Inflammation. The slow burn inside our arterial walls is the root cause of many of the chronic and debilitating inflammatory and autoimmune diseases that plague our nation: heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, obesity, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and certain types of cancer. Fortunately, diet and lifestyle can help prevent and treat these conditions. Here is what you need to know:

When inflammation goes awry

Inflammation is a normal, necessary bodily function that occurs when your system is fighting off an infection or healing an injury. If you get a splinter in your finger, you will notice signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, heat, and pain at the site of the injury. This is an acute inflammatory reaction, one that dissipates over time.

In the case of chronic inflammation, the inflammatory reaction is a low-level, long-lasting state occurring within the arteries and is ultimately harmful. This kind of inflammation is a bodily response gone haywire, a healing response by the body that fuels the disease process. To prevent, halt, and even reverse disease, the arterial inflammation must be extinguished, and the arterial milieu converted to a healthy, less agitated state.

Plant power

Free radicals are the byproducts of human metabolism gone wild. They wreak havoc in the body, act as toxins, and fuel inflammation. The good news is that Mother Nature has a natural medicine chest. More than 8,000 phytochemicals have been identified that are biologically active in humans and promote health.

When phytochemicals are consumed, their antioxidant and anti-­inflammatory properties work in concert to mop up free radicals—the dangerous molecules that propagate inflammation. But don’t be fooled by what drug companies tell you: Taking dietary supplements consisting of isolated pure antioxidant plant compounds does not have the same health-promoting effects as eating a plant-based diet.

My top five anti­-inflammatory foods and activities are:

Extra-virgin olive oil

“Good” fats are vital for pleasing the palate and taming inflammation in the arteries. Studies have shown that, compared to other oils, extra-virgin olive oil is the only fat that tackles inflammation and raises the antioxidant capacity of subjects’ blood.

This is because antioxidant compounds are lost in the processing of other grades of olive oils and because there are no antioxidant polyphenols at all in heat-treated oils, such as corn and safflower oils.

Green tea

Green tea is superbly healthy and packed with inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Researchers believe that the primary therapeutic component in green tea is a type of flavonoid (the catechin family of plant polyphenols) found in exceptionally high concentrations. The most abundant of green tea polyphenols is called EGCG. It is believed to be the most active health-protective component in green tea. Green tea contains 40 percent more polyphenols than black tea. According to researchers out of the University of Hong Kong, EGCG is a highly effective agent for lowering inflammation in the bloodstream.

Omega-3 fats

There are two types of inflammation­-fighting omega-3 fats: those found in fish and those found in plants. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are all rich in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

Plant foods, including walnuts and flaxseeds, are rich in ALA (alpha-
linolenic acid). Walnuts are packed with good fat: 80 percent of their calories come from primarily omega-3 ALA (not artery-clogging saturated fat). Flaxseeds are Mother Nature’s prize source of ALA. Combine the two together daily and you tap into the miraculous anti-­inflammatory power of plant fat to help prevent disease.


Coffee beans contain polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant. Coffee beans have more than 100 biologically active compounds. These substances can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Dark coffee is best (highest concentration of polyphenols). Just be sure not to ruin your healthy drink with saturated-fat-laden cream or added sugar.


Daily exercise is an important weapon to add to your anti-inflammation arsenal. Mounting scientific evidence shows that regular exercise acts like cortisone for the arteries, putting out the arterial flames and stifling inflammation. Studies have proven that aerobic exercise training (such as regular walking, biking, or swimming) is an effective means to lower inflammation and improve the risk of disease.

The best way to help you suppress harmful, systemic inflammation and stay healthy is to consume a diet packed with antioxidants (powerful inflammation-fighting compounds).

Anti-inflammatory diets are not a specific regimen but rather a style of eating. All anti-inflammatory diets are plant-based and emphasize whole, unprocessed foods. The food choices you make can have a significant effect on your health.

Red Lentil and Potato Curry

An easy, one-pot meal packed with anti-inflammatory ingredients and a fabulous source of fiber.


  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 2 medium red potatoes, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 medium Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apple, cored and diced
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • Pinch of cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp kosher salt


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, potatoes, carrot, red pepper, and garlic, and cook until the onions are lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the curry powder, paprika, cinnamon, and chili powder, and stir to combine. Add the lentils and chicken broth and simmer, covered, until the carrots and lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. Stir in the apple, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt, and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes until the apples are soft. Serve warm.

Serves 4

Nutrition per 1 cup serving: Calories: 195, Total Fat: 4 g, Saturated Fat: 1 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 374 mg, Carbohydrate: 32 g, Dietary Fiber: 5 g, Sugars: 6 g, Protein: 9 g

Steel-Cut Oats with Fresh Fruit and Walnuts

Start your day with this anti-inflammatory breakfast coupled with your morning coffee or green tea. Be creative in substituting other fruits, such as banana, chopped pear, or even dried blueberries or raisins for the apple.


  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup plain soy milk
  • ¼ cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts,
    toasted if desired


In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Stir in the oats and cinnamon. Reduce the heat and cook for 25 minutes. Stir in the soy milk and flaxseed and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve topped with chopped apple and walnuts.

Serves 4

Nutrition per 1 cup serving: Calories: 290, Total Fat: 11 g, Saturated Fat: 1 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 26 mg, Carbohydrate: 39 g, Dietary Fiber: 9 g, Sugars: 6 g, Protein: 11

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