You may have heard through the grapevine that food is actually medicine. A healthy diet is essential for protecting the body and eating foods in season can mean even more nutritional benefits. The food we eat is our body’s best defense mechanism and preventive measure when inflammation persists.
What is inflammation? Inflammation is actually a completely normal and necessary immune response. When the body identifies a foreign invader, the immune system goes to work by sending more white blood cells to the affected area. This process often involves inflammation. Acute inflammation is short-term and is triggered by the body’s recognition of something foreign, an infection, virus, chemical or even plant pollen. Chronic means that the inflammation is sustained for a longer period of time. Prolonged stress and health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s have been linked to chronic inflammation.
How does it affect your health? Consistent inflammation can cause damage to healthy body tissues and thus increasing the risk of health issues. Chronic inflammation can affect the body in different ways and carries its own set of symptoms, such as body pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues or weight gain.
What makes a food “anti-inflammatory?” Some medications can help reduce chronic inflammation; however, we continue to learn that food may actually be the best medicine. I must also note that we are still learning! More research is needed when it comes the effect food can have on inflammation, but researchers believe that food makes a big impact, both positive and negative.
Antioxidants, polyphenols, phytonutrients, and healthy fats (such as Omega-3 fatty acids) are just a few nutrients that we know can combat chronic inflammation. Antioxidants are nutrients that protect body cells from damage-causing molecules called free radicals. Cells that have been hit with free radicals become weak making them more susceptible to disease.
What are the best anti-inflammatory foods available at peak freshness and taste this time of year?
Here’s eight to eat more of this summer if you are in Wisconsin or the Midwest.
Dark green leafy vegetables: Spinach, Collards, Kale, Arugula: You really can’t go wrong in making green leafy vegetables a part of your day. They are good for so many reasons, but are full of antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E.
Garlic: Yes, please! Organosulfur compounds in garlic may have beneficial and anti-inflammatory effects. Your breath might not, but your health will thank you for adding that extra clove.
Bell Peppers: Colorful bell peppers are high in antioxidants, particularly vitamin C. Eat them raw and sliced with hummus as a snack, add to a salad, or use in place of chips with dip!
Tomatoes: Not only do tomatoes contain vitamin C, but they also have a phytonutrient called lycopene. Phytonutrients act similarly to antioxidants in the body preventing damage to healthy tissues. Cooking tomatoes helps the body absorb lycopene and cooking them in a healthy oil, such as olive or grapeseed, can also boost absorption.
Berries: Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries: Berries are nutritional powerhouses chock full of antioxidants, like vitamin C and polyphenols. Polyphenols are also antioxidant-like compounds known to have anti-inflammatory effects. Anthocyanins are the polyphenols in berries that give them their red, purple, or blue coloring.
Grapes: Similarly, anthocyanins are also found in grapes. Resveratrol is a phytonutrient found in grapes and, yes in wine too. Keep in mind that alcohol consumption can actually have a pro-inflammatory effect. Best to get your daily resveratrol through grapes.
Carrots: Beta-carotene is the phytonutrient that give carrots their orange hue. Alongside the vitamin A in carrots, beta-carotene is also able to fight off free radicals and cell damage. So don’t overlook the veggie tray at the cookout this summer.
Cherries: With antioxidants and polyphenols, cherries have been linked to beneficial effects on reducing inflammation in arthritis, heart disease, and some cancers. Consuming cherries or drinking tart cherry juice has also been associated with relieving pain and muscle soreness.
In addition to grocery stores, local farmer’s markets are a great place to buy foods that are in season in your area. Check out Wisconsin farmers markets while they last or better yet you can grow your own organic produce.