Anti-Inflammatory Foods

As a physical therapist, one of the main symptoms I treat is inflammation. Now inflammation is not all bad. It is the process by which the body heals itself through a series of chemical reactions. But, inflammation can get out of control, and when it is systemic, such as with rheumatoid arthritis, it can become a real problem. Inflammation in the body can lead to more frequent colds, stomach problems and bloating, headaches, infertility, and arthritis. Many people turn to NSAIDS ( non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) to reduce inflammation following an injury or for chronic aches and pains. But NSAIDS (Ibuprofen Naproxin, etc) are known to cause stomach upset, and can have serious effects for people with heart problems. There are many foods that have been used for centuries to decrease inflammation in the body. Consider adding them to your diet to naturally reduce inflammation while promoting healthy eating habits. 

1.) Tart Cherries/Tart Cherry Juice: This is often used by athletes to improve their performance and reduce their use of NSAIDS. It has been shown to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels of lab rats in a ORegon Health and Science University study.  Eating 1.5 cups of tart cherries or 1 cup of juice a day is recommended amount. (Sweet cherries won't do the trick- they must be tart!)

2.) Leafy Greens: Kale,Spinach, Broccoli, Collard greens, and cruciferous vegetables (eg. brussels sprouts) are high in calcium, iron, and phytochemicals  that not only are disease fighting, but also decrease inflammation. They are full of vitamin E, known to protect the body from cytokines, a pro-inflammatory molecule.

3.) Berries: Raspberries, Strawberries, and blueberries are low in fat and calories, but high in antioxidants that fight free radicals in the body.The rich color of these fruits is provided by a powerful chemicals called anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

4.) Ginger and Turmeric: Ginger has been used for gastrointestinal upset for ages and has been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut. Turmeric, a spice that gives curry its yellow color, "turns off" a protein in the body that triggers the process of inflammation. Add these ingredients to your cooking or take in supplement form.

5.) Garlic and Onions: Garlic has been shown to work similarly to NSAIDS in the body, and Onions contain a phytonutrient called quercetin and the compound allicin that break down to produce sulfuric acid, a free-radical fighting compound.

6.)Beets/Peppers/Tomatoes: All of these vibrantly colored vegetables are high in free-radical fighting nutrients. Beets contain high amounts of vitamin C and are high in heart healthy fiber. Tomatoes contain lycopene, that increases with cooking ( think tomato sauce), that has been shown to reduce inflammation. Peppers, especially hot ones like cayenne, and chili) are rich in capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory commonly used in topical arthritis creams. 

7.)Healthy oils: Extra virgin olive oil, and other healthy unsaturated fats and oils are needed to help other nutrients to be used in the body. Olive oil contains the compound oleocanthal that has a similar effect to NSAIDS on reducing pain and inflammation in the body. Also, eating oily fish, like salmon,sardines, tuna, and mackerel) that are high in omega-3 fatty acids  can reduce inflammation in the body and are great for improving heart health. Avoid processed fats that contain Omega -6 fatty acids as they can increase inflammation in the body.

8.) Almonds: All nuts are rich in fiber, vitamin E, and calcium, but almonds and walnuts are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid. Add these as a heart healthy snack and reduce inflammation.

9) Whole Grains: Not all whole grains are created equal. Many of today's products say they contain whole grains, but when you look at the ingredients, they are far down on the list. Look for products where whole grains are the number one ingredient and without added sugar. 

10.) Soy: Soy contains isoflavones that reduce inflammation levels in women. Avoid heavily processed forms that have lots of additives and preservatives. Tofu, edamame, a soy milk are good choices. 

If you want to decrease inflammation in the body for improvement of your general health, a diet that includes the above foods is great! If you already eat a healthy diet, but have an injury, increasing these foods in particular can help give your body the fuel it needs to repair tissues and help you get over your injury sooner. Beginning a diet high in these foods a few weeks prior to surgery and following surgery can also have enormous benefit in your recovery.

Diet alone is not usually enough, and healthy eating habits plus regular exercise will have a huge impact on your overall health. Contact me today for a wellness assessment ( a 30 minute appointment to assess your overall health) and we can discuss how to add the above foods, and some simple exercises to help you achieve your overall health goals.