By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
“Curing inflammation may well turn out to be the elusive Holy Grail of medicine.” William Joel Meggs, MD
I know chronic inflammation it isn’t a soft and fluffy subject but it is a big issue that has been causing a lot of health problems in the Western world. What is amazing about this epidemic is that we can affect it dramatically with what we eat. Understanding inflammation and why it is stomping around among us can be confusing but I’ll give it my best shot.
Inflammation is (mostly) our friend. It is the body’s very natural and healthy response to injury and infection. It defends our bodies by sending immune cells and key nutrients to the areas that need them most. Say you get a paper cut your finger and you notice it turns red, gets hot and swells around the wound. The body has increased the blood flow around the cut to heal it and keep out the nasty bugs. The inflammation is healing the wound. Good.
Where it all goes awry is when inflammation persists for too long and spreads too far. That is when it becomes chronic (long term) and systemic (full body). This fiery type of inflammation has been linked to cancer, arthritis, heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and anything else that ends in “itis”. Bad.
The big question is how does inflammation turn from good to bad? This issue stems from the fact that most of our immune systems in this day and age are overworked and underpaid. Imagine that your immune system is a fire station. Every time there is an emergency, as in an invasion by something not good for your body, the fire station ramps up and runs out in full gear to put out the fire. Then, in a healthy immune system, all the firefighters go back to the station and clean up, repair the equipment and rest.
But if the fire station was called out on constant emergencies, with no back up, there would be full scale burn out eventually. The equipment would fail from overuse and no repair and the firefighters would fall down on the job from exhaustion. This kind of chaos is exactly what is happening in an overburdened immune system that is constantly under threat. Chronic inflammation harms rather than heals because the immune system’s attack never stops, never repairs and makes poor decisions due to fatigue.
The causes of chronic inflammation vary from person to person but some of the fires are started by being overweight, under stress, lack of sleep, smoking and in a toxic environment. The biggest fire of all is the foods we choose to eat — or not to eat. Think about it, eating is the #1 thing we do day in and day out that affects our health. If your immune system decides that the food you are ingesting is an enemy, then it battles to put out the fire. 70–80 % of your immune system is located in the gut so if the enemy food is constantly present you have full systemic chronic inflammation due to your diet.
There are quite a few foods that are proven to cause chronic inflammation and they are unfortunately the foundation of the American diet. Foods like wheat (gluten), milk, alcohol, sugar, MSG, preservatives and food colorings are enemies of the immune system. Low fat, high carb diets have been discovered to cause inflammation too.
Also many of our oils, like partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats, are big culprits. Surprisingly, the polyunsaturated vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower and soybean oils are just as bad. They are loaded with omega 6s which are proven fire starters for sure. Our ancient ancestors ate a diet with an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 1:1 and now our current diet is on the average 16:1 with it going up 200% just in the last 50 years. That is due to the obscene rise in processed foods filled with these bad cheap oils.
Consequently foods rich in Omega 3s like fatty cold water fish (i.e. salmon and sardines), pasture raised, grass fed meats and eggs, macadamia nuts and flax oil are powerful anti-inflammatory foods. The foods ginger, turmeric, onions, garlic, vegetables, fruit, dark leafy greens and green tea are your friends too. It’s actually pretty easy to remember what foods are anti-inflammatory, just think of whole foods that are intense in color and flavor. (I’m not talking Jelly Belly beans either)
This salad that I am sharing with you today is loaded with anti-inflammatory foods. Just look at its bright colors and flavors and you know you have a food that puts out the fires of inflammation. Serve this with a cumin spiced salmon and you will have a happy immune system, with the firemen sitting next to the pool, on vacation…finally.
Cabbage-carrot slaw with cranberries and mint
Try to get juice sweetened dried cranberries and all organic ingredients to really make this perfect. The cranberries are available in the bulk food sections as well as the dried fruit section.
3/4 cup of dried cranberries
3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons of honey
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
1/8-1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of a fine salt
1/3 cup of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1/2 of head of thinly sliced red cabbage
2 large carrots, julienned or shredded
1/2 cup of thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup of sliced almonds, lightly toasted
To start off this color bang of a salad give your cranberries a spa treatment by putting in a small bowl and cover them with hot water. Let them soak for 10 minutes, then drain them in a mesh strainer and let them dry off while you do the rest of the salad. Clean and prepare all your veggies and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, cumin, pepper and sea salt. Then while whisking away like crazy add the olive oil in a slow steady stream till combined. Add the cabbage, carrots and mint and toss well. Adjust the seasonings and then right before serving, toss in the nuts. As with any slaw, if you let the flavors marry for a few hours it is always better. To your health!