Anti-Inflammatory Foods

A couple weeks ago, I was feeling sorry for myself because my knee and elbow seem to have plateaued in the healing process. Since self-pity is unattractive and gets you nowhere, I started to ask myself what more I could do to kick-start the healing process.

The question rattled around my brain, until one morning about a week ago. I awoke with an image of a food pyramid and some vague recollection of the phrase “inflammatory foods.”

I headed to my file cabinet and under “things to investigate” I found it…Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid.

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I studied the food pyramid. Despite working hard for years to improve my diet, my intake had little resemblance to Dr. Weil geometric devising. So I sat down and drew a poignant pyramid of my current eating.










Laugh if you must…or even see yourself…but this pyramid shows a great improvement over my past eating. Still, agreed, there is a long way to go.

Perhaps I was stalled out on my healing because I was stalled out on my eating. Since sugars and processed grains are some of the biggest bogeys on the inflammatory foods hit list.

Trying to piece together a strategy, I researched inflammatory foods to discover which should go first. But each pithy top-six, top-twelve, or top-ten worst inflammatory foods list seemed to contradict another and leave out a whole universe of potential offenders.

So I looked a little further. Excuse me if my research was not exhaustive and if the results have any whiff of dubious new age shamanism. There seems only a small body of research to endorse the science of the Inflammatory Food (IF) Rating, other than the science of its component pieces. However, if trying an eating regimen that is balanced and can cause no harm may bring any healing, I will set aside my doubts and tuck in.

The IF Rating system was proposed by Monica Reinagel, MS, LN, CNS and IF ratings were first published in 2006 in The Inflammation Free Diet Plan. IF Ratings incorporate twenty factors that affect a food’s inflammatory potential, including: amount and type of fat; essential fatty acids; vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; glycemic index; anti-inflammatory compounds, and serving size.

The rating system is anything but simple, but if a food is rated with a negative number, its inflammatory properties trump its anti-inflammatory properties. But since the scale seems large and – at times – difficult to place mentally, a quick chart will help here.

Food’s IF rating                     Degree of inflammatory/anti-inflammatory properties:

200 or higher                        Strongly anti-inflammatory

101 to 200                               Moderately anti-inflammatory

1 to 100                                     Mildly anti-inflammatory

-1 to -100                                 Mildly inflammatory

-101 to -200                           Moderately inflammatory

-200 or lower                        Strongly inflammatory

A quick browse of the Internet led me to a link where you can look up a food’s IF rating. To me, the online look up system could use some streamlining, but it seems comprehensive, if not entirely complete.

Then I found another link to an app called the “IF Food Tracker” for the iPhone or iPad. Not enough reviews to really gauge if this app is field tested enough to warrant its $5.99 download price, but it is quite intriguing. It seems to track caloric as well as anti-inflammatory consumption as well as provide the IF rating for a wealth of foodstuffs.

I realized I was falling down the rabbit hole. I could research for months and still not have any decisive data or the ultimate electronic tool. Sometimes too many variables can impede action. I had decided that an anti-inflammatory food plan could only improve my eating habits and might have bonus healing benefits. Now I just needed a plan and to move forward.

I studied Dr. Weil’s pyramid. Yes, it was limited, but from it I could construct a weekly menu to follow. I could refine the menu each week and research other foods to bring into the mix as I progressed.

So I made my menu and began eating it. Despite one regrettable smoothie experiment, I must say, I really liked my meals. And wonder of wonders (sarcasm intended) whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables really kept me comfortably filled up from one mealtime to the next. Only downside was that all those beans and vegetables sent me floating to the health food store for some alpha-galactosidase enzyme to relieve the bloat…and other flatulent results. On the upside, the storeowner told me that our bodies produce the enzymes needed to digest the food we eat. Since I had slammed into the change rather than phasing in the new foods, my body was unprepared and I was ripping – I mean reaping – the whirlwind. However, as my new food choices became a lifestyle, my enzyme production would adjust and the active ingredient of Beano would no longer need to be ingested.

While eating Dr. Weil’s way, I noticed that I had an incredible decrease in sugar cravings. I had been certain that bottoming out on sugar eating would send me on a Bugs Bunnyesque crack-up. But no looney tune cavorting, facial tics, or wild ravings were elicited. This seems miraculous as previously sugar was so primary in my diet. I did notice that after I had a diet soda to alleviate a headache, I craved sugar and baked goods for about six hours. Now, there is something to consider.

I also didn’t shame myself once in my eating in the past week. I didn’t stress about the calories added to my regular soy yogurt and Kashi breakfast by the addition of some acorn squash, chia seeds, diced almonds and flax oil. Instead, I contentedly envisioned the lubrication and healing that these foods would bring to my body and took comfort in the fact that their addition would leave me well sated rather than searching for snacks until lunchtime.

I had one other realization today while hiking with the dogs…neither the extreme uphill climbs nor the downhill jogs gave even a flicker of warning pain in my knee. Was it a fluke, a placebo effect or a week of anti-inflammatory eating? There is no way to be sure. But, I know that whatever you call it, it was a direct result of recasting myself as proactive hero from helpless victim.

SUPER YUMMY meals and foods discovered in week one:

Quinoa with crispy sage and crumbled walnuts

Soy yogurt with Kashi, diced almonds, flax oil, chia seeds and acorn squash

Edamame hummus and vegetables

Bob’s Red Mill 13-bean chili with ground chicken and bunches of hot peppers (I am considering making this again with fish or tofu)

Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain hot cereal with sour cherries, bee pollen, macadamia nuts, and (sigh) a little brown sugar

Peanut/Coconut Butter

raw cocao powder

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