What is inflammation?
There is a lot of health buzz lately around the concept of inflammation.
What exactly does that mean?
We know inflammation as the process that occurs when we sprain an ankle or get a cut. The skin becomes red, puffy, and swollen. This is a result of white blood cells releasing chemicals that increase blood flow to the area of injury. This is necessary for the body to heal. This inflammation goes away when the threat has been eliminated.
However, inflammation can become chronic which is a threat to our health.
Risk factors for inflammation
We can’t always pinpoint the cause of chronic inflammation, but experts believe that the following factors can contribute:
- chronic stress
- exposure to chemical and environmental irritants
- chronic autoimmune conditions
- untreated infections or illnesses
- alcohol intake
So here we see some risk factors that we can easily change and others not so much. Diet is something we have a lot of control over, is it not?
An anti-inflammation diet has been touted as a very healthy diet. Choose these foods on a regular basis to help keep inflammation at bay.
Blueberries and other berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are healthy and delicious. They are rich in fiber and nutrients.
Berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins which are thought to fight inflammation and disease.
Enjoy berries either fresh or frozen. Use as a topping for oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast.
Almonds and other nuts contain monounsaturated and omega-3 (aka “good”) fats which combat inflammation.
These good fats favorably affect your blood lipid levels which can protect you against heart disease.
Almonds are very filling making them a great, low-carbohydrate snack. Don’t forget that they are high in calories so don’t eat too many at one time. You can also try some almond butter.
Olive oil also contains healthy fats which work against inflammation.
This oil is the mainstay of the Mediterranean Diet which is thought to be one of the healthiest diets you can follow to stay healthy and ward off disease.
Olive oil also contains the antioxidant oleocanthal which possesses anti-inflammatory effects.
Olive oil isn’t always the best to cook with due to its low smoke point but is excellent to use as a salad dressing or on top of vegetables or pasta.
Spinach and other leafy greens are well-known to be anti-inflammatory.
Leafy greens like spinach contain flavonoids and carotenoids which are anti-oxidants.
Spinach is also full of other nutrients like vitamin K, folate, and iron.
Spinach is low in calories making it a fantastic base for salads if you are trying to lose weight. It is also delicious when sautéed.
Tomatoes are full of nutrition and very versatile to use.
These red vegetables (or are they fruits?) contain an antioxidant known as lycopene which reduces inflammation.
Tomatoes are also rich in vitamin C and potassium.
Beans, whether they are black, navy, pinto, kidney, black-eye, or chickpeas are rich in fiber, protein, and antioxidants.
They contain polyphenols which act as antioxidants.
Beans are also rich in potassium, magnesium, and folic acid.
Use beans as a filling source of protein if you’re trying to incorporate some meatless meals.
Broccoli is known as a cruciferous vegetable along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
This vegetable is rich in an antioxidant called sulforaphane which reduces certain inflammatory substances.
Broccoli is low in calories and rich in calcium, vitamin C, and potassium.
Enjoy broccoli raw in a salad or with a healthy dip. It also tastes great roasted!
Fatty fishes like salmon, tuna, and sardines are very healthy. Sushi anyone?
These types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA. These healthy fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects.
Choose fish at least 2-3 times per week for a healthy protein choice. Tuna, salmon, and sardines can be enjoyed fresh or canned. If eating canned fish, be aware of heavy oils or salt added.
Herbs and spices
Herbs and seasonings not only flavor your food but also provide health benefits. Put down the salt shaker.
Turmeric has received a lot of attention recently because of its anti-inflammatory properties. This is all due to a nutrient called curcumin. Besides decreasing inflammation, turmeric powder has a lot of great health benefits.
Other spices such as ginger, garlic, and cinnamon also help fight inflammation. Use these as much as you like!
Green tea is one of the healthiest drinks you could have.
Tea is rich in antioxidant compounds called catechins which reduce inflammation.
There is a lot of research linking green tea to numerous health benefits including increased fat burning.
Brewing tea is somewhat of an art form so make sure you are purchasing high-quality tea and brewing at the optimal time and temperature.
How about something sweet?
Dark chocolate is delicious and can help fight inflammation.
Dark chocolate contains flavanols which help keep blood vessels healthy.
Enjoy dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao to reap all of the benefits.
Foods that promote inflammation
There are foods which fight inflammation, and there are also foods which promote it.
Pro-inflammatory foods include:
- fried foods like french fries and fried chicken
- red or processed meats like hamburgers and hot dogs
- refined carbohydrates such as in pastries and donuts
- anything with trans fatty acids
- sugary foods and drinks like soda
This list should not come as a surprise as these foods are generally known to be unhealthy.
The bottom line is, to reduce chronic inflammation in the body, aim for an overall healthy diet which contains a lot of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy carbohydrates. Keep processed foods to a minimum and stick to foods that have short ingredient lists.
A healthy diet will help you to look and feel better, your body will thank you!
Which anti-inflammatory foods are your favorites? Any great recipes to share? Let me know in the comments!