Taking charge of your health through daily choices has never been as important as it is right now as we all struggle to find our balance in a post-pandemic world. The upcoming holidays offer another challenge as Thanksgiving, holiday office parties, and family gatherings tempt even the most disciplined among us.
Knowledge about how to boost our immune systems so that we can battle whatever viruses, infections, or diseases that cross our paths is not only good to know, but also can be considered life-changing information. As each of us learns how our individual health profile is impacted by our environment, it becomes vital to be able to find healthy choices both inside and outside of the home.
Anti-inflammatory diet: why and how?
Many nutritionists and chefs alike are praising the healing impact that an anti-inflammatory dietary approach can have on a variety of chronic health conditions. According to Nourish by WebMD, a food information section of the WebMD website, nutritionists often recommend anti-inflammatory diets for specific conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
“Inflammation happens naturally in your body. Inflammation protects against toxins, infection, and injury, but when it happens too often it can trigger diseases,” the website reads.
Chronic inflammation in the body can be triggered by many things, according to Amber Charles-Alexis, a registered dietitian known as the “Cultural Dietitian” who holds a master’s degree in public health and has her own website and blog (theculturaldietitian.com). These triggers include infections, autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances, and lifestyle factors such as age, amount and quality of sleep, stress, lack of exercise, and obesity.
Research is continuing to emerge on how to treat a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions. Nourish by WebMD wrote: “An anti-inflammatory diet is widely regarded as healthy. Even if it doesn’t help with your condition, it can help lower your chances of having other problems.”
An anti-inflammatory diet, according to the site, includes many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fatty fish, fresh herbs, and spices. It can look similar to the Mediterranean diet.
Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, is credited with creating the anti-inflammatory diet, but he has indicated that he prefers to have people consider prioritizing food choices, calling it a “food plan” rather than a diet. While some of his work has created controversy among medical professionals, his food plans remain useful when constructing an anti-inflammatory diet.
Dr. Weil’s website also offers anti-inflammatory food plan tips that include types of foods to avoid and what items to include in moderate amounts. Dr. Weil published an anti-inflammatory food pyramid that helps people visualize how to approach an anti-inflammatory food plan, in terms of servings and quantities. Food items on the pyramid and consistent across multiple sources include blueberries, cherries, apples, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, avocados, mushrooms, wild-caught salmon, tuna, oats, and nuts of all kinds.
If you are heading to the grocery store, Maggie Berghoff, a certified functional nurse practitioner, recommends the following list of grocery list staples in her book Eat Right for Your Inflammation Type. These foods are lean proteins (chicken, salmon, and turkey), a colorful array of vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and bell peppers as a start), fresh fruits in season, nut milk (almond or cashew, as long as no artificial ingredients are included), nut butter, healthy fats (avocados, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds), as well as anti-inflammatory seasonings (turmeric, cacao powder, and cinnamon).
What about cocktails and holiday toasts?
Wine is at the top of Dr. Weil’s pyramid, indicating you should consume it moderately. It is known to contain the anti-inflammatory ingredient resveratrol and you can even buy locally produced wine!
Although Dr. Weil recommends limiting wine to one to two glasses per day, Berghoff suggests eliminating wine and beer due to the high sugar and sulfite content (wine) and the inflammation-producing grains from which beer is made. Berghoff instead recommends (in moderation, of course) tequila, unflavored vodka, or gin with added soda water, lime, or lemon, with the possible addition of Stevia for a little extra sweetness.
Exploring the neighborhood
Several restaurants in southeastern New Mexico and El Paso offer anti-inflammatory menu items that are both palate-pleasing and healthy.
Healthy Bite, a Downtown El Paso favorite for the past 12 years, features an array of healthy, unique breakfast and lunch items, along with freshly made juices and smoothies, “prepared with love,” according to owner Patricia Terrazas. The quinoa bowl, for instance, allows one to choose the addition of smoked salmon, chicken, tuna, or hummus.
The menu at D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro includes a delightful berry salad and along with its fabulous pecan vinaigrette, you get the benefit of locally sourced pecans. The Lescombes salad can be duplicated at home with seasonal food choices, such as cranberries, citrus fruits, pomegranates, and pears. A recipe for toasted pecan vinaigrette can be found at wholesomelicious.com/toasted-pecan-vinaigrette.
Heart of the Desert Pistachios & Winery features a wide selection of healthy and delicious pistachios and a variety of flavor-infused oils and vinegar in all three of its Southern New Mexico locations. Each store also offers a variety of wines you can taste for free. The benefits of pistachios are numerous and there is evidence that they may help lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and promote blood vessel health.
Legacy Pecans is right on the Mesilla Plaza and offers a range of locally produced pecan products. Buy fun gift assortments for healthy holiday gifts or bags of whole, half, or pecan pieces as well as pecan oil and many tasty pecan treats.
Improving Your Health
Charles-Alexis suggests on her website: “Replace pro-inflammatory foods — such as highly refined carbohydrates (processed foods) and added sugars, red meat, trans and saturated fats, and salt — with whole grains, fruit, vegetables, yogurt, herbs and spices, and healthy fats.” She recognizes that anti-inflammatory diets may improve disease symptoms by reducing inflammation, but also concedes that food choices can only help reduce the risk of chronic disease, with much more research needed. A reduction in pro-inflammatory foods, however, is a solid move in the right direction.
Imagine for a moment, however, if we changed our mindset about holiday eating, and altered our thinking just a little bit. What if we were intentional about adding food and snack dishes that contained some of the foods on Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid and perhaps introduced our family and guests to some tasty, sweet or savory, anti-inflammatory recipes into our traditional holiday fare? After all, on a day when winter’s blustery chill is upon us, who wouldn’t enjoy a steaming and hearty bowl of smoky, delicious, and (and carb-minimizing) butternut chili?
Or consider sweet potato toast (recipe below) for a holiday brunch, topped with a variety of anti-inflammatory superfoods and seasonings. Maybe, just maybe, we would discover a few fabulous alternatives that would become new holiday traditions, and we would be ending 2022 with a step towards a healing health-focused new year.
Por favor come sano! (Please eat healthy!)
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY SHOPPING LIST
Lean proteins (chicken, salmon, or turkey)
Colorful vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, bell peppers, onions)
Fresh fruits in season
Nut milk (almond, cashew)
Healthy fats (avocado, olive oil)
What’s in Season in November & December?
See what is available each month at askthefoodgeek.com/in-season.
Blood oranges (December)
Sweet potatoes (December)
Winter squash (December)
Sweet Potato Toast
1 large sweet potato sliced into ¼-inch planks
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Place the sweet potato slices on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Flip and roast for another 10 – 15 minutes, until cooked through.
Let the sweet potato cool slightly and top with toppings of your choice: mashed avocado, sliced tomato, nut butter, dairy-free yogurt, dried seasonings, ground cinnamon, ground turmeric, hot sauce.
(Eat Right for Your Inflammation Type, Maggie Berghoff)
Story and photography by Sandra M. Elliott
Originally published in Neighbors magazine.
Posted by LasCruces.com