In the 21st century, inflammation has emerged as one of the bad guys of healthcare—a condition that impacts overall, long-term health. To understand why inflammation is getting a bad rap, we need to understand what inflammation is. At its very basic, inflammation is part of a complex series of biological responses that kick in in the body to stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants like cigarette smoke, and is a protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators such as the hormones bradykinin and histamine, which cause small blood vessels in the tissue to dilate, allowing more blood to reach the injured tissue.
Far from being “bad”, inflammation is actually one of the most vital immune responses of the human body—it’s the first line of defence against a variety of pathogens as well as physical trauma. However, chronic inflammation, when the complex inflammatory response is triggered by the body’s own cells and tissue, can not only cause immediate health issues like rheraumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, but recent research links it to long-gestating conditions including cancer, type-2 diabetes and heart disease as well.
While testing the level of certain biomarkers like C-reactive protein (CRP) in your blood can tell doctors whether you have chronic inflammation or not, almost all of us suffer from some level or other of inflammation—resulting from pollution, weight gain, or stress, which can also induce an inflammatory response. The best way to keep it at bay, then, is to include inflammation-beating foods in your diet.
Turmeric, ubiquitous in the Indian kitchen, is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory agents known to us. Curcumin, a compound present in turmeric, has been shown to be effective against chronic conditions like Type-2 diabetes as well as chronic inflammation. However, it’s not the only superfood in your pantry that can help you with regulating the inflammatory response. A few of the other easily available foods that do so, and that you can reach out for in your pantry, include:
Berries: Berries are rich in antioxidants known as anthocyanins, compounds that reduce inflammation. Include berries easily available in India (keeping seasonality in mind) like the Indian gooseberry (amla), strawberries, mulberry (shahtoot), jamun, chironji and Cape gooseberry (rasbhari) in your daily diet.
Peppers: This includes your regular green chili, but in case your heat tolerance is not too high, use milder chilies like capsicum, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, milagai chilies (the ones used for making bajjis and pakoras) and fresno chilies to not just spice up food but make jams, preserves and pickles. The compound capsaicin found in peppers is known to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Pomegranate: Pomegranate seeds, a part of many Indian cuisines, are chockful of a compound called punicalagin, which is thought to be especially effective in preventing inflammation of the brain. Eating pomegranates, can, therefore, be helpful in the long-term prevention of conditions like dementia.
Cinnamon: The essential oil cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon is believed to be rich in antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Add cinnamon to your tea or grind it into a powder, mix with warm water and drink it first thing in the morning—it is supposed to aid weight loss as well.
Walnuts: Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids, which may have anti-inflammatory effects. Add them to salads for a bit of crunch or eat them as a snack. Other nuts like almonds and peanuts are also effective.