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If you’ve ever had redness and swelling on your skin from sunburn or irritation, diarrhea, bloating in your abdominal area, muscle or joint pain, you’ve had inflammation.
I’ve experienced a whole gamut of inflammation in my body, all from different causes, the most painful and frustrating being irritation in my gut from chronic gastritis.
Having had enough with dealing with a recurrence of most of the above, I decided that I had to make changes to how I lived.
- Lowering my stress.
- Sleeping better.
- Scaling back my workouts so I don’t over-exercise (confession: I’m a former high-intensity interval training fiend who didn’t feel complete if I wasn’t HIIT-ing 6-7 days a week) and paying just as much attention to rest and recovery. And just as importantly…
- Changing what I eat and how I eat to keep inflammation in my system to a minimum.
On a more superficial level, I also discovered that besides the natural process of aging, inflammation is another major contributor to the formation of wrinkles and sagging in the skin while reading Dr. Howard Murad’s The Murad Method.
While these may not seem like they’re worth worrying too much about, the other effects of inflammation, or what Dr. Murad calls ‘the inflammatory cascade’ — heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, asthma, cancer, Alzheimer’s — are.
If like me, you want to feel better, look better and lower your risk of developing any of the above, keep reading.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury or infection.
When you’re physically hurt, the injured area will become red and swollen temporarily as your body’s immune response works to heal the injury. When you fall sick from a bacterial or viral infection, the same response triggers to fight off the offending ‘intruder’ in your body.
Once the injury or infection is healed, your immune system backs off and everything returns to normal.
Sometimes though, inflammation can be triggered by things that it shouldn’t — as in the case of auto-immune disorders like type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
At other times, inflammation in your body lasts longer than it should, giving rise to the inflammatory cascade that Dr Murad cautions us about.
While you may not be injured or sick right now, you’re still likely to be experiencing low-grade inflammation that researchers say lead to these inflammatory cascade diseases, which in turn, cause 80% of deaths in Western societies, says a review in the journal Immunity.
While still not completely understood, the evidence that links diets rich in processed foods, fast food and sugary drinks like sodas (all of which also tend to be poor in fibre, vitamins and minerals) to higher levels of chronic inflammation, has been piling up.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE INFLAMMATION?
The signs of acute or sudden (and usually injury-related) inflammation are obvious: It’s probably red, hot, swollen, and painful.
You could’ve cut yourself while making dinner, tripped and landed on your ankle during a run, or developed a sore throat and fever from the flu you caught from a colleague.
Chronic, longer-lasting inflammation is more subtle and can look like persistent forms of these:
- Acid reflux
- Body pain
- Weight gain or loss
Or maybe like me, you’ve struggled with painful bloating in your gut from chronic gastritis if you don’t eat your meals on time.
So although chronic inflammation isn’t as likely to send you to the emergency room, it can still be a problem if it’s standing in the way of you living a pain-free, energetic life, and setting you up for more serious health issues down the road.
One effective way to lower chronic inflammation and its effects in your body is to progressively switch to eating primarily anti inflammatory foods — a strategy that’s helped tame most of my persistent gut issues and increased my energy.
When combined with my mindful eating practice, this new way of eating has also helped keep my weight more or less constant over the years.
WHICH FOODS CAUSE INFLAMMATION?
There’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods in my book, but I do live (and eat) by the notion that too much of a good thing is never a good thing.
For example, a diet that’s particularly abundant in burgers, fried noodles, ice cream, fried chicken and soda may be heaven for your tastebuds, but probably not for the rest of your body.
In fact, researchers have specifically pin-pointed energy-dense meals that are full of refined sugars (which can easily be replaced with a safe, delicious, zero-calorie sweetener like Purecane), salt, processed meats, purified animal fat, white flour and food additives as the culprits behind chronically elevated levels of inflammation.
THE ANTI INFLAMMATORY DIET
While comfort foods aren’t outright bad for you when you do indulge them in moderation (not always the easiest thing to do since they’re so addictive), you’re better off focusing your attention on trying to eat more of the foods that have been clinically proven to lower inflammation.
This means loading up on:
When it comes to fruit, the more colors of the rainbow you consume, the better.
VEGETABLES AND LEGUMES
Along with fruit, vegetables and legumes contain loads of soluble and insoluble fibre, antioxidants, polyphenols and other compounds that help your body fight inflammation.
NUTS AND SEEDS
FATTY FISH AND OTHER HEALTHY FATS
HERBS AND SPICES
These don’t just fight inflammation, they also add amazing flavour to your meals: Ginger, thyme, cinnamon, parsley, basil, cayenne pepper and oregano. Turmeric in particular has been associated with significant inflammation-lowering effects in multiple studies.
You probably won’t need a lot of convincing for this one, but here it is anyway: Chocolate is good for you. The dark kind, that is. Look for cacao concentrations of 70% or more for maximum health benefits.
ANTI INFLAMMATORY DRINKS
Be aware of their high sugar content, but also that in moderation, fruit juices can pack a decent inflammation-fighting punch. For a calming, sugar-free dose of antioxidants, go for freshly-brewed, unsweetened green tea.
ANTI INFLAMMATORY COOKING METHODS
Steaming, simmering or even eating your foods raw (safely) are your best bets.
If you choose to stir-fry, bake or grill with oil, be careful not to let the heat get too high since this can trigger the formation of inflammation-causing compounds.
MAKE MEAL PLANNING EASY
Knowing that you want to eat healthier meals that’ll help you feel better is one thing, but actually planning, shopping for your anti inflammatory ingredients and then cooking the meals daily are another, especially when you’ve got a lot going on.
One easy way to cut back on the stress that comes with meal planning while saving time and money is to use a meal-planning service like $5 Meal Plan.
As a member, you’ll get a pre-made meal plan, recipes and shopping list for five dinners and sides, plus one breakfast and lunch emailed to you every week.
If you prefer to have a custom plan for each week, you can pick specific recipes by cooking method, ingredients, dietary preference (all very handy for preparing your anti inflammatory meals) and meal of the day.
Want to give $5 Meal Plan a go? Sign up for your free 14-day trial (you can cancel at any time) here.
HOW MINDFUL EATING CAN HELP
While knowing what’s in your food, what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat and how much of it to eat is helpful, it’s just as helpful to know how you’d like to experience your food.
Having rules around food can absolutely guide you in achieving specific and measured outcomes, especially if they’re recommended by your doctor or dietician, but they’re not the whole picture when it comes to eating healthily, and that’s where mindful eating can help fill in the gaps.
In fact, being fully attentive to your meals and how you feel as you prepare or buy and then consume them can mean the difference between enjoying a meal that makes you feel good and falling into a spiral of mindless eating that leaves you feeling terrible after.
And when it comes to creating more room for anti inflammatory foods in your diet, taking a mindful approach can help you make the necessary adjustments with less resistance and judgment.
RESOURCES YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL
The Calm Eating Checklist I struggled with overeating and my weight for years, trying everything under the sun to fix both, from going carb-free to over-exercising. Some worked….for a little while, but the only thing that really stuck and helped me heal my relationship with the food in my life was mindful eating, which is why I created this checklist to help you do the same, in 5 simple steps.
Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways To Slow Down And Enjoy The Things That Really Matter by Elaine St. James I got my hands on this treasure over 15 years ago, way before simple living and minimalism became popular, and it was the first resource that introduced me to practical, everyday steps I could take to ‘un-complicate’ my life. I didn’t have enough life experience then to ‘get’ everything that St. James presents in this book, but when I revisit the pages of Simplify Your Life now, they make perfect sense. If you’re just starting out in your simple living journey and are exploring your possibilities, I highly recommend giving this a read first.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever by Marie Kondo Being able to pay attention to the little things in your life starts with decluttering — not the easiest thing to do if your living (or even work) space is disorganised and drowning in stuff. This is my bible as far as tidying up my space and keeping it that way goes.
Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill This classic is so much more than what its title implies — it’s also a guide to taking control of the biggest driver behind everything you do and the reality you create for yourself: Your mind.
The Simple Living Guide When life feels overwhelming, this guide-and-workbook-in-one will help you gain clarity with your values, well-being, career, relationships and money.
The Good Morning Guide If your mornings are typically rushed, chaotic and stressful, I made this guide to help you start your day calm, sane and strong.
Tribe Of Mentors: Short Life Advice From The Best In The World by Timothy Ferriss Nothing beats having a mentor in your life who can personally guide you from day one. But not everyone does, and if (like me), you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from the best virtually or through books. Take what you need from the likes of Ray Dalio, Ben Stiller, Bear Grylls and more in this varied but comprehensive compilation of bite-sized advice on life, work and purpose from some of the best minds in the world.
GET THE ANTI INFLAMMATORY FOODS LIST PDF FOR MINDFUL EATERS
Now that you know which anti inflammatory foods you should be eating, it’s time to put what you know into practice with a copy of my FREE Anti Inflammatory Foods List For Mindful Eaters PDF (I’ve included a handy grocery shopping guide to help you get started). Get your very own copy of the list HERE. No spam. Just helpful, good-for-you stuff. Pinky swear.