Clogged arteries? There’s a pill to thin your blood. Funky cholesterol? There are pills to address LDL and HDL. Abnormal blood sugar levels? There’s a pill for that too.
I recently heard a retired doctor friend say that, by-and-large, once a patient is 40, his/her doctor expects to prescribe one medication per decade, including the four already survived. By that logic, anyone over 60 reading this article might be swallowing down six pills between the headline and the byline.
Maybe, instead of “ask your doctor if (insert newest marketed medication) is right for you”, we should be asking our farmers more questions at market, asking our waitresses to hold the refined grains, and asking ourselves if the food we are putting into our bodies is making us feel good or is it contributing to the degeneration of our health.
Though many of us think of inflammation as something that happens when an injury occurs – a twisted ankle swells or a cut gets puffy – this is acute inflammation and it is the body’s way of protecting damaged cells during new cell production. Chronic inflammation, however, occurs throughout the body, within a system of cells rather than being site-specific. It is the underlying disorder to many of our common human maladies. Some examples include auto-immune diseases from Rheumatoid arthritis to Hashimoto’s, skin irritations such as acne and eczema, difficulty losing weight, food sensitivities, “leaky gut”/IBS, and metabolic syndrome – which, itself, is comprised of many conditions including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol. By my count, if you are 50 and being treated for one of each of these symptoms, you’re already choking down seven pills, you’ll be to ten pills by the time you are 80.
So, how do we get away from the pills and still treat, or better yet, prevent these curses on our bodies? Diet. And. Exercise. Eat the right foods produced and processed in a healthy way and move your body. Since this is a food column, I’ll focus on the diet half of that equation. Christina Cunningham, a local health coach and fermentation maven, is launching an eight-week program called “Living the Anti-Inflammatory Life” on September 8. She was gracious enough to sit down with me to talk about common foods that cause inflammation, common anti-inflammatory foods, and how to source the good stuff.
First, let’s take a look at the culprits. Sugars – especially refined/bleached, hydrogenated oils/trans fats, dairy products, corn-fed/feedlot-raised meat, alcohol, refined grains, artificial food additives/processed foods, personal food allergens (gluten, tree nuts, soy, eggs, nightshade vegetables). All of these foods contribute to inflammation in the body.
Diary is a tricky one. It is a great source of protein and cultured dairy provides fantastic beneficial bacteria. However, ultra pasteurized, processed dairy provides minimal nutrients at the cost of unhealthy additives.
And gluten sensitivities are out of this world right now and new research suggests that it’s not the gluten protein, but rather FODMAP (Fermentable, Olido-Di-Mono-Saccahairdes and Polyols) carbohydrates causing such intestinal upheaval.
So, now that we have established 10 common inflammatory foods, let’s get into some healthy, happy, dietary counterparts.
Fresh fruits and vegetables act as the foundation to an anti-inflammatory diet: apples, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, arugula, carrots, and the onion family. Of course, our climate limits locally sourcing some of these year-round, but right now is the time to be stocking up and freezing the summer bounty. The farmer’s market is overflowing with amazing selections of these fantastic staples.
Herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, garlic, parsley, turmeric, cardamom, and cloves all aid in ridding the body of inflammation. Fresh is always better, so try to buy only as much as you will use within a week or two. Purchasing the more exotic herbs like cardamom or cloves as whole pods, then grinding them when you are ready to use them helps keep them fresh. You might also try buying small amounts in the bulk section of your co-op.
Fish like flounder, wild salmon, and sole are all great sources of omega fatty acids. Other meats should be sourced from producers who practice grazing and pasture-raising their animals. These are often available year-round at the farmer’s market. (Christina’s quick survey this past Saturday resulted in five different farms offering beef, chicken, and pork – all grassfed/pasture-raised.)
Sugary drinks are a major contributor to added refined sugar in the diet. If you are looking for a sweet, midday refresher, try blueberry, cherry juice, or pomegranate juice. Green tea or fresh vegetable juices also offer anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Looking for a crunchy snack? Unsalted, raw (not roasted) nuts and seeds, like almonds and walnuts, are not only filling, they provide healthy omega fats that aid in the reduction of inflammation.
While I understand that saying “no” to those 10 culprits of chaos is difficult, look at all you get to say “yes” to. Source it locally, and you are likely establishing a relationship with the producer, strengthening your foundation of good-choice support. Non-coincidentally, cutting the bad foods and adding the good will likely decrease your pill count as well.
Kimberly Griffin is currently working with the College of Saint Joseph to develop an on-campus farm for educational and edible use. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.