All photos: Wendy Goodfriend
excess inflammation is a major cause of disease in our day and age. It’s linked to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and even the aging process. This makes reducing inflammation one of the most important ways to promote health and longevity. Fortunately, our diet plays a key role in controlling the inflammatory process, and daily food choices can mean the difference between health and illness. It’s not complicated, the equation is simple. By avoiding inflammatory foods and eating anti-inflammatory foods, we can reduce our risk with every meal!
The first step is to eat a diet rich in organic, unrefined foods. Many whole foods have anti-inflammatory properties because they contain beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, some are characterized by powerful medicinal properties. Below I have listed my five favorite foods to reduce inflammation, prevent disease and slow down the aging process. In addition to being rich in nutrients, these foods are also rich in flavor.
Five foods that reduce inflammation
This Asian spice is a medicinal superfood. Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) is a relative of ginger and the spice that gives curry powder its characteristic yellow color. It is one of the most intensely researched medicinal spices. It protects the liver from toxins and kills numerous bacteria and yeasts. It is also and exceptionally anti-inflammatory. Studies show that one of the most important components of turmeric is the yellow pigment curcumin. It blocks several inflammatory chemicals that reduce inflammation throughout the body. It’s easy to consume turmeric on a daily basis by adding it to curries, beans, rice, sauces, or smoothies. Be careful, because curcumin is so powerful it will stain everything – clothes, towels, and countertops. Turmeric is available as a dried powder or as a fresh root that resembles yellow ginger. It is best absorbed when paired with black pepper or other aromatic spices such as in traditional curry.
- Flaxseed and other rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids
In our body, cells communicate with each other by sending chemical messengers into the bloodstream. These messenger substances are called cytokines. Certain cytokines promote an inflammatory response while others turn it off. Omega-3 fatty acids cause more anti-inflammatory cytokines to be produced. The modern American diet is very low in omega-3 fatty acids. It’s difficult to get enough of them without making a conscious effort to eat foods high in omega-3s. Flax seeds are one of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Other abundant sources include cold-water fish, hemp seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, and grass-fed beef.
Berries have a wide range of health benefits from anti-cancer effects to improving wound healing. One of their most important properties is their ability to reduce inflammation. This property was investigated on various types of berries and on similar fruits such as pomegranate and cherries. Eating different berries on a regular basis is easy because they are readily available and delicious. Frozen berries are a great option in winter. By freezing and thawing the fruit, the strong flavonoid compounds actually become more available. Berries can be eaten in smoothies, fruit salads, desserts or straight from the bowl.
- Kiwi fruit and other foods high in enzymes
Enzymes are one of the oldest natural anti-inflammatory remedies. Bromelain, an enzyme-rich extract from the pineapple fruit, has been used by the medical community for over 50 years. The most effective enzymes seem to be those that break down proteins. These are found in abundance in various fruits such as kiwi, pineapple, and green papaya. When consumed raw, some of these enzymes are absorbed intact into the bloodstream, where they break down inflammatory complexes. Highly concentrated dietary supplements are often used in acute illnesses. However, for low-grade chronic inflammation, eating is an important part of prevention and healing. Kiwis are a winter fruit in California. They are available at most stores, or you can pick your own organic kiwifruit at Swanton Farms in Pescadero.
- Olives and extra virgin olive oil
The Mediterranean Diet is known to promote health and longevity. This is mainly due to the high consumption of olives and extra virgin olive oil. These oily fruits are filled with anti-inflammatory polyphenols that have been shown to reduce both arthritis and heart disease. However, these important phytochemicals are not present in the refined oil. So remember to use the extra virgin, cold-pressed oil or the whole olives.
Try the simple recipe below for winter indulgence.