Let's talk inflammation. We all know inflammation isn't a good word but do we know what causes it and how it can be prevented and decreased through food? I think we should chat about it. Someone asked me while I was coaching at F45 recently if I could talk about it and I was already planning on doing a post this week. I want to talk about this because I think many people do not realize their body is inflamed because they are used to feeling a certain way. But there are tactics to help you fight this inflammation and save your body's energy for a better use.
Without getting too science-y on you, I want to give a little background in the process of how the body becomes inflamed and what to do about it. The term inflammation is a protective response that the body uses through the immune system to fight off infection, toxins, trauma, disease, physical stress, and even chronic disease. This acute inflammation can be short term, while chronic inflammation begins as a short term process but it continues to last for a long amount of time. During the inflammation process, your body is put to work in an attempt to fight off and guard itself from the foreign substance or trauma that is currently attacking it.
Knowing this, research has shown that there are specific foods that do indeed fight inflammation and prevent your body from experiencing in internal battle of foreign specimens (of the edible type, food that it). Everyone has heard of the Mediterranean Diet, a diet that consists in less animal products, many healthy fats and oils as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. This diet aims for variety and should be called the 'Eat the Rainbow Diet' if you ask me. It is plentiful in color and minimal in processed foods and has no artificial sugars in it. When this diet is combined with exercise, it has known to be very effective in preventing illness and increasing longevity.
I recently listened to a podcast by Mind Body Green by Dan Buettner about Blue Zones. Blue Zones are areas of the world that have the healthiest longevity rates in the world, essentially places where humans live the longest. I found this podcast to be super interesting and I wanted to learn more about how people lived so long, and what their lifestyle was like in order for them to live a chronically disease-free life. There is also science that shows that an anti-inflammatory diet can help with weight loss (yes, we have known this for a while!) because a reduction in body fat mass can indicate the presence of less inflammatory mediators from fat tissue in the body. This is so cool! This means you can eat a diet that helps prevent disease, increases your life expectancy, your mood, your libido, your job performance and your happiness. Basically your entire quality of life can be improved through food and exercise.
So what food helps to fight inflammation? I was inspired by this list of 11 specific foods from one of my favorite books called 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. This book literally changed my life. I've read it through twice and I've pulled it off my book shelf dozens of times.
Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C and potassium and they are also contain lycopene, an antioxidant that intensifies when tomatoes are cooked. I most definitely did not always love tomatoes, but I knew they were good for me. The texture always threw me off and made me think of bad theater performances where people used to get tomatoes thrown at them... But there is scientific evidence that tomatoes can help reduce cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and ovarian cancer. They can be eaten raw or cooked and are delicious made into fresh marina sauce or dipped in hummus.
Salmon is a nutrient rich source of omega-3s that help maintain brain and heart health. It is rich in these healthy fats, protein and vitamin A. Salmon is also full of micro nutrient minerals such as zinc, selenium, iron, potassium, phosphorus and calcium.
Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, are are all so delicious! Blackberries happen to be higher in antioxidants than any of the other berries listed. They are rich in fiber, vitamin C, and several phytochemicals. These phytochemicals help play a role in the plants growth, but once they are in the body they help fight against competitors, pathogens and potential predators.
Similar to salmon, walnuts help with brain and heart health but what does that mean exactly? They are full of healthy fats and have anticarninogenic properties (meaning they fight cancer, boom!). Walnuts have the highest level of omega-3 fats over any other nut and they are also a great source of B vitamins, phosphorus and magnesium. Try adding walnuts on top of your oatmeal or sprinkling them over a salad for extra omega-3s in your diet.
5.) Olive Oil
I am not the biggest salad dressing fan, so I will often drizzle olive oil over my greens to get more monounsaturated fats in my diet. There are also many epidemiological scientific studies that support the Mediterranean diet and olive/olive oil consumption help fight disease.
Many people seem to be afraid of beans because of their fiber content and the fact that they are not trendy and Paleo. I used to be afraid of beans too. I remember when I was a vegetarian for 4 years in high school I didn’t really eat them either. But they have so many health benefits to them! They are both a protein and a carbohydrate source and their soluble and insoluble fiber content help to clean out your gut and promote regularity. Also, the darker the bean, the more antioxidants it has. It contains the antioxidant called anthocyanins, which are also found in grapes and cranberries. So try to add a couple servings of beans to your diet each week!
Onions bring flavor to every single dish! I am pretty sure I eat onions on the daily. Even sautéed onions on their own are delicious. They contain fiber, vitamin C and folate. There is also evidence that some of the Phytochemicals found in onions can help reduce the risk of cancer as well. I do think onions are an acquired taste though, I recall being younger and not favoring them too much. Now I think they are delicious and add them to cooked meats, omelets and I make sure to add them to my salad at lunch every day.
Oats are a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins E and B. They are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and act as a sponge to clean out your digestive systems. And oatmeal is a great source of healthy complex carbs! I eat oats on a weekly basis.
Spinach is my all time favorite food. In fact, I don’t think a day has gone by in the past 2 weeks where I haven’t eaten spinach. It is a great source of fiber and vitamin K, and contains many minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium. It also contains phytochemicals that have cancer suppression and antiproliferation qualities (yes spinach alone helps fight inflammation). Another great thing about spinach, it is almost flavorless. By itself, you can add it to any meal or dish and load up the micronutrients without having to alter or sacrifice flavor.
Turmeric is thought to have originated in western India was also used as a fabric dye way back when because of its bright vibrant color. Turmeric is also popular in the supplement world and is taken as a powder and s capsule supplement. Turmeric on it’s own has a slightly bitter taste but when it is added to smoothies or mixed with other spices for a curry sauce it is delicious. I actually have a Turmeric tea blend that I love to drink in the evenings.
Avocados contain a heart-healthy fat and are creamy and delicious! They also contain fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, folic acid and B vitamins, among other things . They also contain a phytochemical that helps to fight against cancer growth and the avocado has cholesterol lowering properties too. And you can mash it up and make a face mask?! The. Are. Delicious. Period. My boyfriend eats an avocado a day, and it was for sure kept the Doctor away.
So if I were on a deserted island and I only had 3 foods to choose from, 2/3 of these foods are on this list. How crazy is that? Of course with my nutrition background, I tried to choose 3 foods that are macronutrient friendly and delicious. Meaning I could help to decrease inflammation and potential disease in my body from AND have yummy food. Perfect combination right?! (minus the fact that I would be stranded on an island). My 3 foods would be spinach, salmon and peanut butter. It was a tie between peanut butter and pineapple but I had hoped that pineapple might already be on the island if it is a tropical one? So I am willing to make that sacrifice in the hopes that it would be there. I also thought about just having peanuts and then having the ability to grind them into peanut butter may be a better option in order to make the food more versatile.
I am sure you’ve seen and recognize all of these foods as anti-inflammatory in the past. There are many foods that are famous for having anti-cancerous fighting properties and the 12 listed above are just a small group of them. There is almost every color of the rainbow on this list as well. This is proof of how important it is to eat the rainbow! You’ll notice that these are all whole foods, minimally processed and they are not derivatives of an original food source. They are as real as it gets. Try to eat these foods on a daily basis to increase your body’s inflammation from the inside out.