Slipping into the charming brilliance of autumn in Maine, I am still drawn to the last hot moments of sunshine, and my desk is littered with monographs on the "fire within" inflammation. If your issues include allergies, overweight, menstrual cramps, joint/muscle stiffness, irritable bowel (heck, I could fill this space with a list of inflammatory disorders) or if your family history includes heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or Alzheimer's (and whose
doesn't?) please listen up. Chronic inflammation is the common element triggering most of the diseases you don't want to get. And you can fix a lot of it with food.
Normal inflammation is an elegant part of your body's healing system. If you encounter an irritant or a toxin or a germ or a burn or hammer your thumb, inflammation (heat, redness, pain, and swelling) brings healthy blood and immune elements to the sick places. Inflammation ordinarily turns on and off as needed, but in our crazy world we're all inflammation, all the time. Inflamed tissues are not healthy, and inflamed organs don't work right. It's hard to
interrupt the inflammation cycle it's MUCH easier to keep inflammation turned down in the first place.
Surprise, surprise, most Americans are on an inflammation-generating food plan. (Yes, it might be a conspiracy.) Lots of sugar, not enough protein, and too much bad fat; fast food, refined flour, few vegetables, fried food: it's the nutrition program for a towering inferno. You may even be inflaming yourself when you THINK you're eating well! Much conventional wisdom about nutrition has been wrong, I think. (I spend a lot of time in my office correcting this
one of the reasons I love having this column! It's so efficient!) If you are thinking that a healthy diet includes minimal fat and lots of grains, I'm here to tell you that this is the recipe for the health disaster that will bring down the medical system when the baby boomers come of age, because this is the diet that causes chronic inflammation.
The cool thing about inflammation (pun intended) is that if bad food can make it, better food can un-make it. Don't know about you, but this gets me very excited. An anti-inflammatory food plan looks something like this: Abundant fresh fruits and vegetables, for natural antioxidants. Adequate protein balanced with low-impact carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar stable. Moderate quantities of good fats and, as always, staying away from refined carbohydrates
(flour) and added sugar. Surprise, surprise.
Bad fat in particular is extremely pro-inflammatory. Trans fat, saturated fat, rancid fat (anything that smells remotely like paint), most vegetable oils (corn and soybean especially), fat that's been damaged by high heat (any fried food, particularly from a commercial kitchen) all are generally pro-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory fats come from fish, nuts, flax, and fruits (olives, avocadoes). Just so you know.
Ginger has been valued for millennia as a medicinal food– it's a powerful inflammation inhibitor. Have it with sushi, brew it as tea, throw it into stir fry. Turmeric (the stuff that makes curry powder yellow) is another traditional anti-inflammatory medicinal. Here's a recipe that uses both served with a nice piece of wild Alaskan salmon, you'll have the coolest dinner ever!
Clean-Out-The-Fridge Versatile Veggie Curry
(Makes about 8 servings, depending . . . )
2 carrots; peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
2 small eggplants, in one-inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped into one-inch squares
1 head cauliflower, cored and cubed
1 bunch broccoli, trimmed and chopped
2 medium sized zucchini, in one-inch cubes
3 tablespoons cold pressed organic olive oil
2 large onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Handful of chopped cilantro
Heat oil in a large skillet that has a lid. Sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook together over medium heat for about 10 minutes, appreciating the aroma. When onions are translucent, add cayenne, cumin, turmeric, and salt. Appreciate again. Stir to mix well and cook for 5 minutes. Add stock and stir to blend with spices and onions. Add carrots and eggplant, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add broccoli, cauliflower, and red pepper; cover and simmer for
another 5 minutes. Add zucchini and cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until zucchini softens. Remove from heat and serve with cilantro sprinkled on top. Note: This recipe will accept any number of other vegetables you may have on hand, like greens or tomatoes. Or a can of garbanzo beans.