Fighting Inflammation with Food

Over the past few days I have been attending the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual convention, called FNCE (pronounced fen-cie) — Food and Nutrition Conference. Yes, it is always pretty awesome, filled with lots of new and exciting scientific discoveries (#science) that help guide me in providing education and insight into my passion for healthy living. One of the hot topics this year was inflammation. You might be thinking that sounds boring and is not something you need to worry about yet. However, understanding the importance of avoiding inflammation is crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Prevention and management of chronic inflammation is important because it can impact the development of various chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Do you know anyone currently fighting heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, allergies? Most likely, yes. And if you do not think you do, it is likely because it is just not the topic of conversation. The prevalence of diseases associated with chronic inflammation is anticipated to continue to increase persistently for the next 30 years in the United States. In 2014, nearly 60% of Americans had at least one chronic condition (1). Yiiiiiiikes.

For the good news, healthful food choices, regular exercise, managing your stress levels and avoiding smoking are all important and manageable ways to prevent chronic inflammation. Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food — Hippocrates. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods can help prevent the development of chronic diseases as well as lessen the severity of your condition if you suffer from a chronic illness. Furthermore, the foods we eat can help combat climate change and environmental destruction. Choosing to eat a variety of unprocessed whole plant foods such as grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds is a key strategy. A win-win — for your body and the environment!

There are specific foods that can either contribute to inflammation or reduce inflammation (anti-inflammatory). Which foods should we go for:
• Apples
• Berries — blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries
• Grapes
• Broccoli
• Brussel Sprouts
• Avocado
• Orange and yellow bell peppers
• Tomatoes
• Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables
• Fish
• Poultry
• Nuts
• Olives/Olive Oil
• Coffee and tea
• Other fruits and vegetables
• Dairy Foods (e.g., whole and low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt)
•Legumes

Foods that contribute to inflammation include foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and refined sugars, such as:

• Processed and packaged foods
• Processed meats
• Baked goods
• Fast foods, fried foods
•Anything with partially hydrogenated oils

The winning formula includes indulging in fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Five-A-Day is a minimal amount, so add wherever it works best for you. Fruit can be an easy grab to add an extra serving with your breakfast or snacks, but here a few super fast ways to add more veggies:

  • Riced cauliflower or broccoli — There are a bunch of brands out there, but Nature’s Earthly Choice™ riced cauliflower and broccoli is straight-forward. To prepare, tear a slit in the shelf-stable pouch and microwave for 90 seconds. 90 seconds — done.
  • Always have extra cooked veggies on hand to add on top of a protein, or to replace half of your usual carb serving with your cooked veggies. Onion marmalade is a simple yet tasty condiment to prep and keep on hand. Just sliced up about 3 large red onions. Spray a sauté pan with nonstick cooking spray and place over low-medium heat. Add sliced onions and cook until tender and translucent — about 10 minutes. Add 1 cup red wine vinegar and continue cooking until mostly evaporated. Remove from heat and season with a touch of salt, pepper, basil — whatever sounds good. Cool and place in refrigerator. Ready when you are.
  • Go hot and cold. Prepare a hot veggie, as well as a salad or veggie sticks with dinner. Instead of looking for more carbs, keep adding your double veggie options to your plate instead. Fresh cut up carrots, celery, jicama, radishes, etc, can add that extra cleansing, crunch and fill you are looking for towards the end of meal.

Adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your repertoire does not have to be complicated. Likely you are enjoying many already, but here a few delicious suggestions🍓🍆:

PASTA E FAGIOLI
As the temperatures drop and we are desperately trying to continue to dine outside, it is time for soup. This popular soup is a meal in a bowl, with heart-healthy legumes and veggies. Skip any additional salt, as the turkey bacon should add enough. And yes, turkey bacon is a processed food, but it can still fit into a healthy diet.

INGREDIENTS
2 15-ounce cans cannelli beans, low sodium, drained, rinsed
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and grated
4 leaves fresh sage
3 strips turkey bacon, diced
4 cups chicken broth, low sodium
1 cup small pasta (go traditional with ditalini, or try orecchiete or orzo)
Optional: Add a couple handfuls of fresh greens ~ kale, bok choy, escarole Garnish options: freshly ground pepper, red pepper flakes, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, parsley, tarragon

PREPARATION
Place large soup pot over medium heat. Add turkey bacon and cook until crisp, about 3–4 minutes. Add all of the vegetables and herbs. Cook until softened, stirring frequently. Add beans and broth. Bring to a boil and add pasta (plus greens, if adding!). Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking another 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Note: This will be a thicker soup, so add more broth if desired. Pour into 6 serving bowls and top with desired garnishes — suggest at least a few for tasty, zingy flavor — and serve. 😋

Photo by Karen Sheer

TUSCAN STYLE PUTTANESCA SAUCE
If you love eggplant as much as me, this is treat. If you do not think you love eggplant, give it a try. The bulk the eggplant adds to the sauce, makes it a meal in and of itself. This is great sauce to throw on top of any protein or whole grain of your choosing, though salmon is highly recommended :).

INGREDIENTS
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced thin
1 large eggplant, diced
1 cup pitted black olives
2 cups plum tomatoes (about 6 tomatoes), drained and chopped
1 cup yellow grape tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste
nonstick cooking spray
Options to serve over: grilled tofu, fish, shrimp, chicken, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat couscous

PREPARATION
Spray a large sauté pan with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add eggplant and cooked for about 5–6 minutes. Drain and set aside. Place pan back over medium heat and add garlic. Cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add cooked eggplant and mushrooms and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, wine and olives. Turn heat up and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir, turn heat to low and cover pan. Simmer about 25–30 minutes, stirring often to make sure sauce is not sticking to the pan. Remove from heat and stir in basil, salt and pepper to taste. Pour over your protein or grain and serve. Garnish with extra basil if desired. Makes 8 servings (about 1/2 cup per serving).

Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

SWEET AND TART STRAWBERRIES
I learned how to make these years ago when I had the honor to work with one of my mom’s dear friends, who was a professional chef. This simple dessert is always a hit, with an unexpected ingredient combination.

INGREDIENTS
1 quart fresh strawberries, washed, stems removed, sliced in half
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Options to serve with: low fat frozen yogurt, angel food cake, pound cake (that’s right😊-moderation…)

PREPARATION
In a medium serving bowl, whisk brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Add strawberries and toss until coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for about 1–2 hours, stirring every half hour. Serve over your treat of choice. Makes 4–6 servings.

Because, life’s too short, my friends. Let’s squeeze in as many laughs as we can get. ~ Neil Pasricha, The Book of Awesome

References: (1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173; (2)Global Footprint Network Ecological Footprint Calculator: (3)https://www.footprintcalculator.org; (4)Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group

For comments, thoughts, requests or anything else you feel the need to share, please do: amysmargulies@gmail.com

A nutrition expert and middle child, I am writing to promote health and wellbeing, recipes and tips in a relatable, slightly rebellious fashion.