What actually is inflammation?
Inflammation is an emerging topic that is correlated with many chronic diseases. Simply put, inflammation is the body’s natural defense against infections and foreign invaders—which is a good thing. However, repeated exposure to dietary toxins can turn our immune system into working on “overdrive”, which can cause major damage to our organs over time. Heart disease, for example, is an inflammatory disease that accounts for about 1 of every 3 deaths in the United States. Other diseases related to inflammation include diabetes, cancer, and various autoimmune disorders.
What Fights inflammation?
A key aspect in preventing and reversing chronic inflammation is to consume a diet high in phytonutrients and antioxidants while avoiding pro-inflammatory foods such as conventional meat, refined carbohydrates, sugars, and trans fats. The easiest way to consume large amounts of antioxidants and beneficial phytonutrients—chemicals found in plants—is to consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and unrefined grains. Clinical studies demonstrate that phytochemicals found in plants even possess anti-cancer effects due to mediating inflammation. Additionally, a plant-based diet has been shown consistently to decrease LDL cholesterol, which can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Can I just take a pill?
Short answer; No. This study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating whole foods, rather than supplements, provides the most antioxidants and bioactive compounds that benefit our health. This means we should focus on eating real, whole food, rather than supplements. Let’s see how some of our fall menu items measure up:
Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin, Cauliflower Lentil Tacos, Creamy Broccoli Soup
Broccoli florets have been shown to contain potent antioxidants, and other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids. Eating broccoli and cauliflower doesn’t have to be boring, and the benefits can’t be beaten.
White Bean Korma, Chickpea Salad, Lima Bean Ragout, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burger
A study in the European Journal of Nutrition found that consuming legumes at least 4 times per week, combined with a lower-calorie diet, reduced several pro-inflammatory markers and even improved blood pressure and other metabolic profiles.
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, Nikki’s Magic Mushroom Ragout with Herbed Quinoa, Tricolor Quinoa
A recent review published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that the seeds of both quinoa and amaranth are excellent antioxidants, and a diet supplemented with quinoa seeds reduced markers of inflammation while increasing antioxidant activity within cells.
There are thousands of bioactive compounds in plants that we have yet to discover, and continuing research is underway to understand all of their benefits. Eating a variety of plant foods will guarantee that you are getting plenty of these phytonutrients to mediate inflammation and improve overall health.
By: Lindsay Allen, Dietetic Intern and MS Candidate in Clinical Nutrition at NYU