Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Heal & Nourish

What is inflammation? Where does it come from and how does it manifest in our body? And more importantly, what the heck can we do to nourish our bodies and decrease this inflammation? First of all, a little inflammation is a natural process in our body as a way for our immune system to fight against toxins, trauma, stress, illness as well as chronic diseases. The problem isn't that we have this protective short-term inflammation but that when we constantly put these stresses on our immune systems then this can lead to chronic and long-term inflammation that can lead to more serious health conditions. Do you feel lethargic often or are always the one getting sick? Do you eat a lot of processed foods and have feelings of body tightness and swelling? If this is the case or if you feel like you would benefit (like most of us would and should) from following an anti-inflammatory diet, I'll list the basic guidelines below. Try adding or applying a few guidelines into your diet and lifestyle a week, and hopefully you can feel changes to last a lifetime!

  • Quality Fats:
    • Have you heard of omega-3 fatty acids? That's cause they are awesome! Focus on poly-unsaturated fats high in omega-3s that have been shown to decrease inflammation. This includes ground flaxseed, walnuts, and any cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, herring). Olive oil is another great source and can be used in cooking, dressings, and marinades. All sorts of nuts have bioactive compounds that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and are great protein additions to a plant-based diet.
    • Limit or entirely avoid any foods high in omega-6 fatty acids and trans fat. Foods that include this are certain oils like safflower and corn oil as well as margarine and partially hydrogenated oils. Cooking at home is a great way to avoid these since a lot of restaurants end up using these products. 
  • Whole Grains:
    • Like I mentioned above, processed foods and those that contain refined grains and simple sugar can actually add to inflammation in the body. By choosing whole grain options we can work on decreasing this inflammation and improving gut health (which has been shown to greatly decrease inflammation) through the fiber they contain. Whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, and 100% whole grain/whole wheat breads, pastas, and snacks.
  • Fruits and Vegetables:
    • Phytochemicals and bioactive compounds are present in all fruits and vegetables and by eating a wide variety of different colors we can get as many of these anti-inflammatory compounds as possible. Shoot for 7-10 servings a day. Fruits and vegetables that have been studied and been found to have the most anti-inflammatory properties are green leafy vegetables, cabbage, onions, berries, cherries, pomegranate, and citrus fruits. Get your fruits and veggies lovely people!
  • Herbs and Spices:
    • These not only have amazing anti-inflammatory properties but can be added in different ways to make your foods more exciting! The most powerful among the bunch are turmeric, ginger, garlic, curry, cinnamon, basil, and thyme. Add some into your next stir fry, salad, sauce or even scramble, go wild!
  • Tea:
    • Teas have high polyphenol content, which is a phytochemical and a great antioxidant, and well-known to reduce inflammation. This includes all teas: black, red, green, and white, enjoy!
  • Some things to avoid:
    • Work on avoiding environmental toxins and chemicals. This means choosing organic foods when you can, and staying away from harsh personal care and cleaning products. Alcohol can be a big contributor to stress, so sticking to the recommended amount of alcohol is best (red wine does have phytochemicals though :)) 
    • Stress! I believe this deep down to my core - stress can have major impacts on our health, weight, and overall quality of life. Physical activity, yoga, and meditation can all help decrease stress. (I'll have a stress blog coming soon).

This is one of my favorite recipes that I learned during my time at Bastyr and a great way to include several anti-inflammatory foods and decrease stress due to its soothing nature:

Chai Golden Milk

This simple chai provides the anti-inflammatory effects multiple spices in a delicious drink. Serves 1

8 oz hot water

2 Tablespoons chai tea spice mix, or 1 chai spice tea bag (should contain cinnamon, cardoman, black pepper, cloves & dried ginger)

1-2 Tablespoons coconut milk

1 teaspoon turmeric

Procedure: Place spice mix* or tea bag in a medium size mug and pour in 8oz hot water. Allow tea to steep for 5 minutes. Then remove spice mix or tea bag and add in coconut milk and turmeric. Stir to combine and then drink hot. Enjoy! 

I would love to hear how incorporating some of these anti-inflammatory guidelines go! Did you feel any different? What was difficult and what made making the changes more doable?