[You can fight inflammation with common ingredients from your own kitchen. Here's a list of the top nine anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, plus some of my favorite recipes using them.]
You may think that “inflammation” only occurs after a bee sting, when you scald your hand on a hot pot, or when you unwittingly walk into the corner of the coffee table as your gaze is trained on that bowl of popcorn instead (wait, what? You mean that’s only me?).
We’re all too familiar with the body’s classic inflammatory response of pain, swelling, redness and surface heat at the site of the injury. (Many of us are also familiar with the classic treatment, referred to as RICE–but did you know that there’s a new acronym in town, advocating a different treatment? METH all the way, baby!).
More and more, though, science is uncovering that almost all chronic conditions, from arthritis to heart disease to the one I know all too well–candida–are related to undetected inflammation in the body. And much of the inflammation begins where we don’t spy any visible manifestation: at the level of the digestive tract, in internal organs, and even at the cellular level. In other words, even if you don’t see a classic inflammatory response on the outside, you may be dealing with symptoms that stem from inflammation on the inside.
Along with other sources of chronic, systemic inflammation (such as stress, environmental toxins, prescription and over the counter drugs or illnesses), what you eat can actually increase inflammation, too. In fact, one of the things I’ve learned over the past 15 or so years dealing with candida is that common foods many of us take for granted, such as sugar, coffee, red meat or dairy, are all acidic in the body, and, therefore, very pro-inflammatory. Similarly, if you have undetected food allergies or sensitivities, these can cause inflammation as well.
Looking at this same same equation from the other side means that what you eat can have a powerful anti-inflammatory impact as well. And you don’t have to buy exotic superfoods to reap the benefits, either!
Here’s a list of some common herbs and spices (plus a few more bonus foods) that can help to quell the inflammation that’s keeping you sick. By consuming each of these regularly, you’ll promote healing (and also reduce pain associated with inflammatory conditions like arthritis) or reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease–all extremely important outcomes for your health! Besides, if anti-inflammatory substances can also taste good, why wouldn’t we want to take them every day?
Next time, I’ll share a fantastic new recipe that includes some of these foods. I’ve been enjoying it pretty much daily–and feeling less inflamed already!
Top Nine Common Herbs and Spices to Combat Inflammation
[African Sweet Potato Stew --turmeric]
Turmeric: This common spice used so often in Indian cooking (it’s the main ingredient in curry powder, and what lends it its golden hue) has been noted over and over as a top anti-inflammatory herb. The reason is curcumin, the pigment that provides that glorious color. Curcumin has been shown to improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, reduce the risk of various cancers, and even help with liver function. as well as showing promise preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric has a very subtle, slightly nutty and fragrant taste.
Ginger: You’ve probably heard that ginger can help treat nausea and improve digestion, but its anti-inflammatory properties are also impressive, courtesy of compounds called gingerols. But note that the powdered form is more effective than the fresh to treat inflammation. According to Studio Botanica, ginger pairs up with turmeric as the two most potent anti-inflammatory spices.
[Watermelon-Basil Cooler --basil]
Basil: The base of your favorite pesto is also a potent anti-inflammatory, shown to work in a similar fashion to anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or Tylenol. In addition, the natural oils in this herb are anti-bacterial and can help fight infection. Plus, like most herbs, basil is chock full of vitamins and minerals, too.
Black Pepper: Yes, it does more than make you sneeze! Black pepper not only decreases inflammation, but also helps to reduce the pain associated with it. Interestingly, it also helps improve digestion by preventing intenstinal gas; and it can help to increase the bio-availability of turmeric by up to 1000 times when the two are ingested together. So don’t pass by the pepper grinder next time you have that plate of pasta, soup or salad.
Cloves: I love cloves in all kinds of festive baked goods and puddings, so I was thrilled to discover their anti-inflammatory properties, too. Like many other spices or herbs, the major benefits are derived from cloves’ volatile oils, which contain eugenol, an anti-inflammatory compound. Clove oil has long been known as a remedy for toothache pain, providing both analgesic and antibacterial properties to soothe pain and prevent infection. There’s also some evidence that, when combined with other existing anti-inflammatory compounds, cloves will increase the overall effects of the other spices or herbs. Gingerbread, anyone?
[Grown-Up Superfood Cookies--cinnamon]
Cinnamon: This common household spice is not only slightly sweet tasting, fragrant and delicious; it also helps to keep blood sugar stable, lowers cholesterol, is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, and possesses a slew of other health-promoting properties. Among these, of course, is that it decreases inflammation in the body.
Garlic: Garlic is another staple household superfood that confers multiple health benefits along with its anti-inflammatory properties. Containing sulfur compounds called allicins, garlic (and to a lesser extent, onions) work to prevent the body’s inflammatory response from following through, much the way nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) do. The anti-inflammatory effects also work to help prevent heart disease and perhaps even obesity.
Cayenne: Spice lovers, rejoice! Feel free to sprinkle your cayenne pepper with abandon, knowing that the compound called capcaisin in it helps to decrease inflammation in your body. It’s even been used topically for arthritis with good results. Furthermore, contrary to what many people may think, cayenne is actually good for stomach upset and may even help to protect against ulcers due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
[Roasted Squash and Apple Bisque--rosemary]
Rosemary: Perhaps the least familiar ingredient in this list, this herb from an evergreen shrub is another useful anti-inflammatory food that works by inhibiting the pro-inflammatory response in the body. Rosemary has been shown to reduce pain, to reduce cortisol levels (which are raised by stress) and–perhaps most interesting–to stimulate hair growth! It’s also a delicious addition to many vegetable-based dishes.
Of course, there are many other foods that can help reduce inflammation, such as Omega 3 fatty acids (the most common source is fish oils, but walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and seaweeds and many other foods are also good sources); nettle and licorice (both available as tasty teas); berries; or cruciferous vegetables; all topics for a future post!
Not sure how to incorporate these powerhouse herbs and spices into your daily regime?? Here’s a list of some of my favorite recipes that contain them.
Carob-Buckwheat Breakfast Bake (cinnamon)
My All-time Favorite Tofu Scramble (turmeric)
Almost Instant Pumpkin Porridge (cinnamon)
Baked Pumpkin-Cranberry Oatmeal Pudding (cinnamon, cloves, ginger)
Watermelon-Basil Cooler (basil)
Holiday Nog (cinnamon)
Meal-in-a-Bowl Pesto Bean Topped Salad (basil, garlic)
Apple and Red Wine Soup (cinnamon, cloves)
Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad (basil, garlic)
Roasted Squash and Apple Bisque (rosemary)
Almond “Feta Cheese” (rosemary)
Raw Gingersnap Cookie Bon Bons (ginger)
Soba Noodles with Ginger, Chard and Walnuts (garlic; use gluten-free noodles–and forgive the awful photo!)
Vegan Cassoulet (garlic, cloves)
Vegan Tortière (cinnamon, cloves)
African Sweet Potato Stew (turmeric, cayenne)
Gingered Potatoes with Browned Onions and Tomato (ginger, turmeric)
Tempeh “Bourguignon” (garlic, cloves)
Grown Up Superfood Cookies (cinnamon)
Cinnamon-Crumb Coffee Cake (cinnamon, of course!)
Cinnamon-Spiced Coconut Bark (yep, more cinnamon)
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Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only. Before you make any changes to your diet or approach to health, please consult with your physician or other professional healthcare provider.