Inflammation is the body’s reaction to what it sees as foreign– something that doesn’t belong and that could cause harm. It’s the effect of your immune system doing its job, patrolling the body to make sure nothing gets in that could make you sick, like pollen, chemicals, viruses, microbes, or poisons. It can also be part of the body’s healing response to injuries too. Heat, pain, and swelling force you to stay off that sprained ankle to allow it to heal.
We are now surrounded by so many potential irritants from everything, from pollution to chemicals in foods, that inflammation has become a modern plague. Our bodies are constantly reading the environment for potential threats. When the body is in a constant state of inflammation, your immune system is on high alert all the time, and that’s when things start to go wrong. The body can start to behave in self-destructive ways, destabilizing cholesterol in your arteries or attacking healthy cells in your brain and other organs, which leads to disease and illness. For many people, chronic inflammation is the new normal, and it has some disturbing consequences for our health and longevity.
Scientists are now linking chronic inflammation with a host of health issues:
- Heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Gum disease
Inflammation can be triggered by genetic predisposition, smoking, and high blood pressure. Studies have also shown that another major trigger for chronic inflammation is food. So, while the news about increasing inflammation is alarming, the good news is we can do something about it, starting now. It won’t surprise you to hear that losing weight and eating better will reduce bodily inflammation. Changing your diet and exercise regime is key in reclaiming your short and long-term health.
Choosing anti-inflammatory superfoods can help lower the inflammation in your body. There is a whole range of food that is actively anti-inflammatory, so as well as cutting out foods that promote inflammation, you can shore up your body by helping your immune system get back to more normal levels.
5 Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Here are five foods you should avoid as much as possible because they actively stoke inflammation in the body.
- Sugar in all its forms, including so-called healthy options like honey and agave. Check food labels for anything ending in “–ose.” Sugars are “hidden” in foods by using names with that ending. Remember too, there can be multiple types of sugar in one product.
- Gluten, again in all its forms, not just bread, cookies, and pastries. Gluten is added to many foods from textured vegetable protein in vegetarian meat replacements to maltodextrin in vinegars and pickles.
- Refined carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (GI), like white rice, pasta, and bread, can lead to unstable blood sugar, diabetes, and undesirable gut bacteria, which increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease.
- Unhealthy fats, like highly processed vegetable oils and margarines with high levels of trans-fats, are linked to many illnesses and diseases, including chronic inflammation in the body.
Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Superfoods
Refocus your diet on the foods that can help to lower your body’s inflammation. The Mediterranean diet is being increasingly recommended by scientists as the basis for a healthier, longer life, and it incorporates all the top ten anti-inflammatory foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils.
These foods are full of natural inflammation-fighting elements, like antioxidants, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, and polyphenols.
- Fruit: all fruit is high in antioxidants and flavonoids, as well as vitamins and minerals. High on the anti-inflammatory scale are citrus fruits, pineapple, and apricots.
- Vegetables: tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, bok choy, collard greens, avocado, asparagus, and peppers.
- Nuts and seeds: especially chia and flax seeds, cashews, almonds and walnuts, which are rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Whole grains: buckwheat and oats are both low GI and anti-inflammatory choices.
- Fish: fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, and sardines, are full of inflammation-fighting omega 3 oils. Oysters and shrimp are also anti-inflammatory.
- Healthy oils: choose olive oil (my favorite 100% pure olive oil) or coconut oil instead of heat-treated vegetable oils.
- Herbs and spices: herbs and spices are full of antioxidants and flavonoids. Choose cloves, cinnamon, rosemary, ginger, sage, and thyme. Turmeric contains a strong anti-inflammatory substance called curcumin and can be included in a range of savory and sweet foods, including smoothies and lattes. Garlic is another anti-inflammation champion.
- Berries: berries are full of antioxidants that help fight inflammation. Choose raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, but the real stars are tart cherries. Tart or sour cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food and have been shown to reduce inflammation in laboratory rats by up to 50%.
- Beans: navy, kidney, adzuki and black beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils are all rich in folic acid, magnesium, and soluble fiber, as well as being filling and low GI.
- Green tea: research has found that both green and black tea have anti-inflammatory effects, but green tea has a stronger effect, as it has higher concentrations of polyphonic compounds. It’s so high, in fact, that it has been proposed as an alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. I personally love matcha green tea because it’s truly a superfood, and you can simply add it to smoothies!
You can also bolster the anti-inflammatory effect by increasing your fiber intake and drinking lots of water. Finally, you don’t have to give up your daily caffeine fix – latest research show that the polyphenols in tea and coffee may have a positive effect on inflammation. I drink mushroom coffee that is made from organic coffee and mushrooms for added health benefits!
Eating healthy doesn’t mean living virtuously on lettuce and mung beans for the rest of your life. Our taste buds have become wired for sweetness and saltiness, so make sure your diet has plenty of elements that add zing or sweetness. Below are a few suggestions to get you started.
5 Anti-Inflammatory Flavor Tips
- Add lemon juice, chili, and ginger to replace salt and additive-filled sauces
- Use lemon juice and ginger to fruit salads and juices
- Use turmeric for an anti-inflammatory punch (try a turmeric latte instead of your usual coffee) — I love to make turmeric milk
- Put berries and juices in your smoothies instead of honey, agave or artificial sweetener
- Get out of the habit of adding table salt to your meal, try sea salt instead because it’s full of minerals!
It’s not expensive or difficult to change your diet to one that’s full of anti-inflammatory superfoods that taste great and are great for your health.