Inflammation in the body is an agent for many of the diseases thought to be “diseases of aging” as well as of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. While aging is inevitable, these diseases are often not, and eating an anti-inflammatory diet (among doing other things) may even slow the body’s aging process!
The body uses inflammation to fight off infections and heal itself, so inflammation is both necessary and beneficial for our bodies. However, we don’t need to consume the arachidonic acid responsible for triggering this useful inflammation – our bodies are smart and make all we need! When we do consume it, inflammation can become chronic and may engender a whole host of diseases. Inflammation is liked to heart disease, high risk of cancer, depression, bone disease, and lung disease. The secret to healthy aging and preventing disease is to keep chronic inflammation under control while maintaining a strong immune response to threat and pathogens.
A review of the associations between dietary patterns and inflammation found that the diets most associated with inflammation were meat-based diets, while plant-based diets were inversely associated with inflammation. This means that the more plants you eat, the less harmful inflammation you trigger in your body! The most anti-inflammatory diet is a plant-based diet, which can lower levels of C-reactive proteins (indicators of inflammation) by 30% in two weeks!
Arachidonic acid is found in its highest levels in animal fats. Chicken are eggs are the top sources of arachidonic acid in the American diet. Other inflammatory foods include processed sugar, saturated fats (found in its highest levels in cheese), trans fats, excess omega-6 fatty acids (found in oils), refined carbs, meat, alcohol, fried foods, and dairy. By limiting these foods and incorporating powerful anti-inflammatory foods in our diet, we can strengthen our immune response while fighting chronic inflammation. Before I go on to share some of the most powerful anti-inflammatory foods, just keep this rule of thumb in mind – antioxidants are anti-inflammatory, and the colors of whole, plant foods are indications of antioxidant levels! For example, red-leaf lettuce has a deep red color, indicating higher levels of antioxidants than iceberg lettuce, which is a pale green and white.
While plant foods in general (not all) have anti-inflammatory properties, berries and greens (kale, spinach, collard greens, etc…) have more antioxidants and more anti-inflammatory components than bananas and lettuce (again – color!). Other highly anti-inflammatory foods include citrus fruits, berries, sweet cherries, tomato juice, walnuts, red wine, flax, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas), garlic, ginger, turmeric*, cinnamon, white mushrooms, purple potatoes, amla, cacao, chia seeds, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies, nuts**, and beets.
Herbs are particularly powerful and super high in antioxidants. A study demonstrated that the blood of subjects who ate normal amounts of cloves, ginger, rosemary, cayenne, nutmeg, and turmeric was able to significantly suppress the inflammatory response in the body.
Try adding some of these foods to your daily meals and check in with yourself and how you feel. Now that autumn is here, adding some anti-inflammatory herbs and spices to your warm meals will really hit the spot!
*Turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory. However, turmeric alone has low bio-availability, meaning it is not easily absorbed into the bloodstream. That is - unless you add some black pepper. Eating black pepper with turmeric increases the level of turmeric phytonutrients by 2000%!
** A study in Australia demonstrated that even just half a walnut appeared to cut the risk of dying from inflammatory disease in about half!
Diana Ruiz is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in training. She is a spiritual activist, reiki practitioner, and has a passion for healthy plant-based food. You can follow her Instagram @datesanddimples and check out her website dianacruiz.com.
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