October 2017

 

HOW TO TAME INFLAMMATION

 

The right food choices can help control and prevent chronic inflammation.  Read on!

 

Occasional inflammation, like a swollen sprained ankle or painful cut, is healthy.  It’s a sign that the body’s immune system is healing injuries and fighting off bacteria.  While a little is bothersome, the inflammation is acute and goes away in a few days.  But there’s another type of inflammation that’s not so healthy: chronic inflammation.  It’s triggered by the immune system responding to irritants, or foreign compounds, often food or the environment.  With no overt symptoms, chronic inflammation is a little harder to understand or even recognize.  However, research has linked it with obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. 

Ongoing inflammation is problematic because it alters normal body processes and cells, which can cause long-term damage and increase your likelihood of developing a chronic condition.  Food plays a pivotal role: it can either reduce or promote chronic inflammation.  While there is much to be done, we do know that filling your plate with more anti-inflammatory foods while dialing back on ones that cause inflammation may have a powerful effect on your body’s ability to ward off disease and even slow aging. 

 

10 Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods

 

Cherries: Both sweet and tart varieties lower C-reactive protein, one of the key blood indicators used to test for inflammation.   Cherries may even offer pain relief comparable to ibuprofen.  When cherries aren’t in season, try tart cherry juice in smoothies and salad dressings.

Salmon: The omega-3 fats DHA and EPA in salmon and other oily fish play key roles in suppressing inflammation and boosting production of anti-inflammatory compounds.  Aim to eat cold water fish or sea vegetables like algae several times per week.

Broccoli: This cruciferous vegetable offers healthy doses of phytochemicals that quell inflammatory compounds associated with cancer development.   Try to eat at least 5 weekly servings of cruciferous vegetables.  These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, watercress, and kohlrabi.

Shiitake Mushrooms: Research suggest that eating shiitake mushrooms daily lowers inflammatory markers and improves immune system function.  Oyster and enoki mushrooms also have anti-inflammatory powers.  Make sure you eat them raw or cook at low to moderate temps for the most impact.

Extra-virgin olive oil: This pantry staple delivers the inflammation-suppressing compound oleocanthal, plus a small amount of omega-3s.  Try other oils, too, such as flaxseed and avocado.

Avocado: The creamy fruit works twofold thanks to monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.  Avocado may even counteract eating some inflammatory foods: top your hamburger with avocado and lower inflammatory markers that rise when you consume red meat.

Turmeric: Curcumin is the powerful compound in turmeric that eases symptoms in almost all inflammation-related conditions.  Research varies on how much you need, but aim to cook with turmeric several times a week (curry powder is a good source).

Tomatoes: Tomatoes’ lycopene propels them to the next nutritional level.  Studies show lycopene reduces and suppresses inflammation, which is why tomatoes help lower cancer and cardiovascular incident risks.

Spinach: While all leafy greens are recommended, spinach offers a mix of antioxidants that boost the immune system and suppress inflammation.  It also helps that the leafy green is one of the most versatile vegetables for quick meal prep. 

Strawberries: These berries are loaded with anthocyanins and antioxidants called ellagitannins, which sweep up harmful free radicals that promote inflammation.  In fact, all berries are good sources.

 

Two Quick Questions

 

Does Dairy Promote Inflammation?  Contrary to popular belief, dairy products like yogurt have an anti-inflammatory effect in most people.  Yogurt reduces inflammation by supporting gut health.  However, if you have a dairy allergy or sensitivity, continue to avoid dairy, as it will trigger an inflammatory response.

 

Should I Avoid Nightshade Vegetables?  Nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes, are often blamed for arthritis inflammation due to their compound solanine.  However, there is no conclusive research that they trigger inflammation.   Nightshades are packed full of anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, so don’t avoid them.  However, if eating a specific one triggers pain or inflammation symptoms, it likely isn’t the entire nightshade family but rather a sensitivity to one that can be eliminated.

 

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD