Fighting the Flames! Inflammation & 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods is about inflammation in the body, the problems it can cause and some foods that can help to fight it.
Inflammation is a naturally occurring immune response that helps your body to defend itself. It can fight off bacteria, clear infections, heal wounds and prevent illnesses.
There are two types of inflammation; acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation is generally “positive” inflammation, that restores your body to its state before injury or illness. It’s usually relieved after a few days and can be aided by cleansing wounds, ice treatments and good rest.
Chronic inflammation is where your body is persistently inflamed for a period longer than 6 weeks and your natural immune response is over-stimulated. Continuous chronic inflammation eventually breaks down your healthy tissues and can lead to serious problems.
Chronic inflammation is involved with many diseases including; Alzheimer’s, arthritis, asthma, cancer and heart disease. It causes skin problems like eczema and psoriasis and can also be responsible for gastrointestinal issues like; acid reflux, constipation, diarrhoea, and irritable bowel syndrome (also inflammatory bowel disease).
Inflammation can strain your bodily functions and cause pain in your bones and joints. It also creates anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and other mood disorders.
What causes inflammation?
Some of the main causes of chronic inflammation include; auto-immune diseases, genetic variants, a lack of exercise, obesity, stress, tobacco and long-term exposure to industrial chemicals and polluted air.
Another main culprit in chronic inflammation is overexposing your body to allergens, irritants and toxins, through the food and drinks that you consume.
Some of the main offending food types that cause unnecessary inflammation contain high levels of; glucose, lactose, gluten, saturated fats and refined carbohydrates.
Inflammatory foods could be; breads, cooking-oils, dairy, desserts, fried food, pastry, pasta, pizza, soda drinks and processed snacks and fast-food. Over consumption of alcohol also causes damaging inflammation.
It’s not just these that can cause inflammation, but also the artificial colourings, flavourings and chemical preservatives that are added to many products.
It’s problematic in our convenience-led and instant-gratification society, where we’re continuously encouraged to drink socially and consume fatty foods, sugary snacks and traditional staples.
Most big players in food production refuse to acknowledge scientifically proven links between some of their products and inflammation, and medical approaches to treatment are centred around; supplements, anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen) or steroid injections (like cortisone).
In many cases, these medications are absolutely necessary for fighting debilitating conditions. However, it could also be that a diet with more healing foods could help too.
Most anti-inflammatory foods are fruits and vegetables, which contain high levels of antioxidants and vitamins B, C, D and E. Other minerals that are anti-inflammatory include; folic acid, glutathione, magnesium, and omega-3, and these can be found in a variety of sources.
To learn more about some of the best anti-inflammatory foods, and get some cooking inspo, read on for 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods!
Milk and white chocolates are high in sugars that can cause inflammation; however, dark chocolate is packed with minerals and antioxidants. Dark chocolate is rich in anti-inflammatory flavonoids, and studies have shown that when eaten in moderation, it can have many positive effects and considerably reduce irritations.
How to eat it: Dark chocolate can be used as a substitute for milk chocolate in many recipes, but is best consumed in its pure, bar form.
Olive oil contains many antioxidants, like hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein. It also contains polyphenols and monounsaturated fats, which have anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds repress the proteins that cause chronic inflammation. Some research has suggested that around 3.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil are comparable to a 200-mg ibuprofen pill.
How to eat it: Olive oil can be drizzled on grilled fish, salads, or enjoyed with wholemeal bread and balsamic vinegar.
Turmeric is a flowering plant, native to India and Southeast Asia. It’s mostly used to create a bright powder spice that contains a medical compound called curcumin, which ‘blocks’ inflammatory molecules in the body. Turmeric is used around the world to treat a raft of conditions linked with inflammation, including; chronic pain, arthritis, colitis, IBS, and pancreatitis. It can be found in supplement tablet form, too.
How to eat it: Turmeric can be used in soups and low-fat curries, or used to season lean meats and fish.
Avocados are packed with minerals like magnesium and riboflavin, and healthy monounsaturated fats like omega-3. They also contain high levels of vitamins B6 and C, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, avocados can reduce bad cholesterol, helping reduce heart disease risks, and they’re also beneficial for gut health.
How to eat it: Avocado can be enjoyed as a snack or used in salads, guacamole, or spread on toast with poached eggs.
Sauerkraut is fermented white cabbage and a national delicacy in Germany. It’s widely known to have excellent effects on gut and digestive health, due to its high levels of probiotics. It contains vitamins A, C, and K and the mineral iron, all of which are good for the immune system and can help regulate inflammation.
How to eat it: Sauerkraut is mostly served with pork sausages and smoked meats but can also accompany salads and sandwiches or be used in soups.
Swiss chard is a green, leafy vegetable with a colourful red stalk. Although it looks like kale, it’s actually a member of the beat family. Research shows that Swiss chard contains flavonoids that work as antioxidants. It’s extremely low in calories and a helpful source of the anti-inflammatory vitamins A and K and numerous minerals like; iron, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
How to eat it: Swiss chard is commonly used in salads, stir-fry’s, soups and omelettes, or the raw leaves can be filled like a tortilla wrap.
Celery grows naturally in marshlands around the globe and was first cultivated in the Mediterranean regions. Celery has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities that help improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as prevent heart disease. It’s alkaline-forming and also a source of potassium which flushes toxins from the body. It can be consumed as it grows, or in a dried powder form.
How to eat it: Celery sticks make a great snack or it can be put in dressings, gratins, salads, soups or with roasted meats and vegetables.
Pineapples hold a digestive enzyme called “bromelain” that helps to control the immune system. Bromelain also helps to maintain blood health by preventing clotting, lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Pineapples contain high levels of vitamins B1 and C, and minerals like potassium and manganese. They also hold phytonutrients, that work like many medicines to lessen the symptoms of common illnesses and inflammation.
How to eat it: Pineapple is best consumed pure as a snack, or in juices, smoothies, and fruit salads. (Not on pizza!)
Seeds (chia and flax)
Seeds, like chia and flax, are inflammation fighting power-houses. Chia seeds contain; essential fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid, mucin, strontium, vitamins A, B, E, and D, and minerals including sulphur, iron, iodine, magnesium, manganese, niacin and thiamine (vitamin B1). Flax seeds also contain essential fatty acids as well as; copper, molybdenum, magnesium, phosphorus and thiamine.
How to eat it: Chia and flax seeds can be topped on crackers, sprinkled on salads, added to oats and granola pots, or blended in smoothies.
Coconut oil is good for the treatment of inflammation in the joints because it can act as a lubricant for the bones and has antibacterial properties. A study in India, suggested that the high levels of antioxidants and healthy fatty acids in virgin coconut oil reduced inflammation and calmed arthritis, more effectively than some leading medications.
How to eat it: Coconut oil can be used to bake bread, make soups, and is popular with vegans as a butter substitute in; brownies, cookies, cornbread, and mashed potatoes.
Many people experience inflammation without ever knowing the specific cause, and systematic faith in medical science holds them back from exploring alternative treatments.
If you have an unexplained physical or mental health condition and your medical professionals have been unable to identify why, it could be that you’re consuming too many inflammatory foods and drinks.
Personally, I have suffered from inflammation-related problems. Following an MRI scan some years ago, I was diagnosed with inflammatory disease in my hip joints and mostly attributed the problem to stress. But inflammation can be a multifaceted problem; for example stress can cause inflammation, but inflammation can also cause stress.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time since then exploring practices that could reduce it. Exercise, stretching and yoga have proved invaluable, but paying attention to when I have discomfort has helped me learn about anti-inflammatory foods.
The body is complex, and everything is connected. To me, it makes sense that if some foods can cause or exacerbate inflammation, then others could help to minimise it, especially in more mild cases.
What I find concerning is that the links between foods and inflammation are largely overlooked by mainstream media and government health officials. There is a wealth of information online, but it’s rarely highlighted elsewhere. I feel like more could be done in terms of labelling and packaging to warn consumers of potential risks.
But life is for living, and sometimes we need to enjoy the foods and drinks we love. The key is moderation and counteracting. So if you indulge in too much “bad” stuff, I recommend eating these 10 anti-inflammatory foods and incorporating them into a balanced diet.
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All text ©J. Thomson, 2022