Foods to fight inflammation

Naturopathy questions the effectiveness and long-term repercussions of prescriptive medicines, in fighting our ailments. It’s not to say that there’s no place for conventional medicine in treating cancer or heart failure. But, for minor to moderate inflammatory diseases — such as IBD, rheumatism and arthritis — there’s evidence to suggest that natural remedies could have real benefit in reducing, or at least managing, painful symptoms.

It may now be branded ‘alternative therapy’ but it’s not new science. Eating for health has been a pillar of medicine for tens of thousands of years. It’s only that, now we’re equipped with information about the potential risks associated with chemicals vs the possible health benefits of what already exists in nature, many of us are rethinking age-old remedies. What could be simpler than eating our way back to good health?

Turmeric

This humble root has received a lot of editorial space recently — in incarnations as varied and delectable as ‘golden’ lattes, hummus, turmeric-tinged chocolates and crackers. As is more often the case with ‘miracle’ foods, however, we run away with an idea, without fully understanding how a certain food might benefit us. You’d need to consume far more than a latte’s-worth of this earthy orange spice to see any gain.

Turmeric is a ginger-like root, indigenous to India and Indonesia. It’s a versatile spice used widely in Indian cuisine — believed to cleanse the gut and aid digestion, as well as fight the pain associated with inflammation. It can be used straight from the raw root or dried and ground into powder. As with most foods, raw is best. But turmeric’s real magic comes from the active component curcumin which, it’s believed, blocks inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. Clinical trials have shown promise: demonstrating a link between curcumin and pain reduction in patients suffering from osteoarthritis. Though it’s said to be more effective at preventing than reducing the pain of joint inflammation.

The contention is that turmeric has a very weak curcumin content. Roughly two to six percent by volume. So adding a teaspoon to a curry or warm milk won’t be enough to promote wellbeing. Its effectiveness is shown when taken as a concentrated supplement, in conjunction with a healthful lifestyle.

Tomatoes

An impressive nutrient complex makes tomatoes a healthy addition to any plate. But it’s the presence of a powerful anti-inflammatory called lycopene that lends them real potency. In trials, lycopene has been linked with reducing certain pro-inflammatories, believed to cause cancers.  Furthermore, lycopene is a carotenoid — a fat-soluble nutrient — which means that, when taken alongside a source of healthy fats, it’s even more powerful.

We’ve long taken health cues from Meditteranean cuisine, and a plate of fresh sliced tomato sploshed with extra virgin olive oil could be the consummate side dish after all.

Olive oil

We look, again, to the Meditteranean for clues to unlocking our best health. Extra virgin olive oil is abundantly used in Meditteranean cooking, and its phenolic compound content is regarded as a formidable opponent to inflammation. The oleocanthal found in virgin olive oil, in particular, has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen — so much so, that medicinal science is now investigating the potential therapeutic uses of the compound.

Nuts

Nuts and seeds are among the most nutrient-rich foods on earth. Which follows, since they contain the building blocks to create new plant life, flowers — even trees. They are an excellent source of dietary fats — not all fats are created equal, of course — and are high in protein and fibre.  What may surprise is their anti-inflammatory link. Certain nuts, including almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and peanuts contain high amounts Vitamin E, which may protect the body from free radicals and the inflammation and subsequent disease they’re thought to cause.

Back to their impressive fat content: nuts are also high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly in those who suffer from inflammatory afflictions. They’re easy to include in the diet and are transformed by dry toasting — to add new depths of flavour to a wholesome salad.

Anti-inflammatory fruits + vegetables

No health write-up would be complete without a dedicated paragraph on the virtues of fruits and vegetables. They have a multitude of wellness-promoting properties, of course, but certain fruits and vegetables offer the added benefit of fighting inflammation. Broccoli, kale, chard, carrots and spinach all contain potent antioxidants, including lutein and glucosinolates, which are linked to reduced inflammation within the body. It’s believed that a diet high in green, and particularly leafy, vegetables can prevent certain cancers and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Berries, in all their forms, are nutritional powerhouses. They contain polyphenols and phytochemicals that can trigger antioxidant activity within the body and help to repair cellular damage. Oranges are also thought to offer inflammation reducing benefits, thanks to their folate, fibre and vitamin content — which keeps cells and tissue strong, bolsters the immune system and can support heart health. And avocados are an incredibly nutrient-rich source of polyphenols and antioxidants, though we’re wary of their over-inclusion in Western diets.

Coffee

If you drink coffee regularly, you’ll already praise it for its ability to sharpen the edges of a bleary morning. But there could be reason to celebrate the coffee bean, beyond its ability to ward off sleep. Multiple correlative studies into the impact of caffeine now suggest that it could have the ability to shut off the body’s inflammatory response. Scientists already know that caffeine blocks a molecule called adenosine, which is what’s thought to wake us up when we drink it. But it’s now believed that blocking adenosine could close up the pathways that produce inflammatory molecules within the body.

Dark chocolate

The key to a ‘medicinal’ chocolate is its cacao content. It’s in this cacao that we find flavenoids — one of nature’s mighty antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, agents. Eating a small amount of 70% cacao or higher dark chocolate, regularly, has been found to reduce the stress and inflammation within the body that can lead to many of our most destructive diseases.

The Loma Linda University in California was able to link dark chocolate, or more specifically: cacao, with better cognitive, endocrine and cardiovascular function. So, in this case, having a little bit of the thing you love really could work wonders.

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