Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Extinguishing A Chronic Inner Campfire

Motivated by a recent knee injury (after diving for a frisbee without a cape), I’ve decided to revisit inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods.

Back in 2004, before iPads, Time Magazine published an article blaming inflammation for heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s, you name it. So what IS inflammation and how does it do good or evil? I always liked a good campfire. Should I not?

Here’s the deal: During an injury, blood vessels widen (swell) to allow white blood cells to rush to the injured area, repair damage, and wipe out bacteria. This swelling/ inflammation/ “healing” process is what actually causes the pain of an injury, and it’s one of our body’s best defense systems. This is acute inflammation (Funny, because my knee is far from cute!).

Now. Injury aside, there are also lots of pro-inflammatory troublemakers that are continuously released in our bloodstream. They’re killer whales that attack healthy cells, blood vessels, and tissues rather than protecting them. And while we can’t live without acute inflammation, this chronic inflammation can wreak havoc over time (like a slow poison), and it rears it’s not-so-purdy head with type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, arterial plaque buildup, heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, digestive disorders such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, allergies, migraines, and fibromyalgia.

Whether your goal is to decrease joint pain, digestive upset, plaque formation, or prevent cancer, here are inflammatory foods to keep to a minimum:

Inflammatory Foods to Avoid (more details here)

  • Sugar
  • Common Cooking Oils
  • Refined Grains (white bread, white rice, white pasta, cakes, cookies, etc.)
  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Trigger Foods that exacerbate symptoms (many people are sensitive to wheat gluten, corn, and eggs)
  • Alcohol
  • Food Additives
  • Trans Fats

Certain people and certain diseases may be more sensitive to certain foods.  Wheat and dairy tend to be especially common triggers for Crohn’s disease, and meat and alcohol for ulcerative colitis.

People who are chronically stressed maintain a low-grade level of inflammation. So even when food isn’t triggering the inflammation, the body has a harder time fighting illness and disease. Inflammation can be reduced by (obviously) avoiding trigger foods and inflammatory foods, and keeping portion sizes small at mealtime. Overeating also encourages inflammation. A plant-based plan not only avoids the major inflammation triggers, but is especially low in calories, and even includes many of the foods helpful at reducing inflammation.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Gulp Down (more details here)

  • Tart cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and lots of other lip-smacking fruits
  • Avocados
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Broccoli, and most green and aromatic veggies like onions and garlic
  • Herbs & Spices: Basil, Cayenne Pepper, Chili Pepper, Cinnamon, Cloves, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Turmeric
  • Cocoa (70% or more) and Licorice
  • Fermented foods (tempeh, miso, etc.)
  • Almonds, Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Sunflower Seeds, Flaxseeds
  • Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as hemp oil and flax oil
How to incorporate these foods? Check out these recipes!

3 thoughts on “Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Extinguishing A Chronic Inner Campfire

  1. Katie says:

    Hi Jen,
    I’m trying to ditch the diet cokes- very hard- i think they are somewhat addictive. Anyway, let me ask you this: is seltzer water just as inflammatory as soda? I mean is it the carbonation that makes it inflammation causing, or the sugar and other chemicals?
    Thanks for any info you may have!

    • Jen Reilly says:

      Hey Katie! Great job on trying to ditch the diet drinks! It’s the chemicals/colorings in diet drinks that are the real issue. I also find that fake sweeteners cause you to crave more sugars b/c your body gets a taste of something sweet w/o any sugar to show for it.

      I’m a big fan of seltzer water, and even have the Soda Stream in-home carbonation system. The only real concern w/ carbonated water is that it may increase esophageal reflux and therefore increase esophageal cancer risk (read more here). But, it seems like a great bubbly alternative to diet or real soda drinks.

      Good luck!

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