5 Delicious, Real Foods That Reduce Inflammation

mbg Food Contributor By Lee Holmes
mbg Food Contributor
Lee Holmes is a holistic nutritionist, yoga teacher, whole-foods chef and author based in Australia. Her articles have appeared in leading Australian newspapers and journals, as well as The Times and The Daily Express in the U.K. and The Huffington Post.

I've been itching to write this post for a while now since I'm frequently being asked how I manage my fibromyalgia through diet. In the past couple of years I've been eating an anti-inflammatory diet and my autoimmune symptoms are noticeably improved. So much so that I lead a fulfilling and energetic life and feel healthier than I ever have. Happily, my fibromyalgia lives in lowercase and does not feature in my life prominently. I believe that healing my gut and switching to an anti-inflammatory diet have been the key to my healing.

Most of us are familiar with inflammation on the surface of our bodies which involves local redness, heat, swelling and pain, but there is another kind of inflammation that lingers within our bodies. Inflammation exists within us all and is an extremely powerful, necessary function for our survival. It's the cornerstone of the body's healing response; ensuring that appropriate nourishment and adequate immune activity is delivered to an area that is injured or under attack.

However, there's a darker side to the wonderful healing capabilities of inflammation and because of its gripping, powerful responsiveness, inflammation can be incredibly destructive to your health, particularly when it extends beyond the boundaries of a localised area, or continues for long periods of time.

Since the 19th century, the idea that inflammation is the underlying cause of aging, and age-related illnesses has been studied in depth. Researchers have discovered that complex chemical reactions occur throughout the body in response to inflammation which leads to an overactive immune system.

Over a lifetime, an overactive immune system will contribute to an overproduction of AGE's, advanced glycation end products, initiating oxidative reactions within cells that will gradually damage organs throughout the body. This type of chronic, low level inflammation is very common and researchers believe it is a contributor in age related diseases including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative illnesses.

One of the simplest causes of underlying inflammation, and one that we have control over is an 'inflammatory lifestyle', which includes factors of environmental toxin exposure, stress and poor diet.

Simply put, what you put in your mouth is arguably one of the most powerful choices you can make to impact your inflammatory status. When I realized this and altered my diet, I continued to feel better and better every day.

Foods To Avoid

You'll want to avoid the following foods, which may contribute to inflammation in the body:

  • Saturated fats from poorly fed animals and animals fed and finished on genetically modified corn and grains, antibiotics and hormones.
  • Trans-fats from margarine, shortening and hydrogenated oils — when it comes to eating fats and oils, it's important to avoid a diet high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 fatty acids, as this unhealthy balance leads to an increase in cytokines; which are proteins released in the cells which trigger inflammation.
  • Sugar, as well as any form of refined food — refined grains that can be found in your everyday supermarket breakfast cereals, breads, pasta's and muesli bars are pro-inflammatory as the refining process depletes fibre and vitamin B, which are needed to keep inflammation at bay.

5 Favorite Anti-inflammatory Ingredients

Clean and unprocessed foods supply your body with the vitamins, minerals and highly effective phyto-nutrients required to increase your body's defense against chronic inflammation. Here are five of my favorites:

1. Bok choy

This vibrant, green leafy vegetable found in many Asian cuisines, boasts a particularly high anti-inflammatory effect due to its potent concentration of beta carotene and vitamin A. Beta carotene is a potent antioxidant required to protect cells from toxic damage. Interestingly, one serving of bok choy contains up to 70mg of omega-3 fats, paramount in reducing the body's inflammatory status, as well as preventing the risks and symptoms of a number of disorders influenced by inflammation.

2. Sardines

Sardines offer a serious omega-3, inflammation busting hit. These little swimmers are one of the most concentrated sources of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA & DHA as well as vitamin B12, both of which have been found to decrease cardiovascular disease; one of the top inflammatory related illnesses. The omega-3 fatty acids found in sardines lower tryglicerides and unhealthy cholesterol levels, while vitamin B12 keeps levels of homocystine in balance. Homocystine can damage artery walls, with elevated levels being directly linked to artherosclerosis.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric has been recognised by scientists to hold incredible anti-inflammatory effects due to its active ingredient, curcumin, shielding the body against oxidative stress.

4. Ginger

This root from the same family as turmeric has been used as a remedy for centuries in Asian, Indian and Arabic systems of medicine. This spicy ingredient is a potent anti-inflammatory, inhibiting the formation of inflammatory prostaglandins, thereby reducing the pain associated with osteoarthritis and other inflammatory illnesses. Studies reveal that ginger may help halt the inflammation that's associated with liver cancer by stopping the pro inflammatory TNF-α, a type of signalling protein that causes inflammation. Include freshly grated ginger into stir fries, soups and curries.

5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Another nutrient to really grab hold of in an anti-inflammatory diet is the presence of polyhenols. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants shown to help reduce inflammation throughout the body. These compounds include at least nine categories, and more than two dozen polyphenol compounds have been well researched as anti-inflammatory nutrients. For example, polyphenolic compounds have been proven to decrease the production of messaging molecules responsible for inflammation, inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes, and decrease the synthesis of the enzyme inducible nitric oxide synthase.

Thankfully, these complex anti-inflammatory functions can be found your everyday bottle of extra virgin olive oil, which is known to contain significant quantities of polyphenols. Researchers worldwide find that a diet rich in olive oil polyphenols is associated with healthier breast tissue, colon function, cardiovascular function, and a protection from the inflammatory effects of secondary smoke and other environmental toxins. Remember to use olive oil on salads and only heat it to a moderate temperature.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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