Alessandra Felice discovers which foods have the powers to soothe…
Inflammation is the body’s response to stress that can come from your diet, lifestyle or environment. Short-term inflammation can be helpful – as a fever fighting a virus, for example. When you catch a cold or injure yourself, the immune system initiates a chain of events called the inflammatory cascade and chemicals from white blood cells are released into the blood or affected tissues to come and clear out infections. You typically see this in the form of heat, pain, redness and swelling. Then powerful anti-inflammatory compounds are released and move in once the threat is neutralised to begin the healing process and repair damaged tissues.
On the other hand, chronic, low-grade inflammation has a negative impact and can make you more susceptible to diseases and inflammatory conditions. This state can be provoked by food allergies and sensitivities or an imbalance of beneficial bacteria in your intestinal flora. Also constant stress raises the level of cortisol, creating inflammation, while toxicity from pollution, food chemicals and toxic heavy metals can contribute to an inflammatory state as well. And, of course, dietary choices and lifestyle have an impact on raised inflammation levels. Dairy, refined carbs and sugars, meat, trans fats, excessive caffeine and low water intake, sedentary lifestyle and lack of sleep can all have repercussions. Typical signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation are skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne, being susceptible to bacterial, fungal and viral infections, along with chronic pain, arthritis, high blood pressure and high glucose.
Luckily our food choices can help. Here are some of the best anti-inflammatory foods.
Aloe vera is used as a skin softener and moisturiser and it also reduces inflammation easing pain, promoting skin repair and healing. Aloe vera gel has been found helpful when applied topically to relieve symptoms of psoriasis where itchy and red scaly patches appear on the skin and scalp.
Dark leafy greens and brassica vegetables
Greens like swiss chard, watercress, spinach, collard greens and kale all contain powerful antioxidants such as flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C that help protect our cells against the effects of free radicals damage.
Brassica vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts have strong anti-inflammatory effects. They’re all rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant that fights inflammation by reducing the levels of cytokines, which are inflammatory markers that during immune responses stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma.
Add these veggies to nutritious smoothies and juices or lightly sauté them and enjoy on a daily basis.
This spice has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat infections and digestive disorders. It is able to inhibit the pro-inflammatory pathways in the body and promote the release of anti-inflammatory compounds.
It also inhibits platelet aggregation, which promotes good blood circulation and speeds up healing time. You can use ginger in so many ways… you can juice it, cook with it and mix it in a curry, soup or Asian-inspired dish. And you can also take it in a capsule or oil form. Also, ginger tea is extremely soothing for colds, sore throats and upset stomachs.
Turmeric’s main active component is curcumin, which can help wounds, infections, colds and liver disease. Its potent anti-inflammatory effects, especially for acute inflammation, have been found to be equal or stronger than standard anti-inflammatory drugs. One of the ways it lowers inflammation is through its ability to block a molecule called NF-KB, which turns on genes that promote inflammation so it stops the inflammatory pathway before it even starts.
You can blend turmeric into your smoothies or add it to your cooking. Just make sure to pair it with black pepper or fats such as coconut to aid its proper absorption.
Chia and hemp seeds
Chia seeds are a source of anti-inflammatory omega 3s that can help lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and systemic inflammation. Plus they’re very rich in compounds like quercetin, myricetin, kaempferol and other polyphenols, which are all powerful antioxidants that promote the reduction of inflammation.
Hemp seeds also have omega 3s in them as well as good amounts of GLA, an omega 6 with anti-inflammatory properties. GLA is metabolised by the body and its products can intervene in the arachidonic acid pathway that usually produces pro-inflammatory molecules.
Also, one of its metabolites, DGLA is converted to the anti-inflammatory compounds prostaglandins, which can help decrease chronic inflammation.
Garlic has numerous benefits thanks to its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and antioxidant properties.
The main active component with a therapeutic effect is allicin. When digested, allicin produces sulfenic acid, a substance that reacts extremely fast with harmful free radicals and has a positive effect on lowering systemic inflammation levels in the body and fights infections caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses. It is especially helpful in fighting candida overgrowth in the intestinal tract.
Matcha lattes just got even better! Green tea is known for its antioxidant and anti-ageing effects. And many of its benefits are due to its anti-inflammatory qualities, thanks to a substance it contains called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which inhibits the raise of inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines production and the damage they could do to cell membranes and fatty acids.
Just like turmeric and ginger, cinnamon also contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can reduce the occurrence of chronic conditions and free radicals damage, as well as promoting balanced blood sugar levels and insulin release. One of its main components, cinnamaldehyde can inhibit NF-kappaB proteins, which activate pro-inflammatory genes.
Curb your sweet tooth with a mug of cinnamon tea and sprinkle this spice on anything you like! It not only makes everything taste better but it will do your body good as well.
There are so many mushroom varieties out there and they’re all rich in B vitamins, selenium, copper and vitamin D. And mushrooms have been widely used as medicinal tools thanks to the therapeutic effects of some of their compounds, such as polysaccharides, proteoglucans, terpenoids, phenolic compounds and lectins. These substances can act as immune modulators, antiviral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents.
They have a huge impact on the immune system and can boost production of white blood cells and natural killer cells making them a great aid against infections and chronic inflammatory conditions.
Cacao is packed with antioxidants that reduce inflammation and slow down ageing processes in the body. It’s particularly good to improve endothelial function in the arteries (meaning it makes them less stiff) thanks to its high flavonols content. Make sure to have raw cacao or chocolate with at least 70/80% cacao content to reap in all the benefits of this amazingly delicious bean.
Chamomile contains active constituents such as terpenoids and flavonoids, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties and creams containing this plant can have a soothing effect on inflammatory skin conditions. Its essential oil is added to masks, serums, face creams and it can also be added to bath or body lotions to help calm eczema and psoriasis.
You will see this oil popping up everywhere and there are quite a few good reasons behind that.
It’s an excellent skin moisturiser as it gets absorbed into the skin tissue very easily. In fact, coconut oil mainly contains medium-chain fatty acids that being much smaller than the long-chain fatty acids found in other oils, can permeate the cell membranes and get to the deep skin layers.
So it becomes very useful for people dealing with eczema outbreaks, as it softens dry and brittle skin preventing further breakups. It also improves the feel of rough, scaly skin and reduces irritation in dermatitis conditions.
Calendula has long been utilised in the treatment of burns, bruises, cuts and poor-healing wounds. But it’s also very effective to reduce the inflammation caused by skin infections and rashes or to deeply hydrate dried, rough, and flaky skin patches whether in a cream or ointment form.
Berries are very rich in the essential vitamins that support the immune system and are a great source of antioxidants like anthocyanins (which give them their red or purple colours) and catechins.
These compounds have strong anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce the risk of inflammatory disease and can boost the production of natural killer cells that support the proper functioning of your immune system, as well as helping you fight infections.
About the author
Alessandra Felice ND Dip CNM is a nutritional therapist that graduated from the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London and a medicinal chef that gained her training from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York. Born in Italy, she developed her passion for cooking since a young age and developed a strong belief in the healing power of food that led her to her professional trainings. She worked as a private chef for people with special dietary needs in New York as well as a vegan pastry chef in leading New York restaurants. In London, she’s currently working as a private chef and teaching private and group medicinal cooking classes along with sharing her knowledge in preparing sinful desserts and chocolate while working as a nutritional therapist with private clients. www.yoursweetnutrition.com