Nutrition For Fighting Inflammation and Chronic Disease


What do diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's have in common? They’re all driven by chronic inflammation.

The good news is we can actually eat to beat the cause of the most dreaded diseases we face AND love it at the same time! So grab a cup of (anti-inflammatory) ginger tea while we explore some common causes of inflammation and my Top 5 Tips to extinguish that fire.

Just last year a study from Columbia University linked an inflammatory diet pattern to brain aging. They suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in greens and omega-3 fatty acids from fish and nuts is associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer’s and better brain function as we age.

Just to be clear: Acute inflammation is our body’s natural, healing response to tissue injury or infection. It repairs damaged tissue by releasing a cascade of chemical messengers (cytokines) that increase blood flow, causing the pain, redness, heat and swelling characteristic of inflammation. In the short run, that’s good. It brings an army of chemicals and immune cells to fight infection and heal the damaged tissue. The process should be short lived and clear within a few hours to days. 

But chronic inflammation is destructive. It results when those inflammatory cytokines don’t turn off and spread out of control, fanning the flames to smolder indefinitely. The result is an array of conditions ending in “itis”: arthritis, dermatitis, gastritis, hepatitis, neuritis and even autoimmune disease. 

So what triggers chronic inflammation? 

  1. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is a Pro-Inflammatory Diet and a recipe for chronic inflammation.  It’s rich in refined carbs and sugar, excess animal fat, trans fat and polyunsaturated oils, and allergens.
  2. Chronic low-grade infections like gum disease, sinus infections, Lyme disease, viral infections, etc. 
  3. Environmental toxins such as smoking, smog, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, mold toxins, etc.  (Psst, this is why you need to buy organic)!

Now that may sound like a pretty daunting list, but with knowledge comes power!  So here are my top 5 tips for creating an Anti-Inflammatory Diet (AID):

  1. Get an oil change: Pass on the fast-food fries, chips and factory-farmed meat and lubricate your body/mind with “essential” fatty acids (which our body can’t make and we must get from our diet). These fats form the base of the anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce inflammation, fight depression and build a better brain. The best sources of these essential fats are the “SMASH” fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring), which also have the lowest mercury content. Plus, you get to enjoy olive oil, avocados, and nuts and seeds on a daily basis! So far, so good!
  2. Ditch the sugar, high fructose corn syrup and processed foods and fill up on the rainbow spectrum of phytonutrient-rich vegetables and fruit. Eating just 3 to 5 cups per day works wonders. These colorful pigments in plants act like a set of chemical keys that instruct our genes to turn down the fires of inflammation, promote detoxification and better cognitive function. And that certainly beats the viscous cycle of inflammation created by insulin resistance! I’ll write more about that process next week. Meanwhile, you can learn more about phytonutrients here
  3. Eliminate the allergens: Modern wheat has been bred to contain high levels of gluten and gliadin, which help dough develop elasticity and strength. But these inflammatory proteins break down into compounds that can easily cross the gut and the blood-brain barrier to alter neurological function. Casein and whey, the two proteins from cow’s milk can also wreak havoc in our gut and brain, contributing to a range of health problems. 

    So if you’re struggling with brain fog or chronic health problems, and you’ve ever wondered whether you were sensitive to these foods, take a 30-day break from them and then see what happens as you reintroduce them. Carefully observe for changes in fatigue, digestion, skin and weight. I think you’ll see improved energy, better focus, clearer skin, and a flatter belly!  A 30-day elimination diet followed by then careful observation of reactions as you reintroduce a food will provide you with first-hand knowledge of it’s effect.
  4. Spice up your life! Eat an array of anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger, rosemary and thyme. Ginger and turmeric are rhizomes (like roots) that contain powerful phytonutrients that fight pain and inflammation, cancer and toxic exposures. They’ve been used for millennia in Indian, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cooking and they bring new life to our food! Read my blog on The Spice of Life for more on this topic. 
  5. Limit the lectins: Grains, beans, legumes (peanuts, peas, garbanzos and lentils) and the nightshade vegetables (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes) contain compounds called lectins. Lectins, like phytonutrients, are made by plants to defend themselves from the environment, including predators like us. But lectins may have a toxic effect on some people, contributing to autoimmunity. 

Now please don’t despair. You don’t have to say goodbye to golden potatoes, ratatouille or organic polenta…unless you suffer from autoimmune disease or another unsolved chronic problem. (Then the pain and frustration you experience might be enough to inspire you to find out how good you could feel if you cut them out for 30 days). Not everyone has a negative response to these foods, but you will not know unless you check it out. Now that sounds like something to act on! 

Remember that humans have cooked these foods for millennia, and they possess many health benefits: they’re rich in protein, fiber and phytonutrients (when properly prepared). For example, cooking lentils just 15 minutes breaks down their lectins and releases an array of nourishing amino acids and fiber. 

That’s why I’m featuring my Red Lentil Curried Dahl (sounds like “doll”). I developed this recipe after traveling through India and I hope you’ll enjoy it! This Ayurvedic dish, also called khichari (pronounced kitch-er-ree), is famous in India for being easily digested by all body types, especially for those who are recuperating from illness. 

One final tip: Know your numbers! We can measure chronic inflammation by measuring blood levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP). Ask your doctor to test your “hsCRP” and aim to keep yours below 1.0.


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