Lee: Whole food for thought

Emanuel Lee

Chronic inflammation damages the body and can result in several health consequences, including a variety of diseases along with cancer, heart disease and obesity. Although eating an anti-inflammatory diet is important for everyone, it’s even more crucial for people who regularly engage in intense exercise.
That’s because the body needs a steady dose of anti-inflammatory foods to help it repair itself from the stress it endures during and after an intense workout. That’s a big reason why most professional sports teams have their own nutritionist to help their players maximize physical potential from a dietary standpoint.
Of course, getting a good night’s sleep is the best thing for your body, period—American Andy Potts, who finished fourth in the Ironman World Championships last year—aims for 11 hours of sleep a night. Hey, when you finish an Ironman—that’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in 8 hours, 21 minutes and 38 seconds, as Potts did last year in Kona, Hawaii—you need all the sleep you can get.
Next to getting copious amounts of sleep and living a relatively stress-free lifestyle, making the right food choices is the most important factor to curb excessive inflammation levels in the body. Foods high in sugar and fat—like red meat and pastries—can spur inflammation, while salmon, nuts, a steady dose of fruits and vegetables and healthy fats like the ones found in olive oil and avocado are the best choices to quell inflammation.
Not surprisingly, anti-inflammatory foods are also the healthiest. Danny Tapia, who prepped at North Monterey County High and is contending for a spot on the U.S. Olympic marathon team at next year’s Games in Brazil, made the best statement when it comes to athletes making the proper food choices.
“Your body is like a vehicle, and if you put good fuel in it, it will be better off in the long run,” he said. “If you keep putting cheap stuff in it like junk food, your performance will eventually suffer.”
Tapia’s statement might as well apply to the weekend warriors or anyone who wants to live a healthy lifestyle. Here are some of my favorite anti-inflammatory foods I incorporate into my diet on a daily basis.
Extra Virgin olive oil
Just one tablespoon of Extra Virgin olive oil contains a whopping 10 grams of monounsaturated fat, or the heart-healthy fat. According to health.com, the compound oleocanthal, which gives olive oil its taste, has been shown to have a similar effect as NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) painkillers in the body.
Instead of cooking foods with vegetable oil, replace them with canola, coconut or Extra Virgin olive oil, which are more expensive for a reason—they’re a much healthier choice.
Dark leafy greens
When it comes to greens, there’s a reason why it’s better to go dark. Spinach, kale, broccoli, collard greens, bok choy and swiss chard provide higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals than those with lighter-colored leaves, according to health.com.
Along with the aforementioned greens, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts—though not dark in color—also rank among the highest vegetables for nutritional content (we’re talking vitamins, minerals and anti-cancer fighting properties).
Fish
Ounce for ounce, there are more Omega-3 fatty acids—essential fats to help balance the body’s inflammation response—in oily fish like tuna, sardines and mackerel than in any other types of food. But for overall taste and nutrition, salmon is the king of fish.
There’s a caveat to eating oily fish, as most nutritionists agree that eating a single serving (four ounces, or quarter pound) two to three times a week is plenty, given the fact that all fish have levels of mercury. Eat oily fish two to three times a week, and you’re golden.
Whole grains
Most of the bread on the supermarket shelves sadly does not qualify as being a true whole grain food. Whole rolled oats (including oatmeal), rye, barley, buckwheat, quinoa and 100-percent whole wheat are some of the foods that are considered whole grains. Whole grains have more fiber, which has been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the blood, according to health.com.
Berries
If you love raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or blackberries, I’ve got great news for you: These fruits all have anti-inflammatory properties and are loaded with anthocyanins, powerful chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their rich color. Plus, they’re low in fat and calories while having a high concentration of antioxidants.
Almonds and walnuts
The best of all the nuts. Almonds are loaded with fiber and vitamin E, while walnuts are packed with alpha-linoleic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid.They also have strong concentrations of antioxidants, which can help your body fight off and repair the damage caused by inflammation.
Garlic and onions
From a pure health perspective, it’s hard to top garlic and onions. When eaten together, it’s been shown to strengthen the immune system. Garlic is loaded with powerful antioxidants, while onions are a prebiotic, meaning it helps the good bacteria in the gut to thrive.
A final note: There is no substitute for eating healthy, whole foods. They work synergistically with your body in ways that vitamins can’t. Doctors argue over many things, but there are two things they all universally agree on: One, exercise is the best medicine, and two, eating healthy, whole foods will do so much more for your body than trying to take a pill as a substitute.
Most pills that are out on the market, be it fish oil, multi-vitamins or herbal supplements, simply are Fool’s Gold. It’s not going to solve the issue, whether physical or psychological. There are only so many things you can control in life, so why not take control of your food choices? Load up on healthy choices like some of these anti-inflammatory foods, and you’ll be amazed on the effect it has on your body, both mentally and physically.
Emanuel Lee writes a health column every other week for the Free Lance Lifestyles section.

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