5 Ways I Use Food To Fight Inflammation Every Damn Day
I've been working in wellness long enough to know that quelling inflammation is key to feeling decent on a daily basis. "Chronic inflammation plays a role in pretty much every disease," explains Vincent Pedre, M.D. As someone who has struggled with panic attacks and fairly severe anxiety over the years, I'm especially motivated to keep my levels low, since inflammation has been found to trigger both anxiety and depression. Because health is an ongoing process, I typically eschew sweeping cleanses and tons of supplements and instead try to work little inflammation-busters into my daily routine.
1. I start every day with a green smoothie.
I'm a known lover of green smoothies, and their ability to help keep my inflammation levels low is one of many reasons I've made them my go-to breakfast. According to Will Cole, D.C., "The vitamins A, D, E, and K2 are extremely important to your health for many reasons. They play a big factor in bringing down inflammation by decreasing levels of the inflammatory protein CRP." These are all abundant in leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and romaine, which I use as the base of my smoothies. They're also all fat-soluble, so I make sure to add a healthy fat like hulled hemp hearts, avocado, or coconut butter to reap their full benefits. Right now, I'm loving this avocado mint chocolate chip smoothie and this tropical blend.
2. I eat mindfully.
It's no secret: I like food a lot (I've chosen to devote my career to it, after all). People with all types of careers love food, though—which is why I'm always fascinated by how we often choose to eat it in front of a television or mindlessly shove it into our mouths while browsing the internet. I've started being intentional about using my eating time as mindfulness moments, to maximize the inherent pleasure of food and bring down my general stress levels (which I've found helps my digestion, which helps bring down my stress levels more—gotta love that gut-brain connection). Minimizing stress has been shown to decrease CRP levels, so I enjoy my meals more, digest my food better, and decrease my inflammation markers—an overall win if I've ever heard one.
My husband and I have been trying to eat our dinners at the kitchen table instead of the couch, where we talk about our day or consult The Book of Questions (I know, it's cheesy) for more out-there topics. At work, it's a bit trickier, but I find that removing myself completely from my phone and computer helps me avoid distractions. I'll take my lunch to the roof and enjoy the feeling of the sunshine on my skin while chowing down before returning to my desk satisfied and refreshed.
3. I avoid sugar as much as possible.
Okay, this one is a work in process, but sugar has a fairly clear connection to raising inflammation levels by triggering the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. I have a huge sweet tooth, so I'm never going to cut out sugar entirely, but I do try to eat it with intention, rather than letting it slip into my diet at times I barely notice or appreciate it. This means watching out for places it tends to be overlooked (such as in condiments or tomato sauce), and completely avoiding soda and sugary drinks. I used to be a bottle-a-day Vanilla Coke drinker, but now I satisfy my fizzy flavor cravings with a dash of bitters in sparkling water (made in my Soda Stream, to be environmentally and economically friendly).
4. I incorporate A LOT of anti-inflammatory spices.
I think spices are the original superfoods, and they're kitchen workhorses: They're not perishable, so you can always have them on hand, and they can take any meal from bland to mind-blowing. I learned all about fighting inflammation with food in mindbodygreen's Functional Nutrition Program, where Vincent Pedre, M.D., cites ginger and turmeric as his top two anti-inflammatory spices. "You've likely taken ginger for nausea, but it provides a host of other benefits," he says. "It provides a powerful antioxidant boost with its gingerols, shogaols, gingerdiones, and zingerone. Additionally, zingerone and shogaol help fight inflammation."
Turmeric, of course, is an inflammation-fighting all-star. "My patients sprinkle organic turmeric powder onto vegetables, and I love to use it in cooking and even salads. And remember: In order to absorb the curcumin you need to pair it with black pepper," Pedre says (his advice in the program about Omegas also completely revolutionized my supplement routine, but that's another story). I like to make a fresh ginger tea by grating some ginger into a mug, then topping it with hot water. I cover it, then let it steep for 10 minutes before straining it and drinking. In the summer, I'll make a huge batch of it and store it in the fridge, ready to be sipped throughout the day. I also whip up a batch of these turmeric sweet potato muffins on the weekends so I always have a grab-and-go anti-inflammatory breakfast ready for rushed days.
5. I eat sulfur-rich veggies.
According to Cole, "Methylation is your body's biochemical superhighway that helps protect your DNA, brain, and gut from inflammation. One way to support methylation is eating sulfur-rich vegetables like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, which lower homocysteine, an inflammatory amino acid." I always keep a stash of broccoli in my freezer to use as part of a stir-fry for dinner, and often use cauliflower to add a creamy texture, sans dairy, to soups like this corn chowder. Many grocery stores (including Trader Joe's and Whole Foods) now sell shredded Brussels sprouts, which I saute in avocado oil with salt and use in tacos with black beans or just eat plain, because truly, with little crunchy brown bits and a hint of vegetal sweetness, they taste like heaven.