Last night I found myself in front of a room full of people, giving a talk about how to use nutrition to combat inflammation, prevent chronic disease, and maintain good health as we age.  The key takeaways? Chronic inflammation is an underlying issue that is involved in the development of nearly all diseases, and every choice we make, especially in regards to our nutrition, is either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory – either supporting our health or chipping away at it.

Towards the end, as I was answering questions from the audience, one woman asked perhaps the most important question we should all be asking ourselves about our health.

If I feel great and am not having any symptoms of inflammation, is it possible that some foods may still be causing inflammation in my body? And if so, do I need to cut them out?

Okay okay – this question may seem really specific at first. But I think it speaks to the bigger question which is, how far should I go to take care of my body?

In truth, some foods may cause inflammation and set us up for health problems without causing noticeable symptoms. Though an elimination diet is the gold standard for detecting foods you may be sensitive or intolerant to, doctors may also run allergy tests for antibodies and other signs of immune intolerance to various foods. But because elimination diets can be difficult and most of us don’t run out to get allergy tests unless we have a reason to, the truth is, many of us may not be fully aware of which foods are problematic for our bodies.

And even if we are aware of, say, an intolerance to gluten or dairy or some other food, if the side effects of eating that food feel mild and generally inconsequential, or even non-existent, should we still stop eating that food?

In a perfect world, my answer is yes! No one should eat foods that cause inflammation, irritate their bodies, and pave the way for more complicated and difficult health issues down the road. Even just a small exposure can cause issues, whether they are externally noticeable or not.

But this world is not perfect, nor are we as humans. In this world, food is more than nourishment – it is culture, community, and comfort. I may drive myself crazy trying to avoid dairy at all costs when in fact, a little bit doesn’t seem to bother me all that much, and I love cheese.

So in answer to the question – how far should I go to take care of my body? – the truth is, only you can answer it for yourself. Only you can find the balance in a healthy lifestyle that is both enjoyable and invigorating, one that nourishes both your body and your soul. After all, as much as the nutritionist in me doesn’t like to admit it sometimes, there is more to this life than eating a perfect diet!