Cool that fire: Inflammation

“Inflammation” is one of those health words that is bandied about all the time… but do we really know what it means?

We think of swelling and the color red… we know it’s not a good thing, and that we want less of it… but the rest is a bit mysterious.

After my recent online Kitchen Chat about Fighting Cancer -- with Food! (you can get the recording here), one attendee wrote, “I wish you could have spent a whole hour talking about inflammation!” Quite right. It’s THAT important. Especially how FOOD fits in, and how we can use food to tone inflammation down.

Let’s take a look.

First, definitions. At it’s best, inflammation is a normal response of the body to injury and infection and an important component of healing.

There are two types: acute and chronic. Acute we know, because we’ve seen it. When you cut your finger and the troops rush in to heal it, your finger may redden and swell a little, but it generally promotes healing in reasonably short order.

Chronic inflammation is the troublesome one -- when inflammation goes off the rails, oversteps its bounds or serves no purpose, it can become a major component of big-ticket diseases, including autoimmune, cancer and musculoskeletal diseases. We’re just starting to learn about this thing you cannot see and the havoc it can wreck inside the body.

I’m going to use a gentle analogy to get us situated: dust bunnies.

Let’s say you haven’t dusted in a while. It totally happens. You look under the bed, and ye gads, there is a surprising amount of fluff under there. It’s a maintenance thing. The dust is always going to come, and you can maintain your home spotlessly so you never see it, or deal with it when it gets bad, or somewhere in between. It’s either a nemesis or you make friends with it. The point is, you can see the dust bunnies and the dishes piling up -- cause and effect are clear as a bell -- and you know what to do.

Inside our bodies, we can’t see the “dust bunnies,” the irritants, that cause inflammation, but it’s similar. It’s about the accumulation of offending substances, that build up and over time can manifest in uncomfortable, even serious ways.

The food solution

Food solutions can dramatically reduce your risk of disease as well as help heal existing conditions and discomforts. And here’s how you’ll know you’re on the right track: you’ll be feeling much better.

Let’s say you eat toast every day for breakfast and pick up a sandwich for lunch. It’s so ubiquitous, you hardly notice. And you choose the healthiest sandwich, on whole grain bread, so why should you suspect bread is a problem? You’re eating healthy, right? Channel Sherlock Holmes. Observe how you feel. If your brain is kind of foggy, if you have a bit of a stomach ache, or your stomach feels bloated or heavy after you eat; if you tend to be a bit constipated, or have circles under your eyes -- you might reasonably suspect gluten.

Everyone’s food triggers may be different. Explore and find out what yours are. Top typical problem foods are eggs, dairy, gluten, soy, and corn.

If you suspect that whole grain bread sandwich, how about trying a gorgeous salmon nicoise? Or something creative with quinoa?

The anti-inflammatory list

I am NOT talking deprivation. Never! I am sharing an opportunity to explore new, colorful things on your plate -- the foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory:

  • More vegetables! The answer for everything.

  • Dark berries, and any fruits or vegetables deeply hued in the color spectrum. Cook like an artist, and make a rainbow of color on your plate.

  • Cold water fish

  • Good healthy fats: olives, olive oil, avocados, guacamole, coconut oil, ghee, nuts, seeds…

Banish those dust bunnies, and cool that inflammation!  Notice that this menu of delightful options is neither long, onerous nor complicated. Very do-able.

And, the payoff happens when when you notice you don’t feel bloated! Your brain doesn’t feel foggy, your focus is better, your performance is sharper. You feel lighter and more energetic.

Connecting the dots: It’s not about what you can’t have, it’s about what you CAN. Appropriate some delicious new anti-inflammatory foods and make them your very own.