Anti-inflammatory Foods in your Pantry

These days, it is hard to avoid news about studies linking inflammation to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.  The things we choose to eat can either promote or fight inflammation in our bodies.  The health benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet are hard to deny – but what does that mean you actually eat?

Inflammatory foods are those foods high in refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils (such as margarine, potato chips, and many baked goods), sugar, caffeine, and high-fructose corn syrup.  In general, an anti-inflammatory diet includes as much fresh food as possible and reduces or eliminates processed and fast foods.  Based on the latest recommendations from nutritionists and doctors, following are some ideas for stocking your pantry to fight inflammation.

Consuming primarily whole, natural foods is a key element of an anti-inflammatory diet.  This does not mean you have to avoid packaged foods entirely.  Some natural foods, such as yogurt, come in packages.  The goal is to make better choices among packaged foods.  Start by reading the ingredients list.  If you don’t recognize an ingredient on the list – skip the product entirely.  Also, avoid packaged products that include added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list.

Stock your pantry with whole grains including oats, quinoa, and wild rice.  Choose to prepare healthy carbohydrates such as beans, squashes and sweet potatoes over white rice, pasta and potatoes.  Avoid snack foods such as chips and pretzels.

Specific oils and fats, particularly those high in omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to reduce inflammation.  Stock your pantry with avocados, olive oil, walnuts, almonds, cashews and natural nut butters (making certain they do not include hydrogenated oils of any kind).  Stock up on eggs, salmon and flax meal.  Eggs make a great breakfast or snack on the go (once boiled).  Salmon is delicious grilled or broiled.  High-quality canned salmon makes a delicious salmon salad tossed with lemon juice and fresh herbs.  Flax meal can be sprinkled on cereal, oatmeal and into breakfast smoothies.

Choose lean proteins found in skinless chicken, pork tenderloin and fresh seafood.  Stock your refrigerator with fresh fruits and vegetables.  If it is difficult to find fresh fruits and vegetables this time of year, choose frozen.  Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak of ripeness and flash frozen, making them a great choice when fresh options are not readily available.  Some spices have been shown to reduce inflammation such as turmeric, ginger and rosemary.  Work them into your meals as often as possible.

Avoid drinking too much caffeine and alcohol, both of which have inflammatory properties.  When it comes to choosing beverages, drink water.  It’s that simple.  Totally void of syrups, food colorings and sugar, water is the drink of choice for truly quenching our bodies’ thirst.  Our bodies are composed of 60% water, which requires replenishing.  Our skin, kidneys and digestive system require water and fluids to function properly.  The more we sweat and exercise, the more water we need to drink.  Instead of worrying about exactly how many glasses of water you are supposed to drink a day, simply choose to drink water when you are thirsty, and you will find that your body gets what it needs.

Sugar is a hard habit to break.  I know.  I have broken it before, and honestly, I have never felt better than when I was off of sugar.  It takes time and patience.  The first week or two is difficult, especially if you have a sweet tooth.  Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, it takes diligence to avoid sugar.  For example, let’s talk about breakfast. A sugar-free breakfast means that boxed cereal and pastries are out of the picture.  Great options include eggs or oatmeal and other hot cereals made from whole grains.  If you buy instant oatmeal, choose the plain variety.  Flavor your oats and other whole grain cereals with fresh banana, unsweetened applesauce, cinnamon, or pumpkin purée.  For more sugar-free ideas, see my post about healthy breakfast ideas.

Caffeine can be a tough thing to avoid, especially when it comes to the morning cup of coffee.  If you are serious about avoiding caffeine, choose to drink white or green tea.  Sometimes I like to steep my tea with a cinnamon stick in addition to the tea bag.  One cinnamon stick can be used for several cups of tea.  If you are not a tea drinker, ease your way into it by having a cup of tea in the evening.  It hydrates you, warms you on the inside, and with time and patience (make that lots of time and patience), it can become a habit in the morning as well.  Also – iced, sugar-free herbal tea makes a great substitute for water when you are looking to quench your thirst.

For more ideas about stocking a healthy pantry see this post and this one too.

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy new year!

Kristen Desmond

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