When it comes to chronic diseases and disorders, recent medical studies seem to be all pointing at a single culprit: inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of many health disorders ranging from heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer to premature ageing, muscular pains and neurological degeneration.
When our body’s immune system reacts to a foreign body [such as a virus or bacteria] by releasing certain chemicals [eicosanoids] into the blood stream or the affected tissues it leads to inflammation. This inflammatory response may cause swelling, redness or pain but is necessary to get rid of the foreign substances and to initiate tissue repair. Normally, these sequences of the immune response are well- regulated and work in harmony. The problem starts when we subject our bodies to unhealthy habits, which disrupt the mechanism and result in abnormal production of the inflammation-producing chemicals, which are a known trigger for many disorders. Eating wrong foods is among the habits that contribute to the problem as certain foods aggravate the release of eicosanoids. The good news is that there are also foods that can help counter the effects. As is evident, the best strategy would be to incorporate more inflammation-fighting foods in your diet and restrict the intake of pro-inflammatory foods.
Top anti-inflammatory foods
This tops the list due to its high omega-3 fatty acid content, which slows down the production of prostaglandins, a key chemical involved in the inflammation process. The fatty acids present in fish increase the release of anti-inflammatory compounds and reduce the production of pro-inflammation substances. Eat fish [frilled, steamed or baked] 2 – 3 times a week. Vegetarians can go for flaxseeds, which too are abundant in omega-3 fatty acids. They are also abundant in dietary fibre. Taking a tablespoon of flax seeds powder every day protects you against heart ailments, cancer and arthritis, say studies.
Other sources of omega-3 include walnuts, green leafy vegetables, soybeans and whole pulses.
Turmeric has curcumin, an active anti-inflammatory compound that reduces inflammation by altering the levels of histamine. Besides harbouring anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric possesses antioxidant, anti-bacterial and liver-protecting attributes. Turmeric, taken with warm milk at bedtime, is effective in expelling pains, rashes, swelling and respiratory tract inflammations.
A close relative of cauliflower, broccoli is rich in inflammation-fighting phytonutrients. It contains a unique combination of vitamins, fibre and flavonoids, which qualifies it as a detoxification aid and an antioxidant. Consuming a cup of lightly-steamed broccoli 2 – 3 times a week helps improve immunity and protect against chronic inflammation. Beware of overcooking or boiling broccoli as it destroys most of its protective benefits.
A powerful anti-inflammatory herb, ginger has been used for centuries to cure chronic respiratory infections. The active anti-inflammatory ingredient, gingerols present in ginger helps suppress the inflammation-inducing cytokines and chemokines and reduce muscular pains and swellings.
Berries such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are abundant in a diverse range of phytonutrients that work together to provide significant inflammation-fighting properties. Berries are also rich in vitamin C, manganese and dietary fibre.
Green tea contains a high concentration of inflammation-fighting polyphenols. Sipping a cup of green tea can work wonders for those suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases, colitis, diabetes, cancer and liver disorders.
Regular consumption of soybeans in addition to other legumes like lentils, chickpeas, green gram [moong dal] and kidney beans results in reduction of inflammatory markers such as C reactive proteins in our blood stream. Soy contains isoflavones, which are potent anti-inflammatory agents.
Whole grains help by reducing oxidative stress, the most common cause of inflammation. Include whole grains such as jowar, pearl millet [bajra], ragi [nachni], maize flour [makkai ka atta] or whole wheat products in your diet.
The mono-unsaturated fats in olive oil protect the heart and blood vessels against inflammation. Best consumed as salad dressing, olive oil can also be used in stir-fried dishes or over-steamed fish and vegetables.
What to avoid?
- Oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids such as vegetable oils and partially hydrogenated oils contain omega-6 fatty acids, which trigger inflammation. Prefer olive oil, sesame [til] oil, rice bran oil or canola oil instead.
- Meat, especially red meat, contains saturated fats, which stimulates pro-inflammatory agents in the body. It may also lead to uric acid build-up and cause inflammation in the joints. Preserved meats like cold cuts, ham and bacon contain preservatives and chemicals that can trigger arthritic reactions.
- High-fat milk, cheese, butter, ghee and fried foods too
contain saturated fats; it makes sense to reduce their consumption.
- Refined sugar [that used in colas, soft drinks, pastries, cakes and sweets] act as pro-inflammatory agent and must be consumed in limited quantities.
- Night shade vegetables like brinjals, potatoes contribute to joint pains, digestive disorders and nerve damage; cutting down their consumptions provides relief.
- Alcohol, caffeine and tobacco are known inflammation triggers; it’s best to stay away from them.