When we cut our finger, break a bone, or experience an injury, our bodies are designed to “turn on” healing through the process of inflammation. This is the bright side of inflammation—when our arsenal of cellular bodyguards leap into action to focus their flame of healing where it’s needed most.
Inflammation, however, has a darker side that causes trouble when it’s fueled by poor food choices. An unhealthy diet of processed foods feeds the fire of inflammation, which then burns out of control and paves the way for the development of chronic, life-altering illnesses like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, osteoporosis, debilitating digestive difficulties, and more. How can you help cut them off at the pass? A great place to start is by taming inflammation throughout your body—smart food choices are a fantastic place to start. Try these food-based strategies to stop fanning the flames of inflammation, and let the cool-down begin.
> Eat until gently satisfied. Practice the lost art of portion control. Overeating generates excess calories that are converted to body fat. That body fat becomes an inflammatory factory, pumping out molecules that keep the inflammatory fire burning (and not in a good way).
> Take a sweet retreat. Look for obvious and hidden sources of sugar and sweeteners and eliminate them. Detox your taste buds from the sweet tsunami of added sugar, sweet snack foods, and desserts. Realign and reconnect with the taste of nature-made sweetness found in fresh, seasonal fruit.
> Prioritize plants. Consume plant-filled meals that are rich in bioactive compounds which tamp down inflammation. Boost your beans (red, white, black, and yellow), up your veggies and fruit (fresh or frozen), toss in some nuts and seeds, then add healthy oils (extra-virgin olive oil, grapeseed, coconut) to the mix for maximum benefit.
>> Spice it up. Flavorize and capitalize on the anti-inflammatory benefits of delicious herbs and spices. Among my favorite taste-makers and inflammation busters: allspice, ginger, cinnamon, rosemary, turmeric, parsley, and sage. Not only do they add flavor, but they also boost antioxidant defenses—so pour ‘em on!
Anti-Inflammatory Foods That Are Already in Your Kitchen
>> Oily fish like salmon and tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to reduce inflammation. Incorporating fish into your diet several times per week will ensure you reap their benefits.
>> Dark leafy greens protect the body from cytokines—proinflammatory molecules—and offer high amounts of vitamins and minerals, including disease-fighting phytochemicals. Some of the best varieties include spinach, kale, broccoli, and collard greens.
>> Whole grains help fight inflammation by contributing high amounts of fiber to your diet.
>> Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, are packed with vitamins and antioxidant compounds.
>> Tomatoes, rich in the compound lycopene, have been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Cooked tomatoes, believe it or not, actually deliver more lycopene than raw tomatoes—so don’t skimp on the sauce.
>> Curcumin, the bright yellow spice most abundantly used in Asian cooking, also helps shut down inflammation. If you don’t eat a lot of curry, seek out curcumin in supplement form.
>> Ginger reduces inflammation in the stomach and intestines when used in tea, eaten raw, and also in supplement form.
By Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RDN