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The (Delicious) Anti-Inflammatory Diet
No gluten? No dairy? An anti-inflammatory diet, often prescribed by CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) practitioners for radiant health, sounds about as much fun as, well, being on a diet.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Krishna Bader, MTCM, L.Ac, a Chicago-based acupuncturist.
“Nutrition is the foundation of lots of Chinese medicine,” says Bader.
“I tend to favor a less-is-more approach and I think that food can be the best way to modify almost any health condition.”
Her food-as-medicine program comes with one basic guidelines: limit wheat and dairy foods — or, ideally, eliminate them all together.
Why? In Chinese medicine, most health problems, whether mental or physical, are considered to be the result of inflammation. In addition to stress and exposure to toxins in our environment, food may be perhaps the biggest inflammation-instigator — and also the easiest to modify in our daily lives, if we can get over those emotional food cravings.
Wheat and dairy are the most irritating to our systems, since they encourage the production of phlegm in the body, known as “dampness” in Chinese medicine. Phlegm leads to inflammation, which leads to a host of everyday symptoms like low energy, poor sleep, erratic digestion and more, which, if left untended, leads to diseases.
In other words, fluffy French bread with melted bucheron cheese is basically an inflammatory one-two punch for the digestive system. So are wheat breads, wheat cereals, pastas and cheeses.
However, as they say, the forbidden fruit always tastes the sweetest. So how can a person healthfully give up the offending foods and not become a closet French-bread-and-cheese devourer?
Bader says, “It’s not as if you have to live without inflammatory foods forever [bread, pasta, cheese, etc.]. It’s just that we have a lifetime of build-up from eating these foods and eliminating them for a while will do wonders. Then, you modify. You have some of those foods occasionally and then when you begin to feel symptoms of inflammation, you once again eliminate those foods until you feel better.”
Bader says to think of it as an experiment. Try eliminating wheat and dairy from the diet just for a week. “Once people substitute and see what a difference it makes, it can be pretty rewarding,” she counsels. The benefits include a boost in energy, better mental clarity, improved digestion and fewer colds and flus.
Bader also admits she’s not immune to breaking her own rules. “Life is short. Eating lots of pizza and pasta when you’re on vacation in Italy, relaxing and enjoying yourself, is not going to have the same effect as doing that in daily life where we’re stressed. Don’t be daunted by eating this way. If anything, be curious and eat this way as an experiment for a week.”
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MEAL SUGGESTIONS:
— Oatmeal with berries or chopped up apple, shaved walnuts or almonds, molasses, and flax seed powder.
— Grilled turkey sausage, rye toast with almond butter and honey, and half a grapefruit.
— Steamed greens (kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, cabbage) or baked squash with an organic salad dressing and brown rice or quinoa. Start your day with vegetables. It’s simple and will give you energy for hours.
Foods to avoid: banana, orange juice and tomato juice, which are damp-causing, as well as peanuts and peanut butter.
— Rye bread toasted with sliced turkey, avocado, tomato, ground mustard and goat cheese. (Bader says rye bread is a perfect substitute for wheat bread. Just read the ingredients on the bread bag and be sure there is no wheat flour. Goat cheese and sheep cheese are much easier to digest than other cheeses, so if you want cheese, this is the way to go.
— Butternut squash soup, tomato bisque soup, or corn soup, with a spinach, beet, walnut and goat cheese salad.
— Fish tostadas (tilapia or salmon is good) in corn tortillas, with lettuce or greens, tomato, refried bean or black beans, salsa, and guacamole.
— Thai food is good, unless it’s over wheat noodles.
— Brown rice penne pasta (tastes the same as regular pasta!) with meatballs or veggies in tomato sauce.
— Chili made up of black bean, kidney bean, onion, tomato sauce, corn, ground turkey or organic beef, and whatever else you want to throw in there. Eat with homemade corn bread (gluten and wheat free).
— Green curry with vegetables and brown rice or rice noodles; add fish or chicken if you wish.
— Celery, carrots, or radishes with hummus — try to eat the raw veggies at room temp as opposed to cold and straight out of the fridge
— Almond butter and rice crackers — good protein snack
— Organic corn chips with salsa and/or guacamole.
— Organic dark chocolate almonds, or trail mix without peanuts