October 10, 2020
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This meant that if I wanted to live an energetic and healthy life without having to rely on medications, I had to figure that how to manage inflammation naturally. Because I have a strong background in natural healing using plants and foods, I felt like this was doable.
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What does inflammation really mean?
In the simplest terms, inflammation is the body’s built-in response to an injury or irritation. Inflammation causes swelling, redness, and pain in order to isolate the infected or injured area so the white blood cells can clear and heal the area. Some of the body’s natural chemicals released in an inflammation response cause the nerve endings to be more sensitive to pain.
We run into real health problems when inflammation becomes chronic.
When chronic inflammation is allowed to go untreated, the inflammation process will eventually destroy the cells, tissues, and vital organs of your body. It can lead to serious diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease, and other devastating illnesses.
I learned that the number one way to help manage inflammation naturally is through the food that we eat on a regular basis. Everybody knows that processed and fried foods create serious health problems, but for some people, certain wholesome and healthy foods seem to trigger an inflammation response. Many people find that when they eliminate these otherwise healthy foods for a period of time (1 to 3 months), they start to feel better and many of their symptoms begin to lessen or go away entirely.
I realized that in order to stay off medications, I had to make some changes in my diet and lifestyle.
I had to ask myself a few hard questions:
It came down to this: which would I prefer, to have a restricted diet, or feel like crap?
Some of the most wholesome foods on the planet aren't healthy at all for people who deal with chronic inflammation. Whole wheat bread, organic whole milk, fresh eggs and tofu are considered to be some of the healthiest foods around. But for people with inflammation and autoimmune issues, these foods can trigger mild to severe bouts of all types of inflammation, including digestive upset, cystic acne, joint pain, or eczema. Here is a list of some of the worst food offenders:
Some people also experience inflammation when they eat foods that are in the Nightshade family, which includes peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant. I grew up eating tomatoes and potatoes on a regular basis, and I didn't think I could give them up.
But I began to notice that whenever I ate potatoes and tomatoes, the base of my thumb would ache something fierce, and it hurt to move it. I took these foods out of my diet for a while, and the pain decreased significantly. But after a little while, I missed my favorite foods, and I (stupidly) went on a tomato-eating binge. I bought some gorgeous organic Roma tomatoes, and put them on everything for about a week. Until I woke up one morning and my elbow was on fire from the inside. It was tender to the touch, and movement was excruciating.
Lesson learned. Tomatoes had to go.
If you have any kind of inflammation or pain happening in your body, you might want to try cutting them out too, for at least three weeks, just to see if these foods might be affecting you too.
Changing your diet poses real challenges during travel, and when you’re eating out or sharing meals with friends and family. It’s socially uncomfortable when you’re the weird one with all the crazy food rules, sitting at the table not eating anything when everyone else is enjoying themselves. But it’s also physically uncomfortable when you eat things that end up causing you pain later on.
What do you do?
Food substitutions to the rescue!
With a little creativity, I came up with some substitutions for some of my favorite foods.
The first thing I had to figure out was what to substitute for tomatoes. Tomatoes are juicy, a little sweet, a little salty, and a little acidic. Happily, I figured out how to make a tomato-less version of pico de gallo by combining chopped English cucumber with a little shredded carrot, a whole bunch of chopped cilantro, and plenty of lemon or lime juice. Season with salt, cumin, and a little cayenne or chipotle, and add onion and garlic to taste. Yum!
I also started eating Korean kimchi in place of salsa. The texture is different, but it has a similar flavor profile, and tastes great in tacos, burritos, and with plantain chips.
Another food I have substituted for tomatoes is sauerkraut; it has a similar juicy sweet-salty-acidic flavor that hits the spot.
I occasionally eat gluten-free bread, but gluten-free breads can be hit or miss with texture and flavor (and you have to watch out for dairy and eggs.) Remember, just because something is gluten-free doesn't mean it's healthy. It just means that it doesn't contain gluten.
However, I did discover a wonderful substitution for tortillas made by a company called Siete Foods. They make grain-free tortillas that are the bomb, and are actually more flavorful and nutritious than regular tortillas. The downside is that they're pretty pricey.
You can make your own grain-free tortillas using almond or sunflower seed flour with this recipe!
Here are some other substitutions for inflammatory foods:
Bear in mind that the foods you are using as substitutions are not going to be identical to what you're used to. Sometimes it will be better, and other times it won't, so keep experimenting and trying new things. It's what you eat MOST of the time that counts.
This tea can help
A few years ago, I created a light and refreshing herbal tea called Inflammation Relief. I wanted to make an easy-to-brew tea that will support people dealing with a wide spectrum of inflammation-related issues: arthritis, digestive inflammation, inflammatory skin issues, and allergies. I thought long and hard about which ingredients I thought should be in the tea, and put together a blend of herbs that would help people feel better in both body and mind. (Inflammation Relief tea also helps relieve stress.)
You can buy Inflammation Relief tea right here.
You can't get it anywhere else because I make it myself. If you're experiencing inflammation, give it a try. It's easy to prepare, simply steep a teaspoon of the tea in 6 - 8 oz of hot water for five minutes or longer. Drink at least one cup per day. Two is better. If you're new to drinking loose leaf tea, you will need a tea accessory to help you brew it easily.
Shop for tea accessories here
I hope this was helpful. I would love to hear about your own experiences with diet and inflammation in the comments below, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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