Chronic inflammation is a hallmark of virtually all disease, including cancer, obesity and heart disease. While inflammation is a perfectly normal and beneficial process that occurs when your body's white blood cells and chemicals protect you from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses, it leads to trouble when the inflammatory response gets out of hand and continues indefinitely.
Your diet plays a significant if not primary role in this chain of events and is the perfect place to start to address it. Certain nutritional supplements can also be helpful as add-ons.
Below, I’ll review some of the foods, spices and supplements known for their anti-inflammatory power (and the foods known for their inflammatory effects). If you struggle with any chronic health condition, chances are you have inflammation in your body, and would be wise to take a cold hard look at what you’re putting into it.
Anti-inflammatory food basics
A key part of an anti-inflammatory diet involves excluding refined vegetable oils, as they are clearly one of the most pernicious and pervasive poisons in the food supply. Simply avoiding all processed foods and most restaurant foods will go a long way toward helping you avoid them.
As for anti-inflammatory foods to eat more of, vegetables are a key staple. Dark leafy greens such as kale, collard greens and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids and vitamin C that can help protect against cellular damage. Ideally, opt for organic locally grown veggies that are in season, and consider eating a fair amount of them raw.
Juicing is an excellent way to get more greens into your diet. There’s a caveat, though. If you struggle with autoimmune disease or have significant inflammation in your body, consider limiting vegetables with high lectin content, as the lectins may pose a problem.
Among the most problematic lectin-containing foods are beans, grains, legumes and members of the nightshade family like eggplants, potatoes and peppers. High-lectin foods can be made safer to eat through proper soaking and cooking, as well as fermenting and sprouting. Using a pressure cooker is particularly beneficial for beans. You can learn more about this in my interview with Dr. Steven Gundry, author of “The Plant Paradox.”
Oxalates are another plant component that can cause problems, as they not only will increase inflammation but will worsen your mitochondrial function. Those prone to oxalate kidney stones typically need to be on an oxalate-free diet as well. Foods high in oxalates include potatoes (white and sweet), almonds, seeds, dark chocolate, beets, beans and many others.
On the other hand, raw berries — especially blueberries — are an anti-inflammatory basic, as most tend to be low in fructose while rating high in antioxidant capacity compared to other fruits and vegetables.
The same goes for mushrooms, which are commonly overlooked. Shiitake mushrooms, for example, contain ergothioniene, which inhibits oxidative stress. Mushrooms also contain a number of unique nutrients that you may not get enough of in your diet.
One of those nutrients is copper, which is one of the few metallic elements accompanied by amino and fatty acids that are essential to human health. Since your body can't synthesize copper, your diet must supply it regularly. Copper deficiency can be a factor in the development of coronary heart disease.
Another excellent anti-inflammatory mushroom is the Reishi, which contains ganoderic acid, a terpene that induces apoptosis (programmed cell death of damaged cells) and enhances the immune system.
Fermented and cultured foods
Traditionally fermented and cultured foods are other anti-inflammatory staples that work their “magic” by optimizing your gut flora. A majority of inflammatory diseases start in your gut as the result of an imbalanced microbiome.
Fermented foods such as kefir, natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, olives and other fermented vegetables will help reseed your gut with beneficial bacteria. Ideally, you’ll want to eat a wide variety of them as each contains a different set of beneficial bacteria (probiotics).
Fermented foods can also help your body rid itself of harmful toxins. Kimchi, for example, has been shown to break down pesticides that promote inflammation. As reported in a study1 in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos degraded rapidly during kimchi fermentation and was 83.3% degraded by Day 3. By Day 9, it was degraded completely.
If you don’t like fermented vegetables, consider yogurt made from raw organic milk from grass fed cows. Yogurt has been shown to reduce inflammation by improving the integrity of your intestinal lining, thereby preventing toxins in your gut from crossing into your bloodstream.