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!

Gas and Bloating be Gone!

Photo by: Eneas

Whether you’ve upped your bean and veggie intake (Gold star), eat too fast, or just have a sensitive digesteruski system, here are some ways to keep the life-extending farty foods in your diet and even maintain your 80-mile-an-hour chow-down pace while still keeping your friends and pants fully buttoned:

1. Ditch Dairy and Wheat for 3 days. Dairy products (milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, ice cream, creamy dressings, etc.), and wheat-containing foods (bread, pasta, flour tortillas, etc.) are often hard for our systems to break down, causing toots, bloating, and inflammation. Replace them with almond milk (Almond Breeze is now in most grocery stores nationwide and even the sweetest vanilla variety has 20 fewer calories than skim milk), gluten-free breads and cereals (Rice Chex), corn tortillas, brown rice, and quinoa. Relief? Keep them out for good.

2. Skip fried foods, processed foods, and refined sugars. While tasty, these guys cause a great deal of indigestion. If you’re opening food packages several times a day, or notice grease on your napkin at the end of a meal, it’s time for a fart redirect.

3. Renew your love for Ginger Rogers. Enjoy hot ginger tea before and after meals, or a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger before meals. Ginger is a big-time gas reliever, digestion easer, and nausea and motion sickness remedy. No wonder Ginger succeeded on the Love Boat!

4. Chow down on Parsley, Fennel, Caraway Seeds, Dill, and Anise. Realistically, this one’s probably not going to happen. But, all these natural compounds are great tummy tuckers and breath fresheners. For extra credit, add them to cooking and enjoy less of the post-meal bloat.

5. Enjoy hot Peppermint tea. Before and after meals, go for herbal tea bags or add a drop of peppermint oil to hot water. Sip, and calm the inner storm.

6. Get yourself some Probiotics. Everyone’s doing it, now’s your turn. Probiotics help restore good bacteria and ease digestion. Foods that are naturally high in probiotics include pineapple, tempeh, kimchi, natto, sauerkraut, and miso. If those don’t sound good, I love Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics Plus Supplement.

7. Go for the Garlic. Which is worse, garlicky breath, or stinky, loosened pants? Fresh garlic stimulates digestion. Order extra.

8. Delve into the Dills. One dill pickle or a teaspoon of pickle juice calms digestion just like gripe water does for babies. There’s a reason restaurants serve pickles alongside greasy burgers and fries.

9. Wheel out trapped gas. When you’re alone, lay on the floor, legs up in the air and move them in a bicycle motion.

10. Cleanse your colon. If all else fails, consider a good colon cleansing. The act of colon cleansing is far from good, but the results are amazing.

Other ideas? Eating less beans or veggies not an option!