Most of my recipes are, to at least some extent, “anti-inflammatory.”. This is because all whole foods have anti-inflammatory properties in one way or another. Some are potent anti-inflammatories – containing compounds that actively reduce inflammation in the body, such as turmeric with it’s active compound curcumin. Others, such as berries and sweet spuds, contain antioxidants which fight pro-inflammatory free-radical damage. Then there are those that aren’t super-anti-inflammatory in themselves, but are a great replacement for food-like substances that are. An example of the latter is rapadura sugar. It’s nice to be able to enjoy ridgy-didge cake or pudding from time to time. If we use rapadura on these occasions and save ourselves from the ingestion of nutrient-devoid, chemical-riden white or castor sugar, then I’d count it as an insurance policy against inflammation. Like my old chiropractor Dr Brett Hill likes to say “sometimes it’s a matter of good, better, best”.
What is inflammation? It’s a natural cascade occurring within the body in response to illness, infection or injury. In acute (sudden and short-lived) situations, inflammation is good news. The process puts the immune system on high alert, driving immune cells to scavenge damaged proteins and engulf unwanted bacteria. It increases blood flow to the site of concern, allowing more healing nutrients to be delivered to the area for healing purposes. It also causes redness, pain, heat and swelling. In cases of injury,this discomfort let’s you know something’s up and virtually forces you to take a load off -whether you like it or not. Acute inflammation is a normal, healthy process that aims to shift the body back into a state of balance.
It’s when inflammation persists and becomes chronic that we have ourselves a billy-bally-bother. It’s unnatural for the immune system to be hyper stimulated furlong-periods of time. Just like wildfire, inflammation can spread rapidly. Of particular concern is gastrointestinal inflammation. If the gut is inflamed, the intestines can become porous and large molecules that don’t belong in the bloodstream can make their way into circulation. From here the immune system springs into action, trying to clear these foreign bodies from the blood. Sometimes though, these are cells are partially undigested food proteins, or cells appearing very similar to those comprising our organs. This confuses the immune system, and the next time we eat say an almond, which we’ve always been sweet with, it has a learned response to attack this food and all of a sudden we have a reaction to that humble spoonful of almond butter.
Likewise the body can turn to our livers or kidneys or muscles (or whatever body tissue looked similar to one of those large proteins that escaped the gut) and go “hmmm, this looks like that thing I dealt with yesterday, there’s a whole cluster of them, better start working my way through these bad boys”. This is just one mechanism by which gastrointestinal inflammation can affect the body. It can also disrupt gut microbial balance, which has flow on affects to other body systems such as the nervous and endocrine systems. Gut bugs communicate with our brains, our immune cells and our hormones (or the organs that produce hormones), so if they’re out of whack, anything can happen.
Many things can cause inflammation in the body. Stress of any kind is a biggie, as is lack of sleep. Chemical exposure; to air pollutants, heavy metals and the array of funky ingredients in cleaning and personal care products. A sure-fire way to trigger inflammation is by wearing deodorants and perfumes (unless you get one of the brands that is essential-oil based and fragrance-free). Exercise actually causes inflammation too, but it also has anti-inflammatory mechanisms (like my preferred “drug” of choice; endorphins) which, in a healthy body, tend to cancel the effects of inflammation and elicit additional benefits of their own. That’s why recovery after exercise is important – it allows your body the chance to repair and rebuild the tissue from the wear and tear of movement.
Then there’s food, which is funny because it can either be our biggest saviour (sleep, meditation/yoga/downtime aside) or greatest threat when it comes to controlling inflammatory processes. Nutrients help us to deal with daily stressors. I may be a yoga teacher but I’m also a student – when assignments are overwhelming, stress likes to find me. I avoid perfume like the plague, yet lack control over what my gym pals choose to douse themselves in before attending a Fit30 class. I try to get enough sleep, but sometimes my darling cats wake up really early and knock on my bedroom door until I get up and let them outside so they can empty their bowels (apparently their kitty litters won’t cut it at 5:30am). My point – a little stress is an unavoidable part of life. The body can deal with these small disturbances when we give it the right tools to do so.
Unfortunately, processed foods (including processed meats such as salami and bacon), wheat-based products, generic vegetable oils and margarines, anything genetically modified (again, wheat, but also canola, non-organic corn and soy, even some alfalfa plants), most forms of dairy, white sugar and alcohol – all of which are staples in common western diets, are pro-inflammatory. They lack adequate nutritional value, have mechanisms which damage the gut or accessory organs (such as alcohol and the liver) and can induce free-radical damage.
The good news? Fruits, veggies, cold-pressed oils (such as olive or macadamia), wheat-free whole-grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, organic eggs, quality fish and organic, grass-fed meats are delicious and contain the nutrients we need to;
- maintain intestinal integrity
- support natural detoxification mechanisms (think POO!)
- nourish our trusty gut bugs
- optimise genetic expression
- neutralise free-radicals
- repair and re-build cells
- boost immunity
- balance hormones, and
- help us deal with both physical and psychological stress
And all of this will come together to make us stronger, happier and healthier (plus both stress- and pain-free to boot).
Below are some of my fave dishes to keep my inflammatory processes under control (click on the titles to be redirected to the recipe). These creations taste incredible and are very enjoyable eat (as in shamelessly-making-sex-noises-when-you-eat-becuase-#foodgasm kinda enjoyable) . As much as I love using food as medicine, I have voweled never to go back to my dark days of chugging barley-grass or Tahitian Noni juice shots in the name of good health. Medicinal foods have to do amazing things for my insides and taste good.
Why? This baby is swimming with Beta-carotene, a potent antioxidant that will selflessly donate a spare electron to un unstable free-radical to end it’s destructive quest for an electron pair. It’s also rich in dietary fibre – so your gut bacteria is a huge fan. The probiotic powder adds a savoury tang and complements the fibre nicely (as fibre is fuel for probiotic proliferation). The quality salt adds important minerals and balances the potassium content of the meal. Finally, the coconut cream contains caprylic acid – a known anti-microbial substance, that can support the immune system in preventing infection (but not potent enough to kill the probiotics off … how do I know this? If coconut cream could do this, then coconut yoghurt wouldn’t be a “thing”).
I love this groovy beverage. How good can you get? I add chilli flakes, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and probiotics to mine for added anti-inflammatory goodness (and a good kick of spice and digestive support). Spirulina is a potent source of antioxidants (and not too shabby on the protein front either). Raw cacao not only makes the drink all rich and chocolatey, but is also rich in antioxidants. Spinach is full of fibre, B vitamins and iron. Coconut water is a great source of electrolytes to replenish the minerals we lose during natural detoxification processes; sweating, peeing, pooping, breathing.
Do you know what I love about this bowl of powerhouse amazeballs-ness? It’s not bitter! I remember when one of my health care professionals suggested I add turmeric to as many meals as possible to protect my immune system and pacify my gallbladder symptoms. My initial reaction was “crap, I know you’re right, but turmeric tastes terrible, and now I’m stuck in a quandary of being a nutrition student that knows better but is tempted not to do better for the sake of enjoying her food”. Thankfully, like dark chocolate and chilli, turmeric grows on you, plus a little goes a long way. Even just 1/4 a teaspoon will provide benefit, and the black pepper helps to activate the anti-inflammatory goodness of curcumin (heating helps too – which is why we add it straight to the cooked broccoli while it’s nice and hot). I eat this dish pretty much every day and never tire of it – clearly my body loves it’s work (that and it’s super-easy and I’m super-into easy options). You can make a similar dish using cauliflower, kalettes or brussels sprouts (pictured) in place of broccoli.
This is a fun and pretty meal. Essential Omega-3 fatty acids in the salmon (oily fish loves to help you fight inflammation). Antioxidants and fibre from the zucchini and sweet spud (get the pattern? Veggies = antioxidants and fibre, the more colourful, the better). Kelp noodles are rich in iodine, important for thyroid health. The thyroid – responsible for metabolism, growth and temperature regulation, is effected by stress, so it’s a good organ to be thinking about before things go haywire. Plus I love the different textures and flavours. Fatty, soft salmon, sweet, creamy veggies, crunchy, salty noodles and the subtle flavour-kick from our good pals pepper, ginger and turmeric (in small enough doses that the veggie sweetness balances out the natural bitterness).
Okay, so this is a super-simple recipe (2 packets of inca inchi seeds in the blender or food processor for a minute or so and voila – peanut butter replacement), but is one of my absolute faves. So much so that I crave it on a daily basis. In fact, I virtually have to force myself to enjoy other nut and seed butters (for variety) because I’d happily eat this one exclusively for days. Inca inchi seeds contain essential omega-3 fats, complete protein (all of the essential amino acids) and are loaded with fibre. They taste like peanuts, so are a great PB replacement. What’s wrong with peanuts? Not too much, so long as they’re organic and not coated in vegetable oil. Many peanuts are sprayed with pesticides (they’re susceptible to mould growth) and then roasted in pro-inflammatory oils. Lots of peanut butters have hydrogenated vegetable oils, refined table salt and white sugar added for taste, texture and shelf-life. Peanuts are a ripper source of monounsaturated fats (considered very heart-healthy indeed) so the quality ones are a yummy and nourishing addition to the diet. However, inca inchi reins supreme on the nutrient front, and (in my humble opinion) tastes better too. Whack inca inchi seed butter on some baked sweet spud cubes, sliced sarnie coins or dolloped on top of porridge (pictured) and enjoy the health benefits that taste great!