Anti-Inflammatory Foods – Or, Why a Vegan Diet Can Help Your Chronic Pain Condition!

by L Matthews on May 9, 2012

Anti-Inflammatory foods vegan diets

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food!

Inflammation is a natural response when the body is injured in some way and is essential for healing. Chronic inflammation, however, seriously contributes to illness, and degeneration but, as a vegan, there are loads of anti-inflammatory foods you can eat to help control the process. In addition, a tasty vegan plant-based wholefoods diet means a whole heap of pro-inflammatory foods are avoided, such as red meats, and dairy products.

Dietary Causes of Inflammation – Sugar

Sugar is a major cause of inflammation, along with certain fats, highly allergenic foods like gluten, and dairy, and a number of meats and other animal-derived products. Fortunately, many vegans are concerned with their diet and so tend to eat a higher proportion of wholegrains and minimally processed foods. That’s not to say that it isn’t possible to eat junk as a vegan (we all do it sometimes, right!) but the likelihood is that a vegan diet is a little healthier than the Standard American Diet (appropriately known as SAD). Also, you might simply minimise your sugar intake as a vegan by being unable to find certified vegan sugar. Helpful, right? Not all sugar is so obvious however, as white bread, pasta, potatoes, and even some supposed multigrain breads and products are very quickly digested and act like almost pure sugar in the body.

Sugar and Chronic Health Problems

Sugar is such an issue because it causes the body to produce insulin in order to manage blood sugar levels and leads to increased stores of fatty tissue which then produce pro-inflammatory chemicals (such as interleukin-6), creating systemic inflammation. Such inflammation can then lead to chronic diseases like arthritis, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and even cancer. Plant-based diets are good for health for a number of reasons, with reduced inflammation just one of the contributors to a long and active life. Sugar is also problematic when it leads to insulin resistance, chronically high blood sugar levels, and the development of abnormal protein-sugar deposits such as in the eyes (as occurs in diabetes). Steer clear of sugar for optimum health, as tasty as it may seem it doesn’t take long to re-educate your palate to be satisfied with a less sweet confection.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Vegans

There are lots of other causes of inflammation in the diet but let’s take a quick look at some of those anti-inflammatory foods for vegans rather than the pro-inflammatory ones. First up, some anti-inflammatory vegetables and fruits:

  • garlic
  • broccoli
  • onions (green and spring)
  • carrots
  • cabbage
  • fennel
  • spinach
  • yams (sweet potatoes)
  • collard greens
  • bell peppers
  • bok choy
  • brussel sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • chard
  • green beans
  • kale
  • leeks
  • olives
  • turnip greens
  • blueberries, strawberries, mulberries, cranberries, and raspberries
  • acai
  • cantaloupe and grapefruit
  • rhubarb
  • pineapple and papaya (fresh, not the canned stuff unfortunately)
  • apples
  • acerola cherries
  • blackcurrants
  • kiwis, kumquats, guavas,
  • lemons, limes, and oranges
  • peaches
  • avocados

Signs of Systemic Inflammation

Food allergies, asthma, itchy skin or hives, acne, and eczema can all be signs of systemic inflammation, as can high blood pressure, water retention, arthritis, and headaches. Chucking out pro-inflammatory foods and favouring anti-inflammatory foods in a plant-based diet can help reduce this inflammation and provide great sources of micronutrients and macronutrients to heal the body and nourish it consistently.

Nuts, Seeds, Legumes, and Inflammation

Many vegans I know carry around a little snackpot of nuts and seeds to nibble on, squirrel-like, in secret when at a venue not catering for vegans, or just when out and about. Excellent choices of anti-inflammatory nuts, seeds, and even legumes include the following:

  • cashews
  • Brazils
  • sunflower seeds
  • flaxseed/linseed
  • macademias
  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • hazelnuts
  • chickpeas (garbanzos)
  • lentils
  • peas
  • various dried beans

Anti-Inflammatory Spices, Grains, and Fats

Some of the strongest natural anti-inflammatories are found in the kingdom of spices. Turmeric is the best known of these, perhaps, closely followed by ginger, but did you know that thyme is also a pretty potent anti-inflammatory herb, as are basil, oregano, rosemary, and mint? Clove oil is a traditional remedy for toothache… partly because it is anti-inflammatory, and cayenne muscle rubs are also increasingly popular with athletes as they stimulate circulation but can reduce swelling and pain. In fact, you could cook up a wonderful smelling muscle balm with cinnamon, cayenne, and rosemary, and apply it while eating (very!) dark chocolate for added pain relief and anti-inflammatory effect. Rub these in with a little olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or almond oil for an extra anti-inflammatory balm to soothe tired swollen legs and feet. You’ll also smell delicious, but make sure you wash your hands after or you’ll get cayenne in your eye and, while you’ll forget your leg aches and pains, a bloodshot stinging eye is not to be recommended.

Certain grains are also preferable when considering systemic inflammatory diseases, although these are not necessarily anti-inflammatory foods in themselves they are the better option compared to refined flour, rice, and so forth. Try quinoa, steel cut oats, barley, buckwheat, rye, or brown rice instead of the processed versions which lack nutrients and cause blood sugar spikes.

There’s so much more to say about pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods, and their role in a vegan diet, but let’s leave the rest to another time so you can get snacking!

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