Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Research continues to show a very strong link between inflammation and chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), cardiovascular disease (CVD), and neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia). Some of these diseases are becoming the leading causes of death, not just in the United States, but also around the globe.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation isn’t inherently bad. We need it to survive. Normal inflammation is a protection mechanism; it is the body’s response to any injury or infection. It’s part of our body’s natural healing process.
Chronic (ongoing) inflammation occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s healthy cells. Chronic inflammation isn’t limited to one area of the body. Registered Dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic with the Cleveland Clinic explains that over time, chronic inflammation leads to a series of chemical reactions which can result in: arteries becoming inflamed, which sets the stage for heart attacks and strokes, insulin resistance (a diabetes precursor) which can lead to full-blown diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and even depression can develop. Anti-inflammatory food helps.
What causes it? Is there anything we can do to prevent it?
Diet and lifestyle factors have the ability to either increase inflammation or decrease it. You have a choice to add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet.
If you consume a Standard American Diet, also referred to as the “S.A.D.” diet (it’s sad what it does to the body), you are likely in a state of chronic low-grade inflammation. These foods include: refined carbohydrates(such as white breads/rolls, white pasta, pastries, sugary cereals), simple sugars (such as candies, sodas, ice cream, donuts and other treats) and saturated fats (found in foods like French fries, burgers, and other fried foods) and most processed foods (chips, snack bars, frozen dinners).
When you couple an unhealthy diet with poor lifestyle habits such as lack of exercise and smoking, you really throw your body into distress. Thankfully, just as you can choose the wrong things for you body, you can also choose the right things! Obesity is stressful on your body so maintain a healthy weight by regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Here are the top foods that you can consume to help your body fight inflammation.
This spice is commonly found in Indian curries and is responsible for giving mustard its yellow color. Curcumin is the most active constituent of turmeric. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have used it for thousands of years for a variety of ailments including inflammatory disorders. It is widely accepted that turmeric is a powerful antioxidant that helps combat free radical damage to cells and DNA. The University of Maryland MedAnti-Inflammatory ical Center reports that curcumin lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation. It also stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots. Move over painkillers–turmeric appears to outperform many pharmaceuticals in its effects against several chronic, debilitating diseases, and does so with virtually no adverse side effects. It is effective at reducing the inflammation related to arthritis, diabetes and other diseases.
Increase your intake by adding turmeric to your meals and/or sipping Golden Milk (see recipe below). Black pepper enhances absorption, so add a dash of black pepper to whatever you consume with turmeric to make sure you reap the benefits.
- Salmon (and other fatty-fish)
EPA and DHA, the two forms of omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and fatty fish have very powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Research has found that they are particularly beneficial for reducing inflammation associated with kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been studied for their role in reducing effects of neurodegenerative diseases (dementia, Alzheimer’s) and DHA is particularly beneficial for .
Walnuts are particularly beneficial for increasing HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein). HDL is the “good” type of cholesterol that decreases risk of heart disease. Walnuts are the nuts with the highest source of omega-3 Fatty acids, particularly ALA (alpha linolenic acid),which has been shown to decrease inflammation associated with heart disease.
This spice, known to soothe an upset stomach is also known to reduce post-exercise inflammation and help decrease joint pain caused by the chronic inflammatory conditions osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Add it to tea, stir fry, or even oatmeal for an anti-inflammatory boost.
- Olive Oil
The Mediterranean Diet is known as the gold standard for being anti-inflammatory and a key staple in this diet is olive oil. Olive oil contains about 73% oleic acid, a very beneficial monounsaturated fat. Oleic acid has been studied and found to have anti-inflammatory properties. In the context of a Mediterranean style diet, consumption of 50ml (just under 2 ounces) of olive oil per day has been found to down regulate genes that are predisposed to cardiovascular disease and decrease inflammatory markers such as C-reactive Protein (CRP) and interleukin-6. Olive oil also contains antioxidants, such as Vitamin E that help prevent against oxidative stress.
Berries are particularly beneficial due to anthocyanins, antioxidants that are known for their protective effects against heart disease. Add them to your morning smoothie or top Greek yogurt with a handful of your favorite berry for an antioxidant boost.
- Broccoli and other Vegetables
How often do I talk about the nutritional benefits of veggies? There is a reason! Vegetables provide antioxidants that help offset free radicals and combat oxidative stress. Broccoli is particularly beneficial because it contains sulforaphane, an antioxidant that fights inflammation by reducing certain inflammatory markers (cytokines and NF-kB). All vegetables provide different types of antioxidants so choose richly colored produce like, darky leafy greens, purple cabbage, red, orange and yellow peppers, tomatoes.
- Green Tea
Yes, there is a reason why everyone tells you to drink green tea! The real anti-inflammatory benefits come from the antioxidant EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). It decreases inflammation and combats oxidative stress by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in cells. Green tea has also been studied for it’s benefits related to Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer. Matcha green tea (the bright green powdered form that you mix with water or milk) has especially high levels of EGCG.
Take control of your health to decrease risk of chronic disease. Gradually begin reducing intake of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sodas and sugars and start incorporating these anti-inflammatory foods. To get started, consider beginning your morning with Golden Milk, featuring turmeric.
Anti-Inflammatory Golden Milk Recipe from Epicurious.com
Makes 2 cups
- 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk, preferably coconut milk beverage or almond milk
- 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
- 1 (1-inch) piece turmeric, unpeeled, thinly sliced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric
- 1 (1/2-inch) piece ginger, unpeeled, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
- 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- Ground cinnamon (for serving)
- Whisk coconut milk, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, honey, coconut oil, peppercorns, and 1 cup water in a small saucepan; bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors have melded, about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into mugs and top with a dash of cinnamon.
- Do Ahead
*Golden milk can be made 5 days ahead. Store in an airtight container and chill. Warm before serving.