Fruits and veggies are must-haves, but don't forget about lean protein and good fat

CNN  — 

Everyone has felt the agony of overeating. But could your diet really be the culprit of arthritis, muscle pain, asthma and skin disorders as well?

Scientists are making a strong link between our food choices and pain.

About 70% of our immune cells are in our digestive system, making direct contact with the food we enjoy every day. If the immune system is triggered by bacteria in food, or flags a food as an allergen, or has an imbalance of important hormones such as insulin, it can set off the red alert of inflammation.

Julie Daniluk

For example, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that processed sugars and other high-glycemic starches increase inflammation, which causes pain, overheating, redness and swelling.

While inflammation is an important part of the body’s healing process, chronic inflammation is at the root of many deadly diseases. The great news is that we can completely heal and prevent chronic inflammation with an eating plan.

The solution to pain is choosing to support your immune system with your next meal.

Here are five powerful ways to reduce inflammation:

1. Ditch the flour and sugar

White flour, a simple carbohydrate, breaks down into sugar right in your mouth with the help of digestive enzymes, so save your sweets for special treats.

And high amounts of sugar in the diet increase advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, a protein bound to a glucose molecule, resulting in damaged, cross-linked proteins.

As the body tries to break these AGEs apart, immune cells secrete inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Depending on where the AGEs occur and your genetic predisposition, they could eventually result in arthritis, cataracts, heart disease, poor memory or wrinkled skin.

2. Avoid foods to which you may be sensitive or allergic

Eating foods that you are allergic to destabilizes your insulin and causes poor blood sugar levels, which leads to greater inflammation. A high level of insulin increases cortisol, your stress hormone, which causes your body to hold on to fat rather than allowing you to burn it for energy. Excess belly fat is an indicator of chronic inflammation.

Food allergies also trigger mast cells to release histamine, causing the redness and swelling associated with inflammation.

You must individualize your eating plan to avoid foods you are sensitive to. Common allergens include wheat, gluten, corn, dairy, sugar and potatoes.

3. Eat a rainbow

Red radishes, orange yams, purple cabbage and dark-green veggies are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants that dampen inflammation. Focus on cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, etc.), which are loaded with Indole 3 Carbonol.

The sulfur in this vegetable family also helps detox the liver.

Plus, a study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that eating berries daily could significantly reduce inflammation.

4. Eat lean protein sources

Beans, chicken, turkey and wild game (elk, emu, bison, etc.) are great sources of lean protein. An Pan and the research team at the Harvard School of Public Health released a study in March showing that red meat consumption (beef, pork and lamb) was associated with a higher risk of early death.

Beyond the concern of sodium or nitrates, red meat contains high amounts of arachidonic acid that can promote inflammation. Other food sources to consider include eggs and dairy products.

5. Give yourself an oil change

Avoid refined trans-fat, omega-6 oil (soy, corn and cottonseed oil) in cooking and use more olive oil. Olive oil is a great source of oleic acid, making it a powerful anti-inflammatory oil.

Spanish researchers reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that people who consume more oleic acid have better insulin function and lower blood sugar.

Pasture-fed livestock, flax, chia and hemp seeds, wild salmon (not farmed) or smaller coldwater fish such as herring, sardines and mackerel are your best choices for high-powered, anti-inflammatory foods.