Inflammation and Food

Food deeply impacts health. We know that what you consume has much to do with wellness, but the specific foods that promote or inhibit this are constantly debated. I believe that inflammation is at the root of many health issues, especially for those prone to autoimmune disease. While it’s notable that there has been a change in both discussion of and access to healthy options, there is undoubtedly a lasting and common distain for the dedication to a plant-based diet. While a plant-based diet is simple in concept it’s not always easy to do well. I am not a medical professional; I have eliminated many foods trying to feel my best, and have found this to be truest to me. If you suffer from Crohn’s or similar disorders you are likely very aware of the foods that most hurt and help your specific issue, which in some cases are contrary to my recommendations. My awareness that my pain and paralysis stem from inflammation motivates me to minimize any potential stimulation. I do not do this perfectly (not even close), and there are aspects of inflammation I won’t get into here. My only authority on the matter is my own experience, light research, and anecdotal evidence from friends and family members. In short, this is what works for me, and I hope it can help you too.

Inflammatory foods are ideally eliminated to promote everyday wellness but especially when health is compromised and you are trying to heal. To my mind, the most important food to avoid is refined sugar. It is the most addictive substance to me, and I know I need to avoid it completely. My husband, in the wake of Phife Dawg’s death, heard in an interview wherein the rapper shared his personal struggle with sugar. Phife’s tragic and untimely death was reportedly due to complications from diabetes. Those colorful, candied doughnuts make beautiful instagram posts, but they are hurting you. It’s no joke. Nothing makes me feel so instantly icky, bloated and fiery in my nerves. Most days there will be a moment I am craving something sweet. I find it helpful to have some pre-made sweet, but refined sugar-free options. I like dairy-free ice cream or healthy no-bake cookies. What is remarkable about these treats is they satisfy your sweet tooth without an intense craving to eat more. The further you get from refined sugar the less you will miss it, I swear! *Note: artificial sugars, like aspartame, are just as inflammatory, steer clear!

Gluten is a hot-topic for many, and the hardest thing about being gluten-free is judgment. I don’t even like to say the word. Many people have absolutely no allergy, and so gluten poses no threat to their health, but refined flours, like those found in white bread, flour, some noodles, etc… undergo processing that make it act like sugar, and will cause inflammation in everyone. Luckily, whole-grain options are now widely available. Pick those when you have the choice, remembering that ancient grains are delicious and nutritious. I tend to stay away from most gluten free substitutes, as they are generally unsatisfying in taste, and do little nutritionally. I do like Udi’s soft and hearty whole grain bread, and find it can make a solid platform for a decent sandwich.

As a former vegan, dairy is fairly easy to eliminate. There is popular belief that dairy is essential, and I won’t dispute the value of calcium found in healthier options like yogurt or kefir. What I think goes widely unrealized is how much better the body absorbs calcium through plants like broccoli, kale, bok choy, even parsley (it’s not just garnish!) and how much gentler this is on human bodies. Milk is utterly needless in our diets and is better left to baby cows. I find that coconut milk or cream can be a great replacement in your coffee or mashed potatoes, or wherever else you might use dairy. You can find more information on this many places, but I like this source: Why You Don’t Need Dairy.

Being social in many capacities involves alcohol, but consuming too much sets the body aflame. I won’t preach abstinence, and I won’t practice it either. I very much appreciate the work of mixologists, brew masters, and winemakers. My most intense nerve issues have been mildly and temporarily assuaged by a spirit or two, but if I am honest with myself I must admit that this habit is unhealthy. When I am in such social situations I do my best to keep it to one or two drinks, but believe that elimination is really where I should aim, especially when I’m having a flare.

Now for the question I’m frequently asked: What do you eat? When I am really good about my ideal diet I focus first on the vegetables in season, and get a whole bunch of them. They should be the stars of most meals. The best inspiration for this kind of veggie showmanship comes from the gorgeous restaurant, Vedge, here in Philly. Luckily, they published a cookbook so mortals can attempt their impressive culinary feats. When fresh produce is not available I stock up on frozen vegetables like broccoli, green beans, mixed veggies…Around that I always have on hand brown rice, quinoa, an assortment of beans, tamari, olive oil, coconut oil (all hail the mighty coconut), and I usually have some antibiotic free, free-range chicken in the freezer. Any time I can add ginger, garlic or tumeric I do (these are all natural anti-inflammatories, good to take in pill form, too). I find you can do quite a lot with these! Having fresh veggies like cucumber and carrots chopped and pre-made hummus will prevent you from eating a bag of Doritos even when they are sitting in your cupboard opened and your husband won’t notice them missing (he will always notice). Apples/celery and peanut butter have followed me from childhood and are always around house Corey. Walnuts and dried fruit are great to keep in your bag for on-the-go snacks.

It is not easy, especially when you are out with friends and family who may not understand why you aren’t partaking in the plethora of delicious, incendiary consumables. I find a mantra helpful when I reach for something I know I shouldn’t, “What is this doing for me?” Your health is more valuable than the brief joy of crappy, inflammatory foods. When you think of food in terms of what you deserve, your body becomes precious and important. It’s the only one you’re going to get this lifetime. As an added bonus eliminating these foods is likely to make you look better on the outside, too. When I am really struggling, I watch some Beyoncé videos and think, “what wouldn’t I give for the chance to look a tiny bit more like her?”

Dreaming works for me.

For continued reading on inflammation and health:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/family-health-guide/what-you-eat-can-fuel-or-cool-inflammation-a-key-driver-of-heart-disease-diabetes-and-other-chronic-conditions

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/01/19/foods-that-chronic-pain-sufferers-need-to-avoid.aspx

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