Inflammation is a healthy response of the body’s white blood cells to foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. What happens, though, when inflammation gets out of control? Today more than ever, chronic, low-grade inflammation plagues many people in our society. Research shows alarming statistics about the prevalence of conditions and diseases that are linked with low-grade, chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is responsible for many conditions including arthritis, allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, eczema, inflammatory bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and much more. Even hay fever—or the common cold—is caused by inflammation. The reason so many people suffer from inflammation is due to their diets. Certain foods cause inflammation in the body, while others reduce inflammation. Foods which are processed, refined, and contain sugar or artificial sweeteners cause inflammation. These foods will help you start the path to an anti-inflammatory diet.
Dark, leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, collard greens, and swiss chard, are among the healthiest and most nutritious foods in the world. They are packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents like chlorophyll, carotenoids, and essential vitamins and minerals. These nutrients get to work in the body, fighting off free radicals and reducing oxidative stress, thereby reducing the risk of developing cancer or inflammatory disease. The recommended servings of leafy greens are 2-3 servings per day, but the more, the better. To get more greens, try making a green shake, adding kale to soup, or spinach to patties and burgers.
Broccoli is topping the health food charts as one of the most nutritious foods available. It is part of the cruciferous family which includes Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale, among other vegetables. Broccoli contains a unique anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory compound called sulforaphane which has over 25,000 peer-reviewed articles dedicated its incredible health benefits and cancer-blasting powers. It is an excellent source of fiber and is considered an ‘anti-aging’ food due to its high vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin B, and vitamin E content.
Berries—especially blueberries—are notorious for their high levels of antioxidants such as anthocyanin, flavonoids found in the pigments of the berry which possesses potent antioxidant capacity. Blueberries lead in total antioxidant capacity (TAC) per serving—wild blueberries containing twice the antioxidant capacity of cultivated blueberries. Research shows that eating berries with high antioxidant levels can slow brain aging and reduce the risk of diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Other berries which have high antioxidant capacity include cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
This jewel-toned root vegetable has incredibly high levels of cancer-fighting, inflammation-reducing compounds. They are a source of phytonutrients called betalains including betanin and vulgaxanthin which, research shows, are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and provide detoxification support. Because of this, beets are known as liver detox agents. Beets are an excellent source of the very important vitamin folate (folic acid), with 37% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) per cup. They also contain important minerals like potassium and manganese.
Salmon—and other fatty fish like mackerel, sardines, and trout—is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential for good health and for lowering inflammation, yet most people do not get enough of these important nutrients. Brain health and development relies heavily on omega-3 fatty acids, thus making it especially important for pregnant women when the fetal brain is starting to develop. Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of many inflammatory diseases including heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Eat salmon at least once a week for a healthy dose of omega-3s.
One of the most potent anti-inflammatory compounds, curcumin, is found in turmeric. In fact, research shows that curcumin is more effective at reducing inflammation than aspirin or ibuprofen. This is because curcumin has been shown to inhibit the activity and synthesis of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) and 5-lipooxygenase (5-LOX)—2 enzymes involved in inflammation. Curcumin has shown to have chemopreventative effects—meaning that it prevents and treats cancer. This has been observed in hundreds of trials including cases of colon cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Curcumin is also effective in treating and preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Not only is curcumin more effective than pharmaceutical drugs—at reducing inflammation and stopping tumor growth—but it is also safer because it isn’t accompanied by dangerous side effects that pharmaceutical drugs may bring.
Garlic possesses powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. It is widely accepted to be a blood purifier because it cleans out the blood of toxins, and prevents plaque buildup in the blood vessels. No wonder the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and the Chinese all used garlic for its medicinal properties. A certain compound, allicin, releases when crushing, chopping, or chewing garlic. This compound kills off unwanted viruses and bacteria in the body. Research has shown time and time again that garlic is important to cardiovascular health, brain health, cancer treatment, allergy treatment, and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases. Eat 2-3 cloves of garlic each day to benefit from its powerful medicinal properties—and balance it out with breath-freshening foods like parsley and citrus fruit.
Ginger—another anti-inflammatory spice—can reduce inflammation all over the body caused by an overactive immune response. It is especially effective in treating inflammation in allergic and asthmatic disorders. Ginger contains a compound called gingerol, which studies show, has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It also boosts circulation, enhancing oxygen and nutrient delivery throughout the body, aiding in any healing processes. Crushed, grated, powdered, or enjoyed in a cup of tea, ginger can treat a variety of health conditions related to inflammation or poor circulation.
Almonds, cashews, and walnuts are among the most nutrient-dense and healthiest nuts. Almonds contain healthy fats, protein, fiber, and vitamin E. They have many proven health benefits including lowering inflammation all over the body. Walnuts are also a perfect anti-inflammatory food because they contain very high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. They are well-known as a ‘brain food.’ Walnuts lower oxidative stress in the brain. And they may have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds are among the healthiest and most nutritious foods. And they're the most effective for lowering inflammation. Chia seeds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and they can regulate blood flow and reduce stress. They contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids and many essential vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B, E, and D. Flax seeds are an excellent source of fiber, omega-3s, and phytonutrients. They are also a powerful inflammation-reducing food, best-eaten ground up.
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