We hear about inflammation a lot, but what does it really mean? Put very simply, inflammation is our body’s immune system response when something is wrong, whether it’s infection, stress, or injury. Unfortunately, more studies are showing that inflammation plays a significant role in most of the diseases plaguing our society, including arthritis, heart disease, irritable bowel disorders, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer.
So what can we do to fight it? The good news is that there are many foods that calm inflammation in a variety of ways. They’re anti-inflammatories and they keep our arteries young and less likely to clog, our skin from turning red or scaly, and our nasal passages from getting blocked.
There are plenty of pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories like aspirin, acetaminophen, and steroids (for example, hydrocortisone cream) that are designed to keep down swelling and reduce redness (also known as inflammation) that can occur in our bodies both externally and internally. Inflamed skin can be seen when we get a cut or a rash. In this situation the inflammation is our body’s natural way of helping to heal the wound by flooding the area with white blood cells and protein. The tell-tale redness and swelling signifies that an immune response is in full throttle.
Inside the body, inflammation is an effect of many conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, hay fever (a histamine response causes inflammation of the nasal passages), and atherosclerosis (also known as the hardening of arteries). Inflammation inside the body can be very damaging if it continues over many months or years. According to Dr. Oz, “Inflammation, a process meant to heal, can often become a danger; chronic inflammation causes heart attacks, stroke – and even cancer.”
Of course, I look to food to help fight inflammation before reaching for the medicine cabinet. I’m not the only one to do so. Noted Indian Ph.D., Bharat B. Aggarwal, wrote in his book Healing Spices about ways his native foods help heal the body: “Oxidation and inflammation are the evil twins that cause many chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and arthritis.”
Turmeric is a top anti-inflammatory, and I like to incorporate into my recipes whenever possible. Other spices that help fight inflammation include garlic, ginger, cardamom, chili pepper, cilantro, parsley, mustard, cinnamon, and mint.
Many other foods have anti-inflammatory properties. Fish, soybeans, and whole grains can help reduce swelling because they are laden with omega-3 fatty acids, which naturally reduce swelling and irritation inside our arteries. See the “Resveratrol Suppresses Inflammation” report on my website for details about how resveratrol, a Foodtrient found in red wine, cranberries, and grapes, reduces inflammation in the body, too.
Unfortunately, the standard American diet of processed foods, too much sugar and lots of meat are part of the problem. Luckily our diets are one of the easiest things to fix. In my latest cookbook, The Age Beautifully Cookbook, I have many recipes that incorporate anti-inflammatory spices and foods.
Here are some other good anti-inflammatory foods that are easy to add to your daily diet and a couple of recipes to try:
BEANS AND LENTILS
I have two quick, easy and tasty, anti-inflammatory recipes for you –my Berry Salad with Lemon Chia Dressing, which is loaded with anti-inflammatory foods, and my Chia Frescas, a popular drink from Mexico.
BERRY SALAD with LEMON CHIA DRESSING
2 cups (packed) baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 cup strawberries, sliced
1 cup blueberries
1 cucumber, diced (about 1 cup)
½ cup sunflower kernels
¼ cup (loose) fresh basil, chopped
We are just going to combine the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl like this.
And then we will make the dressing.
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 Tbs. chia seeds
1 tsp. honey (or maple syrup if vegan)
1 Tbs. water
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl, and once the dressing is ready, toss it with the salad immediately before serving.
You can serve this salad as a starter, side dish, or light summer meal. It’s also great for parties!
I particularly love this drink on warm days because it’s so refreshing and the chia seeds add extra texture, but it’s delicious any day of the year when you need an energy boost.
2 Tbs. white chia seeds (which have been soaked in water for 1 hour)
1/2 cup water
3 sliced strawberries
2 Tbs. lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 Tbs. agave nectar or honey (optional)
1 cup cold water
1 cup chilled peach tea
1/4 cup crushed ice