Be Well: Finding Anti-inflammatory Foods

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Inflammation is a part of the body’s natural defense system against injury and disease: the immune system calls up cells to devour or disrupt invaders and the inflammation eventually goes away.

Chronic inflammation is another story – it is actually a disease – when the system has gone into overdrive and instead of protecting our body it starts to kill us,

Inflammation is a part of the body’s natural defense system against injury and disease: the immune system calls up cells to devour or disrupt invaders and the inflammation eventually goes away.

Chronic inflammation is another story – it is actually a disease – when the system has gone into overdrive and instead of protecting our body it starts to kill us, slowly but surely. Doctors and researchers are starting to admit that chronic inflammation is the main contributing factor to all the chronic degenerative diseases, and the root cause of the two greatest killers in America: cancer and heart disease. The two biggest factors that affect chronic inflammation in our body? What we eat and how we exercise. Some foods, like sugar, cause chronic inflammation. Other foods, like cinnamon, have properties that naturally reduce inflammation.

Knowing a food’s inflammatory properties is a different perspective from the way we have traditionally talked about a healthy diet.

“When you are going to eat an anti-inflammatory diet,” explains Heather Duchscher, “eat lots of whole, rich foods. Go as close to nature as possible. The closer you can get to the way food is actually grown the better. “Stay away from pre-packaged and processed.” As assistant manager of Brazos Natural Foods, Duchscher has another bit of advice for those looking for a healthier way to shop: “It’s about being adventurous and liberating yourself to try foods that you never heard of before.”

Awareness prepares the way for practical tips on what kind of foods to actually be looking for and Texas A&M University dietician Meghan Windham offers this perspective: “Food is medicine. Inside of fad diets or dangerous pills, it is basic nutrition that we need to focus on for a base of an antiinflammatory consumption of food.”

Colorful Produce

Windham’s first recommendation is one everyone has heard before: eat lots of fruits and veggies. The key with finding the best fresh produce is to look for the brighter and deeper colors. She encourages eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables like bright orange carrots and dark green spinach. When choosing between iceberg and Romaine lettuce, pick the Romaine for its darker color and most benefit for the body.

Herbalist Jennifer Atkins, who co-hosts “Rethinking Green” on KEOS radio, helps decipher the color benefits of foods. “Some foods have affinities to certain organs or systems,” she shares, “such as those with high sulfur content for connective tissue and the liver. For example, [foods] with high oligomeric proanthocyanadins (OPC’s) tend to be those with purple-blue pigments and have affinity to the capillaries. Those with high carotenoid content are mainly the red-orange pigments and help protect lipid complexes in the body as well as cardiovascular system.

“There are foods which are rich in protective compounds such as berries, dark leafy greens, turmeric, ginger, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, tomatoes, ripe peppers, rosemary, basil, peaches, raisins, onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and bok choi, olives and their oil.”

Windham offers the very practical advice to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store because the inside aisles contain all the processed foods like frozen dinners and packaged cookies that are chock full of emulsifiers, artificial flavor enhancers and sugars that will wreak havoc on the body.

Saturated Fats & Inflammation

“Stay away from saturated fats that clog your arteries,” advises Windham. “A way to judge the type of fat is whether it is solid at room temperature or not. For example, fat on a steak or butter are both solid at room temp and the saturated fat you don’t want. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and the kind of fat your body actually needs.”

While Windham advises this as a dietician, Atkins holds some differing views on these kinds of fats as an herbalist.

Atkins emphasized that saturated fats are good by explaining where they get their name. “Saturated, meaning there are not any ‘open spots’ on the molecule, hence they are less prone to oxidation,” she says. “Oxidized fats – of any type– are what can create the plaques, are what are inflammatory in the body. Think of how flax oil is in well-sealed, opaque bottles, kept in the fridge. They are extra-long-chain fatty acids, polysaturates (lots of vulnerable spots on the molecule), and the reason they are stored like that is because they are the most prone to oxidation from light, heat and exposure to oxygen. Other oils are, too, though they oxidize more slowly the more saturated they are.”

Don’t Say That Four-Letter Word

“The four-letter word that I always steer away from: diet,” Windham candidly explains. She instead encourages people to make all foods fit in moderation. “It’s about having a long-term plan that you can continue,” she says. The problem with many diets is that they are too extreme and impractical for longterm maintenance and in return only provide temporary weight loss as opposed to a prolonged healthy lifestyle.

“While diets claim to work, there are certain nutrients missing that lead to deficiencies,” says Windham. She would strongly encourage any client doing the Paleo diet to take calcium supplements. It’s a challenging plan, which according to health.usanews.com, cuts out all dairy, sugar, legumes and grains.

For more in-depth information about anti-inflammatory foods and their positive effects, Atkins recommends visiting the American Herbalists Guild (AHG), the Rodale Institute and the Weston A. Price Foundation online.

Get Growing

“Local farm shares give you the opportunity to get food while it still has the most nutrients in it,” says Allise Burris, environmental activist and co-host of the “Rethinking Green” radio program on KEOS (89.1 FM).

“Processing and transportation can cause food to loose a lot of its good nutrition. The food you get from local farmers won’t have synthetic chemicals and provide more of the antioxidants that help your body fight disease and function well.”

These factors inspired Duchscher to found the Brazos Locavores, an organization that helps connect Brazos Valley eaters with local producers and supports lifestyles of wise eating. The group takes field trips to Bryan/College Station farms, dairies and orchards. Participants learn about the importance of eating local and chat with local producers face-to-face. Burris is also involved with the Locavores.

“At the core of being a Locavore is eating locally sourced food produced within 100 miles of the [Brazos Valley] that can be delivered soon after harvesting with the most nutrients still in the produce,” explains Burris. “You are alsopreventing all the diesel used in long transportation and supporting your local farmers to prevent America from becoming dependent solely on lower quality mass agricultural production.”

The Distributed Urban Farming Initiative (DUFI), launched by Jose Quintana and his wife Joan, owners Advent GX, works in cooperation with the city of Bryan and coincides with groups like the Locavores because of their mission to turn unused urban areas into life-giving gardens. These urban farms serve as community classrooms for learning how to produce and cook highly nutritional foods that will not loose their value in shipping.

“There are ways to grow food on fences or patios,” Joan says excitedly. “You can use any piece of land as a potential venue for growing food. Even people that do not have backyards can grow their own food.” Jose says the goal is for DUFI to have four urban gardens planted in Bryan within the next few months.

by Amber Cassady

Rethinking Green Allise Burris and Jenn Atkins host the Rethinking Green radio show each Wednesday night from 6:00pm to 7:00pm on KEOS (89.1 FM). From creating natural room scents for your home to free compost giveaways, Rethinking Green speaks to many practical and helpful ways to live a greener and healthier lifestyle.

Brazos Valley Farmers’ Markets

When: Saturdays, 8:00am to 12:00 noon Where: Corner of Texas Ave. and William J. Bryan Pkwy in Bryan, across from the Brazos County Courthouse

When: Wednesdays, 4:00pm to 7:00pm Where: Village Foods Shopping Center parking lot, 1760 Briarcrest Drive, Bryan

Brazos Grows Brazosgrows.org provides a list of local farms and the resources provided at each. Search by farm name or food type.