Eating anti-inflammatory foods is a positive approach. It seems that so much about health is concerned with what to avoid. This is about what to add.
Of course there are a number of things we should avoid to reduce the risk of systemic inflammation. Many of them are beyond our control. We can’t completely escape our environment. And because of that we are going to be exposed to pro-inflammatory influences.
But there are some things that are within our control. And one of those is diet. We can control what we eat. We can avoid certain foods that cause inflammation. And we can choose to eat anti-inflammatory foods.
And that is the subject at hand.
All of us have known – for many years – that there are certain foods that tend to improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease. That is not new. But perhaps what is new is why certain foods are good for us and why certain foods are not. And one of the main reasons why some foods are good for us and some foods aren’t has to do with whether or not they promote or counteract inflammation.
Since inflammation has been shown to be foundational to many chronic diseases – including cardiovascular disease - whether a food promotes or reduces inflammation is of great importance.
Many foods provide vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help the body restore its health. But there are some that also directly reduce systemic inflammation.
So what are these anti-inflammatory foods? A partial list follows.
Salmon makes the top of the list. We already suspected this because salmon is high in two omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA. Whether or not omega-3s raise or lower cholesterol levels is not the critical point. Omega-3 fatty acids protect against systemic inflammation. That is the preeminent issue.
Salmon is not alone. Other fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, anchovies, and sardines also contain high amounts of omega-3. The vegetative form of omega-3 (ALA found in flax seeds and other plant sources) is converted into EPA and DHA in the body. But the conversion rate is lower.
Omega-3 supplements are another way to get enough omega-3. But buying a quality supplement is essential. Many contain fillers that are useless and even harmful.
A common staple during cooler months, sweet potatoes provide a good supply of complex carbohydrates, beta-carotene, manganese, and vitmins-B6, and C. Though simple refined carbohydrates promote inflammation, complex carbohydrates are a different matter.
Sweet potatoes also are high in fiber. High fiber along with the other nutrients in sweet potatoes make them a good anti-inflammatory food. But don’t spoil it by dumping copious amounts of brown sugar on them.
Dark leafy greens are higher in a number of disease fighting vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients than their lighter color counterparts. Not the least of these is vitamin-E. Vitamin-E, along with other antioxidants, has been shown to combat free radicals that cause oxidative damage, and therefore inflammation.
Broccoli – though not really leafy – contains sulforaphane which helps rid the body of carcinogenic (cancer casing) compounds.
Fresh leafy vegetables can take a bit of work to prepare. Frozen organic varieties are a good substitute. Processed vegetables are not.
All fruit – being high in antioxidants - can help fight inflammation. But berries seem especially potent. Berries contain anthocyanins, chemicals that protect the berries from disease and provide their natural color. Anthocyanins provide much of the same disease fighting protection to us when we eat the berries.
Studies have shown that red raspberries help prevent arthritis in animals. Strawberries produce lower levels of CRP in the blood of women. And blueberries protect against intestinal inflammation and ulcerative colitis. (Protecting the gut is especially important.)
Both have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric is believed to work in the body to turn off NF-kappa B. NF-KB controls many genes involved in inflammation and is chronically active in many inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, gastritis, sepsis, asthma, arthritis, and atherosclerosis.
Ginger has been shown to reduce inflammation in the intestines. Again, gut health is extremely important to overall health. The gut contains most of the body’s serotonin. And poor gut health makes the body incapable of importing the nutrients necessary for healing and support.
Most of us are familiar with garlic healing properties and are quick to eat garlic (or take garlic supplements) at the first sign of illness. Additionally, test tube studies have shown that garlic works similarly to NSAID medications in shutting off the pathways that lead to inflammation.
Onions contain chemicals – including quercetin and allicin – which fight inflammation. Quercetin and allicin reduce the risk of inflammation by destroying (oxidation causing) free radicals.
Beets are high in fiber and vitamin-C. Both useful for reducing inflammation. Beets also contain pigments called betalains which function as inflammation fighting antioxidants. They are also effective as detoxifying agents removing toxins from the body.
One caveat though, betalains tend to break down under heat making them less effective in the body. When steaming beets it is recommended to not exceed 15 minutes. When roasting don’t exceed an hour.
Though all teas provide health benefits, black teas tend to promote inflammation. For this reason green teas are a better choice. Not only are green teas non-inflammatory, the flavonoids in green teas make them anti-inflammatory. These flavonoids have been shown in numerous studies to help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Widely used in the Mediterranean region, extra virgin olive oil (one of the most potent anti-inflammatory foods) has a rich supply of polyphenols that protect the heart and blood vessels from inflammation. Additionally the monounsaturated fats in olive oil are converted into anti-inflammatory agents by the body.
Most other oils in the Western world are damaging and promote inflammation. Partially hydrogenated oils (in so many products today) contain trans-fats.
Additionally, most vegetable oils (this doesn’t include coconut oil)… you know the ones we buy thinking we are doing our family a favor… are high in omega-6 fatty acids. A high ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 causes oxidative damage and is very inflammatory.
When possible stick with extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
Obviously a complete list of anti-inflammatory foods would make for a long list. We wanted to hit some important highlights. You can add to the list papaya, kelp, shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, nuts, whole grains (not stripped, processed grains), tart cherries…
An important take away is this, the more anti-inflammatory foods you eat, the fewer pro-inflammatory foods you will eat. And the more organic, (pesticide free, hormone free, antioxidant rich) whole foods you eat the more you will support your overall health providing your body with the cleansing and nutrients it needs for healing and support.
The 30-Day Challenge is all about clean, anti-inflammatory eating. It is designed to help you get back on the right path of holistic health. We also offer a free consultation to our readers. See how others have begun to see their health restored… read a few testimonials.
A Challenge For You!
People are making great improvements in their heart health.
How... are they doing it? By challenging themselves to change the way they eat. Really!
I have a challenge for you. It is my double dog dare.