Inflammation plays a key role in diverse illnesses, from heart disease to depression. Nutritionist Julie Daniluk's diet and menu plan uses anti-inflammatory foods to put out the fire.
Inflammation is an immune response to injury, toxins, allergy and infection, and the cause of pain, redness, heat and swelling in the affected area. As more than 70 per cent of our immune system cells are found in the lining of the digestive tract, your immune response is hugely affected by the foods that interact within your gut. Certain foods can put out the fire of inflammation, while other foods can promote it.
Do you consistently have a stomach ache after eating your favourite ice cream? Has your doctor diagnosed you with 'runner's knee' even though you've never run past the corner store? If this sounds like you, you're part of a growing population that struggles with chronic pain long before old age. It's strange that many people in the West over the age of 30 have started to accept pain as part of the ageing process. With one in five people suffering from arthritis in Canada and the US, and similar numbers in the UK, fighting joint pain has now become a top healthcare priority.
Food allergies, which are often a root cause of pain, are also becoming increasingly common across North America and Britain, as many foods are heavily processed and we don't have enough variety in our diet. We often choose the same popular menu items like wheat cereals for breakfast, wheat bread sandwiches for lunch and wheat pasta for dinner. As a result, our immune system overreacts, and we suffer the painful symptoms of allergies. Diagnosing a food allergy isn't always easy, as symptoms can be diverse. But regardless of the signals our body sends us, inflammation is the ultimate consequence of an allergic reaction.
The six main causes of inflammation
Cellular injury is caused by constant exposure to various irritants like chemical or physical agents (radiation, cyanide, asbestos, pesticides, alcohol, drugs, tobacco smoke), and inflammation ensues to heal and protect cells against these toxins.
When a pathogenic organism like a yeast, fungus, virus, bacterium or other parasite attacks the body, the immune system responds with inflammation to fight the infection and heal infected tissues.
During an allergic reaction, the immune system overreacts to an agent that may be either harmless (such as natural food) or potentially harmful (such as synthetic chemicals), triggering an inflammatory response to protect the body. Immune reactions range from mild rashes to anaphylaxis and, if left unchecked, can contribute to autoimmune diseases.
Nutritional deficiency or excess
Nutritional imbalances can lead to hormonal disturbances, a stressed immune system and chronic inflammation. A deficiency of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals deprives the body of the materials it needs for proper repair, while an excess of certain compounds or nutrients can cause an imbalance that stresses organs and tissues. Cell injury can be caused by genetic factors, but nutrition and lifestyle choices, as well as other environmental factors, play a key role in determining if and when these factors are expressed.
Inflammation is part of the natural process of repairing the cell and tissue damage caused by physical injury.
The body follows the mind: mental distress can affect human physiology, and the raised levels of adrenaline and cortisol released during stress can lead to hormonal imbalance and unresolved inflammation.
Key culprits that damage the gastrointestinal lining
A low-fibre, high-sugar diet of processed foods that causes the wrong bacteria and yeast to thrive in your gut
Excess consumption of acidic foods like coffee, alcohol, white vinegar, soft drinks, citrus fruit and tomatoes, as well as very spicy foods, especially when eaten in combination with sugar and other refined carbohydrates
Eating or drinking very hot foods or drinks that literally burn your gut lining
Overuse of medications that damage the gut or block normal digestive function such as acid blockers (Prilosec, Nexium), anti-inflammatories (aspirin, Advil, Aleve), antibiotics, steroids, hormones (oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy and in vitro fertilization-supporting drugs) and antihistamines
Undetected gluten intolerance, coeliac disease or low-grade allergies to foods like dairy, eggs, corn, soya and nuts
Unbalanced gut flora, with inadequate amounts of beneficial bacteria relative to disease-causing bacteria, yeasts and fungi
Toxins like heavy metals (especially mercury that has leached from dental fillings) and those produced by moulds and gut pathogens
Lack of adequate digestive enzyme function, which can result from the use of acid-blocking medications, a poor diet, inadequately chewed food, overeating or a zinc deficiency
Stress, which can alter intestinal nerve activity, cause a leaky gut and alter the normal bacteria living in the gut
Intestinal parasites like worms, amoebas and Giardia.
Types of pain
There are two basic types of pain: acute and chronic. Acute pain comes on quickly (for example, after twisting an ankle) and lasts a relatively short period of time. The swelling, redness, heat and inflamed nerve endings set off an alarm bell, warning the rest of the body that something is wrong. In this instance, inflammation serves a purpose and is a natural and necessary part of the healing process. But when acute pain is not properly treated, it can develop into chronic pain (which stems from chronic inflammation).
Although injuries and sore joints are hard to ignore, less severe symptoms of inflammation generally don't attract your attention in the same way. Symptoms like indigestion after meals, bleeding gums or a patch of eczema that won't clear up (despite using lots of anti-inflammatory creams) are easy to ignore over time. If left unchecked, those annoying little symptoms can lead to chronic inflammation and lifelong pain. To heal your pain, you need to understand how chronic inflammation occurs. Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury and infection, as it stimulates the healing process. But this protective response of the immune system, if prolonged, can result in damage to the body's organs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that cardiovascular diseases, most of which are rooted in chronic inflammation, are the top causes of deaths worldwide and that "at least 80 per cent of premature deaths from cardiovascular heart disease and strokes could be prevented through a healthy diet, regular physical activity and avoiding the use
In fact, inflammation plays a key role in the development of seemingly unrelated illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, eczema, psoriasis and dementia.
Chronic inflammation can be extremely serious, but it can also be silent enough to ignore until it's too late. What's the safest way to prevent the process of painful inflammation? The answer is to avoid problem foods and consume specific foods that contain powerful phytonutrients like antioxidants, which can quell the inflammatory fire in the digestive tract, joints, heart and skin. Phytonutrients (the prefix 'phyto' is derived from the Greek word for 'plant') are compounds found in plants that aren't classified as either vitamins or minerals and aren't required for normal functioning of the human body, but that do have beneficial effects on health.
All inflammation occurs on a cellular level. Inflammation is a protective response that serves to destroy or dilute any injurious agent, and is responsible for healing and repairing injured tissues by stimulating cell regeneration. The ensuing pain is an indicator that we need to listen to. The initial inflammation is called 'acute inflammation', as it's supposed to be short-term and provide the environment for the body to heal. The danger comes when we suppress symptoms and push beyond our natural limits. When inflammation becomes chronic, it becomes destructive instead of healing.
Every cell in the human body functions within a narrow range of optimal environmental conditions, a balance called 'homeostasis'. When these conditions change due to an external stimulus (such as physical strain or injury), the cell is stressed and may respond with what is called 'cellular adaptation'. This means that the cell will try to modify itself to the newly imposed requirements to continue to function at a high level. A perfect example of cellular adaptation with a positive outcome is the increase in muscle mass following a significant increase in physical activity.
When the cell cannot adapt to the imposed stimulus, cell injury occurs. If the injury is not reversible, cell death may occur. This is why it's so important to stop repetitively stressing the body and continuing to 'feed' inflammation with proinflammatory foods.
The fact is, your pain may be directly affected by the foods you eat on a daily basis. Take white sugar, which I'll compare to a debit card. When you 'insert' white sugar into your body, you have to cough up the funds in your account, like B vitamins and chromium, to complete the transaction (that is, metabolize it). Over time your repeated consumption of white sugar will deplete your account of nutrients. If you fail to continually replenish your vitamin and mineral reserves, you will end up with an overdrawn account. As a result you will lack the necessary nutrients for keeping inflammation in check. There are many proinflammatory foods , which is why they've been cut out of my diet plan.
This diet plan steers clear of inflammatory choices like white sugar, harmful fats and processed foods, replacing them with healthy choices like natural unrefined sweeteners, healing fats and anti-inflammatory vegetables instead. For example, raw honey is a sweet ingredient frequently used in my recipes. According to Dr Aly M. Ezz El-Arab, honey works like a powerful antibiotic. It destroys the Helicobacter pylori bacteria that are sometimes the cause of gastric ulcers. When the bacteria are kept at bay, inflammation in the stomach is reduced.
Eat to heal
To heal inflammation, we need to make gradual dietary changes to avoid the typical 'diet mentality', which can sabotage lifelong changes. Here are the five most important steps to take.
1. Replace refined and processed foods with healthier options (choosing organic whenever possible), and remove unhealthy foods that were once psychologically comforting.
2. Change your diet slowly by gradually cutting out refined foods over two weeks.
3. Avoid refined foods and potential allergens for at least eight weeks.
4. Reintroduce any nutritious whole foods that you eliminated, such as dairy and tomatoes, to determine whether or not you are sensitive or allergic to them.
5. Permanently incorporate your new way of eating and living into each day.
Share this diet with others. By encouraging your loved ones to join you in the fight against inflammation, your healing food choices can become a lifetime commitment to eating healthier.
It's also a good idea to get dietary clearance from a physician or naturopathic doctor before you start the programme, and to seek professional advice to get a diagnosis for whatever is causing your pain.
You have to know the root of your pain to heal yourself properly. Lots of people self-diagnose, but it's important to get a full medical examination, along with blood work, and to have your serious questions answered by a professional.
If you have healthy digestive function, avoid eating carbohydrates on their own. Pair a starchy or sweet food with one of the following: fat (for example, nut butter with rice crackers); protein (beef with brown rice noodles); or fibre (flax seeds baked into a wholegrain flatbread or cracker). Fats, protein and fibre all help slow down the absorption of sugars (simple carbohydrates), so keeping your blood sugar balanced.
It's also a good idea to take probiotics. Many forms of inflammation begin in the digestive tract. A probiotic supplement like Acidophilus can help restore balance to this system and allow for the proper uptake
Don't forget to mix it up. Your body may tag commonly eaten foods as allergens, so eat something different every day to avoid exacerbating allergies and keep your meals interesting. You could also develop nutritional deficiencies if you limit your diet too strictly. Include two or three vegetables at every meal for a minimum of seven servings a day, as the minerals in vegetables alkalinize your body to help reduce inflammation. Try to get 35 g/day of fibre. You can achieve this by increasing your consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and seeds-and drink plenty of fluids.
Toss out these pro inflammatory foods
-Artificial additives, including MSG, autolized yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and anything with initials or numbers, parabens, glutamate, sodium caseinate and mineral oil
-Sugar and artificial sweeteners
Mouldy or old fruit
-All soft drinks and carbonated beverages
-Commercially smoked and cured meats
-White vinegar and vinegar-containing foods
-Processed oil products (instead buy cold-pressed, unrefined oils in dark (black, brown, deep blue, green, or purple) glass bottles and store them in a cool, dark place)
-Coffee and regular black tea
-Peanuts and rancid nuts or seeds
-Nightshade family vegetables (including aubergine, peppers, cayenne, chillis, potatoes, tobacco, tomatoes and goji berries)
-Processed soy products
These are the foods to buy and cook with:
Brown rice syrup, coconut syrup, honey (raw varieties for raw dishes and unpasteurized liquid forms for cooked dishes), tree sap syrups (like birch and maple) and Stevia (liquid extract or whole-leaf powder)
Unrefined cold-pressed oils in glass jars. For hot dishes and low-temperature cooking, use avocado, coconut, extra virgin olive, grape seed, mustard seed and sesame seed oils. For raw dressings and cool dishes, use omega-3-rich oils cold-pressed from algae, fish flesh or fish liver, seeds (chia, flax, hemp, perilla, pumpkin and sacha inchi) and walnuts. After eight weeks on the MTHI (meals that heal inflammation) diet plan, organic butter and ghee (clarified butter) are healthy choices in moderation for people who aren't sensitive or allergic to dairy.
Make half your diet bright-coloured and dark-green vegetables (aim for seven to 10 servings a day), and eat as many low-starch greens as possible (broccoli, cabbage, celery, celery root, chard, dandelion, fresh herbs, kale, radish, snap peas and zucchini/courgettes). Choose beet root, carrot, Jerusalem artichoke (sunroot or sunchoke), kudzu root, sweet potato, taro, winter squash and yam instead of white potatoes. If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), it's best to cook vegetables until they're tender.
Use unsweetened almond milk, brown rice milk, hemp seed milk and small amounts of coconut milk.
Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff, whole rice (black, brown or red) and wild rice are safe gluten-free seeds and grains. Have a different grain each day to avoid developing an allergy. Some people are sensitive to all grains, so keep track of how you feel when you eat from this group.
Consume free-range or organic chicken, eco-friendly fish (anchovy, Arctic char, barramundi, sardine, spring trout, tilapia and wild line-caught Pacific salmon), emu, lamb, turkey and wild game.
Nuts & seeds
Eat fresh almonds, Brazil nuts, filberts (hazelnuts), macadamias, pecans and walnuts, as well as chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds. Nut and seed butters are also great choices. (Those made from raw nuts and seeds are healthier than those made from toasted ingredients.)
Beans & legumes
Adzuki, black, garbanzo (chickpea), red and white kidney, lima, mung, navy and turtle beans, as well as lentils and peas, are good sources of protein and fibre. Soy can be eaten safely as edamame (young soybeans) or as a fermented food (miso, natto, wheat-free tamari sauce, tempeh).
Lemon and lime juices make good substitutes for white vinegar. Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar sold in a glass bottle has health-promoting qualities and can be used if yeast isn't a serious concern. Unrefined organic brown rice, fruit, red wine and umeboshi plum vinegars contain antioxidants. Avoid conventional balsamic vinegar because it contains added sugar. Enjoy lots of fresh garlic for its antifungal qualities. Experiment with herbs and spices for adding flavour.
A TALE OF TWO CURRIES
I created this recipe for my nephew's birthday because half the party guests were vegetarian and the other half wanted chicken. You can try it either way, depending on your mood or dietary needs. Any fresh, local, seasonally available vegetables can be used as the curry sauce goes well with anything. At the height of summer, use green and purple beans, courgettes or carrots-or whatever local farmers are harvesting at the time. Visit your favourite farmers market, experiment with the produce and have fun!
Curry is traditionally served with rice. If you have good digestion, rice is a nice way to soak up the rich sauce.
3 cups (750 mL) chopped onions (about 3 medium bulbs)
1 Tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 mL) chopped garlic
2.2 lb (1 kg) chicken thighs, skinned OR three 14-oz (400-mL)
cans black beans
3 cups (750 mL) carrots, sliced into coins
2 cups (500 mL) chopped kale
1 Tbsp (15 mL) minced ginger root
1 Tbsp (15 mL) turmeric
1/2 Tbsp (7.5 mL) cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp (7.5 mL) ground coriander
1 tsp (5 mL) gray sea salt or pink rock salt
2 cups (500 mL) chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 lemon or 1 medium lime, zested and juiced
2 cups (500 mL) cauliflower or broccoli, cut into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces
1/2 cup (125 mL) coconut milk
1/4 cup (60 mL) tahini
1/4 cup (60 mL) dried cranberries (sweetened with apple juice)
1 pineapple core (cut into fine slices-the texture is just like water chestnut; serve the rest of the pineapple for dessert)
8-inch piece lemongrass
1- In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, saut'e the onions in the oil over medium-low heat until soft, about 7 minutes. Spritz liberally with filtered water or broth to ensure the oil doesn't overheat.
2- Add garlic and saut'e a few minutes more, being careful not to brown or burn it. Keep it gently toasted and golden. Then add chicken and brown for 5 minutes.
3- Add carrots, kale, spices, salt and stock, and gently simmer over low heat for 20-25 minutes.
4- Add broccoli or cauliflower and lemon or lime zest and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are al dente. If you prefer a tangy curry, add more citrus zest.
5- Stir in lemon or lime juice, coconut milk and tahini, and mix thoroughly.
Note: If you're short on time, you can skip browning the chicken or consider investing in a slow cooker. Wait until right at the end to add the coconut milk, mixing it in just before serving.
Makes 7 or 8 servings
EZRA'S HERBED QUINOA RISOTTO
Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin K, as well as numerous B vitamins, including folate, B1, B2, B3 and B6. It's also high in vitamins A and C, iron, manganese, potassium and fiber. Quinoa and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including those involved in insulin secretion and glucose metabolism. Spring garlic scapes are the flower stalks that spring out of the garlic bulb. They're rich in allicin, which can help protect against osteoarthritis.
Chef Ezra Title, my co-host on the my TV show Healthy Gourmet, created this incredibly healthy recipe.
1 tsp (5 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 mL) diced onion
3 spring garlic scapes (stalks), chopped
1 cup (250 mL) quinoa
1/4 cup (60 mL) unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
2 cups (500 mL) chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) gray sea salt or pink
1/4 cup (60 mL) canned pur'eed squash
12 asparagus spears, chopped
1/4 bunch parsley, chopped
5 basil leaves, chopped
1/4 bunch chives, chopped
5 green onions, chopped (garnish)
1. Add olive oil, onions and spring garlic into a small, shallow pot. Spritz liberally with filtered water or broth to ensure the oil doesn't overheat. Saut'e on medium-low until translucent, approximately 2 minutes.
2. Stir in quinoa, coating it with the oil. Turn heat to medium-high and add apple cider vinegar to the pot, stirring constantly.
3 . Once the vinegar has evaporated, add stock and salt. Cover and bring to a simmer, cooking on low for approximately 10 minutes, and stirring occasionally.
4 . Add asparagus spears and simmer for another 5 minutes.
5. When quinoa is cooked, add squash pur'ee and fresh herbs.
6. Garnish with green onion and serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings
KEY LIME PIE
This pie is the ultimate healthy gourmet treat. You'll wish you could turn back time with the last bite of this pie-proof that nutritious food can taste good.
Avocados are packed with vitamin B6, which supports your liver in metabolizing and balancing certain hormones such as estrogen. And it's the perfect non-chocolate rescue for PMS.
1 cup (250 mL) unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup (250 mL) walnuts
1/4 tsp (1 mL) gray sea salt or pink
1/2 cup (125 mL) pitted Medjool dates
3 firm avocados
3 tbsp (45 mL) lime juice
1 tsp (5 mL) lime zest
1/2 cup (125 mL) raw honey
Pinch gray sea salt or pink rock salt
Kiwi or lime slices
1. Process the coconut, walnuts, and salt in a food processor until coarsely ground.
2. Add the dates and process until the mixture resembles bread crumbs and begins to clump together.
3. Press into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (23 cm) pie plate using the back of a spoon or your fingers.
4. Place the crust in the freezer for 15 minutes.
5. Process all the filling ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
6. Pour the filling into the piecrust. Set in fridge for 20 minutes.
7. Garnish with fresh slices of kiwi fruit or thin slices of lime.
Makes 8 servings
Adapted from Meals That Heal Inflammation by Julie Daniluk (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2012), which contains an extensive collection of recipes to heal inflammation.