Boost your immunity and heal yourself with these tasty, natural anti-inflammatory foods.
A number of anti-inflammatory drugs in the market promise to ease our pain and calm angry allergic reactions. While they may provide quick relief, long-term use of some anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs and steroids can actually weaken our immunity or cause unwanted side effects.
Nature has provided us with many anti-inflammatory foods which don’t just work with negligible adverse reaction, but are also great tasting. Besides their abilities to reduce inflammation, they also supply us with loads of essential vitamins and minerals that boost our immune health. Talking about value for money!
In this article, I’ll introduce you to ten foods that are well-known for their inflammation-dousing properties.
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Kelp such as kombu contains fucoidan, a type of complex carbohydrate that is anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-oxidative. A few studies on fucoidan in recent years have found promising results in using the brown algae extract to control liver and lung cancer and to promote collagen synthesis. The high fiber content of kelp also helps to induce fullness, slow fat absorption and promote weight loss. But whenever possible, get only organic kelps harvested from unpolluted sea.
Sidekicks: Need another good reason to re-visit your favorite Japanese restaurants? Besides kombu, wakame and arame are also good sources of fucoidan. A marine vegetable native to the Tongan Islands called limu moui is also a fucoidan powerhouse.
Arch-Enemy: Seaweed snack. Go easy on seaweed snacks as they can be heavily salted and coated with a thick layer of vegetable oil. Check the ingredients list before buying.
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: This Asian spice commonly found in pre-mixed curry powder contains a powerful, non-toxic compound called curcumin. Studies found that turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects are on a par with potent drugs such as hydrocortisone and Motrin, but yet having none of their side effects.
Sidekicks: Ginger. This relative of turmeric is also highly prized around the world for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and are used to expel cold and relieve motion sickness and vomiting.
Arch-Enemy: Sugar. It can hardly be called a spice, but the widespread use of sugar rivals that of any spice and has led to a host of illnesses linked to this additive condiment. A diet high in sugar is decidedly inflammation-promoting and should be controlled.
3. Wild-Caught Salmon
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Salmon is an excellent source of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two potent omega-3 fatty acids that douse inflammation. The benefits of omega-3 have been backed by numerous studies and they range from preventing heart disease and some cancers to reducing symptoms of autoimmune diseases and psychological disorders. Be sure to include some oily fish such as wild Alaskan salmon in your diet twice a week. If fish is not your type of food, you can also get omega-3 fatty acids from high-quality fish oil supplements.
Sidekicks: Anchovies, mackerel and sardines are also rich sources of omega-3 fats. Flaxseeds and walnuts also supply omega-3 fats called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which can be converted into EPA and DHA inside the body. But the conversion has been found to be low, and hence they may not be reliable sources of EPA and DHA.
Arch-Enemies: Polyunsaturated vegetable oils. You may be surprised to see polyunsaturated oil (like those from safflower, soybean, corn and sunflower) listed here, but polyunsaturated fats have been found to be unstable and easily damaged by oxygen. High consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, present in higher amount in polyunsaturated oil, have also been linked to inflammatory response in the body, leading to heart disease and cancer. While omega-6 is important to health, the key is to balance your omega-6 and omega-3 intake so that you don’t end up becoming a factory for pro-inflammatory compounds.
4. Shiitake Mushroom
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Enjoyed by the Chinese and the Japanese since ancient times, shiitake mushroom is revered for its immune-boosting properties and its mild smoky taste.
Sidekicks: Maitake, enoki, oyster mushrooms. There is no better way to fight cancer and enhance your health than to feast on a plate of stir-fried medicinal mushrooms.
Arch-Enemy: Deep-fried mushrooms and vegetables. Throwing fresh mushrooms and vegetables into a big pot of boiling oil will not only soak up lots of cancer-causing compounds from the overheated oil, their healing powers will also be greatly diminished by the high temperature.
5. Green Tea
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: The flavonoids in green tea are potent natural anti-inflammatory compounds that have been shown in numerous studies to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Sidekicks: Water. What can be more cleansing for the body than zero contamination water?
Arch-Enemy: Processed cow’s milk. Non-organic milk carries antibiotics and growth hormone residues that can irritate immune system when they are consumed long-term. Many people, especially those in the East, also cannot digest milk properly, causing distress to the digestive tract.
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Coined by Christopher Columbus as the ‘fruit of the angels’, papaya contains papain, a protein-digesting enzyme. Together with other nutrients such as vitamin C and E, papain helps to reduce inflammation, and improves digestion and healing from burns.
Sidekicks: Pineapple. A tropical fruit worthy of mention, pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that aids in the healing of indigestion, sports injury, trauma and other kinds of swelling. Extracts of bromelain have also proven to be as effective as some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and are used in a number of natural anti-inflammatory supplements for arthritis.
Arch-Enemy: Preservative-laden fruits. Dried fruits can contain high levels of chemicals such as sulphur dioxide, a preservative which has been linked to increased respiratory disease. Eat fresh fruits whenever possible, but if you must opt for the dried form, make sure it’s preservative-free.
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: An antioxidant powerhouse, blueberry is high in phytonutrients that confer anti-inflammatory protection against many diseases such as cancer and dementia.
Sidekicks: Blackberries, cranberries, goji berries, strawberries and raspberries. These berries are comparable alternatives to blueberries and are equally high in antioxidants. So start feasting on one type of berries each week.
Arch-Enemy: Berries with pesticides. Insects and fungi love berries as much as we do. So berries are often sprayed with pesticides to ward off diseases and pests. To make matter worse, it is hard to wash away pesticides from berries due to their size. So it is safer to opt for organic or wild crafted version as much as possible.
8. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil is Mediterranean’s secret to longevity. Its rich supply of polyphenols protects the heart and blood vessels from inflammation. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are also turned into anti-inflammatory agents by the body that can lower occurrences of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Sidekicks: Avocado oil. Also known as alligator pear, avocado produces oil that has a fat composition similar to olive oil, containing high heart-beneficial monounsaturated fats. But, it has an even higher smoke point than olive oil, making it the ideal oil for cooking.
Arch-Enemy: Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. This commercial oil contains trans-fatty acids that lowers the ‘good’ cholesterol and raises the ‘bad’ ones — a shortcut to contracting cardiovascular disease.
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Broccoli is a highly nutritious vegetable that contains anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer phytonutrients such as sulforaphane which helps the body to get rid of potentially carcinogenic compounds.
Sidekicks: Cauliflower. A close relative to broccoli, this cruciferous vegetable also contain similar goodness as broccoli that aids the body’s detoxification.
Arch-Enemies: Nightshades vegetables. Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and others are classified as nightshade vegetables, which contain high alkaloid — a substance that may affect the joints, nerve-muscle function and digestion in some individuals. If you are suffering from any of these problems, you may want to try cutting down on the consumption of nightshades vegetables.
10. Sweet Potato
Anti-Inflammatory Agent: Sweet potato is often overshadowed by other exotic vegetables and fruits. But it is also a good source of complex carbohydrate, beta-carotene, manganese, vitamin B6 and C as well as dietary fiber. Working in concert, these nutrients are powerful antioxidants that help to heal inflammation in the body.
Sidekicks: Spinach. This dark green leafy vegetable is such a rich source of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative flavonoids and carotenoids that it’s almost impossible to believe. But it’s true. And here’s only a partial list: Vitamin A, B2, B6, C, E, K, calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and tryptophan. But be sure to buy organic ones whenever possible as it’s also among the foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found.
Arch-Enemies: Processed potatoes. Although potato is a good source of vitamin C and other minerals, potato chips and french fries aren’t. Commercially processed potatoes are usually prepared in overheated polyunsaturated or hydrogenated oils, and are loaded with high amounts of sugar and salt, increasing the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes for anyone who munches on them.
Note: If you’ve allergic to the foods listed here, you must of course avoid them, no matter how nutrient-packed they may be. Consuming food that you’re sensitive to will only cause more — not reduce — inflammation.