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Inflammation is “hot” right now. “Hot” as in the biggest buzzword in the nutrition world, and “hot” like the fiery effects that pro-inflammatory diet and lifestyle choices have on our health.
Inflammation occurs naturally in response to injury. Remember scraping your knee as a kid, and the immediate rush of blood to the site of the cut? That was inflammation at its finest, working a temp job to heal your knee. This kind of response is beneficial, and vital to the functioning of the human body.
It’s when inflammation becomes chronic that we experience issues. Imagine a body that’s inflamed under the surface, fueled by refined grains and flours, added sugars, trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils, and processed foods with lots of salt and preservatives. Add in a sedentary lifestyle, high levels of stress, and disrupted sleep, and you have quite the inflammatory cocktail! This chronic inflammation can trigger disease processes, such as those that underlie heart disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and countless other issues (1, 2).
In a society where processed foods are readily available and work-life balance is hard to come by, you may feel like the odds are stacked against you when it comes to fighting inflammation. The good news is that there are plenty of small, meaningful changes that you can make to decrease inflammation.
Transforming your food choices does not need to happen overnight. Begin by experimenting with two or three dietary changes, listen to your body and notice how you feel after eating certain foods, and continue to take gradual steps. Decrease the amount of pro-inflammatory foods you eat, and add in some anti-inflammatory ones. Small steps will be the key to your success.
Pro-inflammatory foods include:
– refined grains and sugars, such as cakes, cookies, processed breads, sodas, and candies
– fast foods
– trans fats and excessive amounts of oils with omega-6 fatty acids, such as safflower, corn, and soybean
Anti-inflammatory foods include (3):
– vegetables and fruits
– healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil
– legumes and whole grains
– fish (especially salmon and sardines)
– herbs and spices
Of course, the interactions between foods are complicated. The cumulative effect of dietary choices on health is not completely understood. Instead of searching for the “right” amount of anti-inflammatory foods to eat, consider adding more and more of these foods into your diet.
Tapping into the power of herbs and spices is one of the easiest ways to add anti-inflammatory ingredients to your daily meals. Read on to learn about these kitchen staples that do more than just add flavor to your food!
Known for its spicy flavor profile, ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Eating ginger regularly may help prevent heart disease and certain cancers. Ginger, especially in a powdered form (shown in the capsules in the below photo), is also a safe antidote for nausea and vomiting.
Try it out: Make homemade ginger tea by grating fresh ginger root and steeping it in hot water.
This herb is a delicious addition to chicken, potatoes, and several other healthy foods. Adding rosemary to meals may help decrease inflammation in the body, and contribute to improved mental clarity.
Try it out: Combine rosemary with chicken thighs, olive oil, salt, and pepper in the crockpot for a healthy meal.
If you’re like me and love to put garlic on everything, you’ll be happy to hear that garlic has incredible medicinal properties, mainly due to a compound called allicin. Enjoying garlic in your daily diet may help lower blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, and enhance your body’s ability to detox.
Try it out: Crush a few cloves of garlic and mix it with extra-virgin olive oil to pour over roasted tomatoes or red bell peppers.
Turmeric (and Curcumin)
Turmeric has almost become synonomous with “anti-inflammatory” in recent years. The active compound in this colorful spice is curcumin, an ingredient that targets many steps in the inflammation process. Most studies that reveal the beneficial effects of turmeric are focused on curcumin extract in doses that would be hard to consume from just seasoning your meals. Still, it doesn’t hurt to add turmeric to foods (preferably with oil and black pepper to enhance absorption and effectiveness). Curcumin can boost brain and heart health, and may even be able to prevent and stop the growth of cancer.
Try it out: Roast cauliflower with olive oil, turmeric, and black pepper.
It’s thyme we talked about this amazing herb, huh?! Thyme is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, and works as a natural cough remedy and immunity booster. Plus, thyme might even elevate your mood!
Try it out: Add fresh sprigs of thyme to lemon juice and olive oil, and pour over carrots before roasting them for a delicious side dish!
This herb is a lot more than just the perfect addition to pizza! Got IBS or digestive issues? Oregano might be able to help. With a powerful compound called beta-caryophyllene, oregano might also reduce pain and inflammation in individuals with osteoporosis.
Try it out: Add fresh oregano leaves to homemade tomato sauce. Roast a sheet pan of cherry tomatoes with one onion and six crushed garlic cloves. Combine with a handful oregano and basil in a blender for a creamy sauce.
Tarragon is a popular seasoning in French cooking. Fun fact: the name of the French sauce that combines tarragon and hollandaise (called bearnaise sauce) was a trivia question this week! And it turns out tarragon is more than just a tasty flavoring. This herb’s anti-inflammatory properties contribute to improved digestion.
Try it out: Add tarragon to hearty stews with roasted chicken and root vegetables for the winter.
Cinnamon is another favorite that I try to include in recipes any chance that I get! Aside from decreasing inflammation in the body, cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels. Enjoy cinnamon regularly for a healthy heart and protection from neurodegenerative diseases.
Try it out: Sprinkle cinnamon on warm steel cut oats with apples and nuts for a healthy start to the day.
Cloves can be used whole or ground. Regardless of the form, they offer powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. Unique advantages of consuming cloves include improved bone mass, healing of stomach ulcers, and regulation of blood sugars.
Try it out: Add cloves to homemade cider for a sweet and spicy kick!
As always, before you decide to incorporate any herbs and spices, especially in supplement or essential oil form, please discuss with a healthcare provider.
What’s your favorite way to use herbs and spices?! Let me know in the comments below or on instagram @its_a_vegworld_afterall. Click the camera on the top right to follow my account.