What is inflammation and how does it affect your health? Inflammation is an essential part of the body’s healing system. Without inflammation injuries would not heal and a simple infection could kill you. However, too much of a good thing can become dangerous. Acute inflammation occurs as the body’s response to injury or harmful stimuli. It’s goal is to protect the body against viruses, bacteria, foreign invaders and to remove debris and begin the healing process by repairing damaged tissue.
Chronic, low level inflammation (often referred to as “silent inflammation”) occurs as a result of continual modern irritations, such as, being under constant stress, eating a poor diet, smoking, lack of exercising, and lack of sleep to name a few. Inflammation has proven to be a common denominator in a whole host of diseases and illnesses, such as, many cancers, diabetes, depression, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even peripheral neuropathy.
As a result of diet and lifestyle, our bodies are exposed to and over produce more inflammatory chemicals than ever before in history. Even being a few pounds overweight increases your level of inflammation. Fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals on their own at a rate much higher than other cells. Many ingredients in foods will increase your inflammatory pathway. Chronic inflammation causes damage to nerves, blood vessel linings, and many other tissues.
A recent study at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (2012) has shown that regular consumption of processed and junk food is the largest dietary driver of chronic inflammation (directly implicated in a large number of health problems and diseases).
Foods that you should avoid:
Pro- Inflammatory: Harmful oils, sugar, artificial sweeteners, food additives and chemicals all cause chronic inflammation.
Found in: All Fast Food, All Junk Food, Most foods that come in a box carton or can.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Fresh food, fruit and vegetables, raw nuts (not peanuts) and natural snacks (see recipe section).
Pro- Inflammatory: highly processed grains that are devoid of fiber (the bran and hull have been stripped off) have a high glycemic index and create a large cascade of inflammation.
Found in: White rice, white flour, white bread, wheat bread, noodles, pasta, biscuits, pastries and boxed breakfast cereals.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Whole or sprouted grains (quinoa, millet, amaranth, oatmeal, Teff, buckwheat or wheat – if you are not sensitive to gluten), Whole, sprouted grain bread (like Ezekiel bread).
Pro- Inflammatory: Table sugar, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Fructose, Dextrose, Maltose, Sucrose are responsible for causing Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome.
Found in: Soft drinks, fruit drinks, Sweet Tea, Energy Drinks, Electrolyte Drinks, Cakes, cookies, candies, pastries, snacks and boxed cereals.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Natural sweeteners like stevia, honey or blackstrap molasses, fruit preserves with no added sugar, fruits and healthy snacks (see recipe section).
Pro- Inflammatory: high in omega-6 fatty acids which causes an imbalance between your Omega-6 and Omega-3 ratio. This imbalance promotes inflammation.
Found in: Grapeseed oil, Sunflower oil, Safflower oil, Corn Oil.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), Ghee, Coconut oil, Macadamia oil, Flaxseed oil.
Pro- Inflammatory: used to enhance flavor and increase shelf life of foods.
Found in: Margerine or butter substitutes, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, wide variety of processed and packaged foods (like crackers, cookies, energy bars, frozen meals, fast foods, deep fried foods, pastries).
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Organic butter, Ghee, Coconut Oil, EVOO, ingredient lists that don’t have hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils.
Pro- Inflammatory: Once cows’ milk is pasteurized, naturally occurring enzymes are destroyed leading to an inability to digest it in 60% of the population. The 40% that can digest it, still get an inflammatory reaction to it. For more information read “Don’t drink your Milk” by Frank A. Oski, M.D. (Director of pediatrics department , Johns Hopkins Children’s Center or “Milk – The Deadly Poison” by Robert Cohen – Executive Director of the Dairy Education Board (www.notmilk.com).
Found in: Just about Everything. Make sure to read your food labels.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Raw cow milk (unpasteurized), Goat’s milk , Kefir, yogurt made from goat’s milk, rice milk (unsweetened) nut milks (coconut milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, hemp milk-unsweetened).
Pro- Inflammatory: Commercial cattle are fed grains like corn and soybeans which are high in omega 6 fatty acids and genetically engineered. They are also kept in very tight, cramped and inhumane living conditions causing an elevation in their stress hormones which we consume when eating meat. They are also given hormone injections and antibiotics.
Found in: Unless specified as free range, free roaming, grass fed, almost all cattle, pigs and poultry (including organic) come from feedlot farms.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Organic, free-range animals fed a natural diet such as grasses are higher in omega 3 fatty acids. Since they have room to roam around they are leaner and contain less saturated fat in their meat.
Pro- Inflammatory: meats which have been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives like nitrates or nitrites all increase inflammation in the body.
Found in: Many sandwich meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausages, pastrami and salami to name a few.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Applegate Organic deli meat, Boar’s head turkey deli meat.
Pro- Inflammatory: MSG, Aspartame, Nitrates, Nitrites, Sodium Benzoate, Polysorbate 80 trigger an inflammatory response.
Found in: the 3-P’s foods (see above box).
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Organic herbs & spices (black pepper, basil, cardamom, cayenne, chamomile, chives, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, parsley, nutmeg, rosemary, turmeric).
Pro- Inflammatory: Loaded with omega 6 fats, distorting the omega 3:6 ratio, they are frequently contaminated with a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin and are one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops, all of which create a deluge of inflammation.
Found in: Peanut butter and many processed foods, make sure to read your labels.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Almonds, Pecans, Hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, Macadamia nuts and their associated nut butters.
Pro- Inflammatory: Highly sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides known to increase inflammation.
Found in: Whole bean coffee, ground coffee, all teas – not organically grown.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Organic, steam distilled, decaffeinated coffee beans, Organic Green Tea, Organic herbal teas.
Pro- Inflammatory: Regular, high consumption of alcohol raises blood sugar levels, causes insulin resistance and causes chronic inflammation.
Found in: Beer, Wine, Liquors, Liqueurs and Ciders.
Anti-inflammatory substitute: Kombucha, Fruit infused water, Herbal iced teas.
Inflammation Fighting Foods
Kelp, one of many sea vegetables– such as wakame and arame, contains fucoidan, a type of complex carbohydrate that is anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and antioxidative. This sea vegetable is extremely high in mineral content, especially iodine. Kelp also contains significant levels of beta-carotene, and vitamins B, C, D, E, and K. The high fiber content of kelp also helps induce fullness, slow fat absorption, and promote weight loss. Whenever possible, though, you should get organic kelp that is harvested from the unpolluted sea. Kelp or any sea vegetable is very easy to use; simply add it to your soup or stew, put it in a pot of rice while it is cooking, and presto—you have a mineral-rich food.
Salmon is an excellent source of EPA and DHA, two potent omega-3 fatty acids that douse inflammation. The benefits of omega-3 have been backed by numerous studies, and they range from preventing heart disease and some cancers to reducing the symptoms of autoimmune diseases and psychological disorders. Be sure to include some oily fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, in your diet twice a week. If you don’t enjoy eating fish, you can also get omega-3 fatty acids from high-quality fish oil supplements.
This bright orange Asian root spice, which is commonly found in premixed curry powder, contains a powerful, nontoxic compound called curcumin. Studies have found that turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects are on a par with potent drugs, such as hydrocortisone and Motrin. However, it has none of their side effects. Tumeric aids in wound healing, and it helps prevent the progression of inflammatory diseases.
Enjoyed by the Chinese and the Japanese since ancient times, shiitake mushrooms are revered for their immune-boosting properties and their mild, smoky taste. The medicinal use of these mushrooms dates back to around 100 AD in China. Research involving the medicinal properties of these gems has been ongoing since the 1960s. Shitake mushrooms are rich in iron, which improves the circulation of oxygen through your blood.
The polyacetylene in celery provides great relief for all inflammation. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science US. highlighted the phytonutrient, luteolin, which is found in celery, as inhibiting a pathway that allows for inflammation to set in.
The flavonoids in green tea are potent natural anti-inflammatory compounds that have been shown in numerous studies to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Current research in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Food Biochemistry reported that a strong antioxidant, sunphenon, destroys the free radicals that lead to inflammation. Adding milk to your tea will negate the anti-inflammatory properties. You should only consume organic green tea. Conventionally farmed tealeaves are highly sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. These chemicals increase inflammation and they are neurotoxic.
Papaya contains papain, a protein-digesting enzyme. Christopher Columbus called this fruit the “fruit of angels.” Combined with other nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and E, papain helps reduce inflammation, and it improves immunity and digestion. Dried papaya can be laden with preservatives, which can cause them to lose their anti-inflammatory benefits. (note- this is a high GI fruit and should not be consumed by diabetics)
Pineapple contains a naturally occurring digestive enzyme called bromelain, which helps break down proteins and aids in digestion. It also reduces swelling and inflammation, and it improves blood circulation. Pineapple is also rich in vitamin C and manganese. (note-this is a high GI fruit and should not be consumed by diabetics)
The University of Michigan’s Cardioprotection Research Laboratory has reported that cherries have the capacity to reduce inflammation around blood vessels. This fruit is high in antioxidants, fiber, and minerals. Cherries contain substantial amounts of vitamin C and beta-carotene, and moderate amounts of vitamin K, vitamin B6, and vitamin A. Some of the minerals found in cherries are potassium, copper, manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University reports that cherries are high in phytosterols, which lower LDL cholesterol and aid in fighting cancer.
A review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties are comparable to over-the-counter NSAIDs like Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and aspirin without any of the harmful side effects. Aromatic ginger has been touted as a superstar of Asian medicine, according to a review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food. It has been treasured for thousands of years for its impressive health benefits. This amazing spice root contains phytonutrients known as gingerols, which are some of the most potent inflammation-fighting substances identified. Ginger extract inhibit several genes that contribute to the formation of inflammation within the body.
This wonderful herb is power-packed with medicinal benefits. Garlic has been found to lower cholesterol and improve heart health. It also has the ability to stimulate the lymphatic system, which aids in eliminating toxins and reducing whole-body inflammation.
Blueberries are antioxidant powerhouses. They are high in phytonutrients, which provide anti-inflammatory protection against many diseases, such as cancer and dementia. They have enormous benefits in terms of decreasing inflammation within the brain and the nervous system.
Broccoli is a highly nutritious vegetable that contains anti-inflammatory and anticancer phytonutrients, such as sulforaphane, which helps the body get rid of potentially carcinogenic compounds. It provides an excellent source of vitamins C and K. Other cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts, arugula, cabbage, watercress, and chard also contain similar anti-inflammatory and detoxification properties.
Spinach is a nutrient-rich vegetable with significant amounts of vitamins K and A, and manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, and much more. Spinach also contains alpha linoleic acid (ALA), which is a form of omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation.
Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, manganese, vitamins B2, B6, C, E, and K, and calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and dietary fiber. Together, these nutrients are powerful antioxidants that help heal inflammation in the body. Make sure you buy organic sweet potatoes whenever possible, as they are also among the foods on which pesticide residues have been found the most frequently.
Virgin olive oil is the Mediterranean secret to longevity. Its rich supply of polyphenols protects the heart and blood vessels from inflammation. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is one of the purest forms of olive oil. In EVOO, no chemicals or heat are used in the oil extraction process. One of the wonderful properties of this oil is that its components are turned into anti-inflammatory agents by the body. This can lower occurrences of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic inflammation. Olive oil has a lower smoke point than many other oils, so it should never be used on any heat higher than a medium setting. Otherwise the oil will break down and form dangerous free radicals in the cooking process. Once this occurs, all of the health benefits are tossed out the window.
Virgin coconut oil helps treat chronic inflammation, as reported in a study published in the February 2010 issue of Pharmaceutical Biology. As published in Medical Principles and Practice in March 2011, virgin coconut oil, which is high in lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid, is tremendously effective in reducing inflammation and aiding in the treatment of conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain cancers. Always use unrefined (or virgin) cold-pressed coconut oil. It also makes a wonderful skin moisturizer for your body.
Ghee has been used for over two thousand years in India as part of their Ayurvedic medicine system, which is an ancient natural healing system. Ghee is clarified butter with the milk protein removed, leaving rich, and delicious pure butter fat. This oil is free of casein, the culprit in asthma and dairy sensitivities, making it safe for lactose-intolerant people. Lab studies have shown that ghee reduces cholesterol, improves gallbladder function, and promotes nerve and brain health. This oil has been found to promote learning and increase memory retention. Ghee is rich in antioxidants, which squelch free radicals and aid in decreasing inflammation. It contains a high concentration of butyric acid, which has antiviral properties and antitumor properties. It also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which aids in weight loss. Ghee is high in vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Note: The following oils should never be used for cooking, due to their low smoke points and/or genetic modification: flaxseed, safflower, sunflower, soy, peanut, corn oils.