Break apart everyday foods into two broad categories of those that create inflammation and those that help fight inflammation and you'll end up with a very long list of damaging foods on one side that don't do our bodies any favors, and, perhaps to your surprise, an equally long list (maybe even longer) of foods that actually reduce the flames that create disease within.
Most of us know a bad food when we see one. It doesn't mean we're not going to eat it, but we know that in some way it's unhealthy. Nearly every unhealthy food is inflammatory. Chips, sugary foods, fried foods, processed corn, canola soybean oils, refined carbohydrates are big culprits. Even foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, if consumed in excess, can be inflammatory. I'm talking about red wine, dark chocolate, almond butter, etc. You see where I'm going with this.
Even though it seems obvious enough to connect the two, it's worth pointing out again that inflammatory foods create or perpetuate existing inflammation in the body - increasing the aches, pains and symptoms of existing inflammatory diseases and conditions.
Long lasting inflammatory diseases or conditions are not quite the same as acute inflammation. If you've ever had a sore throat, stuffy nose, sprained ankle, or even conditions as painful as appendicitis or sinusitis, you've experienced acute inflammation. It comes on quick to aid in healing, then goes away.
Long lasting inflammation doesn't simply go away. It lingers and has the very strong potential to lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, to name a few. Asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer's disease are a few examples of chronic inflammatory conditions.
Certainly, inflammatory diseases don't just vanish overnight - even through a healthy diet, but their symptoms can greatly diminish. How great would it be to become pain free (or close to it) just by eating differently? You can!
Our food system is plagued with horrible food products...most of which contain artificial coloring, artificial flavors, rancid fats and refined sugars. Yet the labels of the packages containing these foods boasts words like "healthy" or "full of fiber" or "low in fat". They must be healthy, right? Hardly. It can be hard to discern a healthy food from an unhealthy food. More often than not, healthy foods don't need labels explaining why they're so good in the first place. There are thousands of foods we can eat that will help nourish our body, reduce inflammation and help us better control our even bulging waistlines.
Here are several broad categories of foods that you should be eating regularly. Each play a critical role in not just managing inflammation, but also controlling the progression, and in some cases, onset of other chronic conditions.
If you can find a way to get one or two of these food groups into your diet on a daily basis, you'll be well on your way to a body that can manage inflammation better than it could through a diet that's mostly processed.
Group 1: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Why they're important: Omega-3s aren't made in our body, but our body depends on them for normal function. The only way to get them is through our diet. They are a very powerful polyunsaturated fat that has been shown to lower triglyceride levels, increase HDL levels (good cholesterol), reduce high blood pressure, reduce risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
What they do: Two fatty acids found in omega-3s that can be simply referred to as DHA and EPA have been shown to have a profound effect on reducing inflammation in the body.
Where you can get them:
Fish Oil (especially cod liver oil)
Flax Seed Oil
Group 2: Cruciferous Vegetables
Why they're important: Cruciferous veggies are queen bee for a number of reasons. They have strong anti-cancer properties and have been shown to alter DNA enhancing health, they're great for phase 2 detoxification (you should understand why this is so important) and, of course, they're an anti-inflammatory food type.
What they do: Research has shown that people who eat a mere 1.5 cups of cruciferous veggies a day have lower levels of inflammation markers in their blood. Vitamin K, which can be found in particularly high levels in kale and collards, is thought to be one of the reasons why this type of vegetable works so well to control inflammation.
Where you can get them:
Group 3: Foods Containing Quercetin
Why they're important: Quercetin (pronounced CORE-sah-tin) is a flavonoid antioxidant that helps to give fruits and veggies their color. This nutrient has been shown to reduce or prevent oxidative stress on the body. Unlike the stress we feel when we're stuck in traffic for hours, oxidative stress damages our body on a cellular level, having a similar effect as rust on a car. If our bodies are the car, it affects the way we look, feel and operate. The more quercetin-containing foods we eat, the better we feel both physically and mentally.
What it does: Quercetin helps to block inflammatory mediators, like histamine and prostaglandins that would otherwise create allergic reactions or pain.
Where you can get them:
Onions (all kinds, but red onions rank high among this type of food)
Peppers (all kinds, but ancho rank high among this type of food)
Cocoa Powder (Unrefined)
Group 4: Foods Containing Kaempferol
Why they're important: Tagging along with the other amazing foods preceding this category, kaempferol (pronounced camp-FOR-all) has been established in preventing inflammation, but has also show great promise in reducing the risk or progression of some forms of cancer.
What they do: Similar to quercatin, kaempeferol-containing foods are also flavonoid antioxidant. And similar to the broad group of cruciferous veggies, kaemperol-containing foods have also been shown to alter our body's DNA, helping to heal our body on a genetic level. Of course, these foods also help to block the properties that would otherwise trigger inflammation, helping to keep them under control. Food is indeed quite powerful!
Where you can get them:
Tomatoes (all kinds, but cherry rank high among this type of food)
Group 5: Water
Why it's important: Okay, maybe water isn't what you expected to see on this list, but it's as important as eating the right foods, and can increase inflammation if you're not getting enough.
What it does: Water helps to remove toxins that may be looking for a way out, but need a little help finding the exit. Coffee, soda (regular and diet), sweet tea and store-bought juices may keep you from getting dehydrated, but they do little for helping keep your body in a healthy alkaline condition. These beverages, among others promote acidity in our body, which is closely linked to inflammation. Our body goes into overdrive trying to neutralize foods and beverages that increase acidity, and can increase the symptoms of nearly every form of inflammation.
Fortunately, nearly every food in these lists as well as water do a great job increasing a safe alkaline environment.