Monday, January 25, 2010

Eat for Beauty: The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

(This was written for another website I'm working on but it pertains to holistic beauty practices so I thought I'd post it here too. To all the vegan readers, you may need to put on the earmuffs here and there because I do mention animal consumption without being totally disparaging. Don't freak out on me, I haven't become a Lierre Kieth follower, haha).

For a toned physique, a clear healthy complexion, bright eyes, shiny hair, and skin that ages chronologically rather than prematurely, you've got to feed your body well. And the foods to focus on might surprise you a bit if you grew up with the USDA Food Pyramid like most of us did. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet is not a calorie-counting, low-fat, bland, boring eating plan. It is a nutritious and rejuvenating way of nourishing your body with delicious foods that keep you satisfied, energized, and looking completely radiant. Based on the research and writings of Dr. Floyd H. Chilton, Dr. Nicholas Perricone, and to some extent, Dr. Mary Enig, the simplified information below may be the best health and beauty tool you will ever find and has forever changed the way I eat.*

It should be made clear that the Anti-Inflammatory diet is based on some revolutionary ideas and a truly holistic understanding of the body. The basis of this diet is that it is not high cholesterol or fats or merely eating too much that makes our bodies unhealthy and causes disease. The real culprit is chronic inflammation on the cellular level in our bodies. You may not be able to see this inflammation from the outside, but if you're eating inflammatory foods, it is almost certainly present in your cells.

While the body's inflammatory response is perfectly natural and necessary when it needs to protect and repair itself, too much or too often is harmful. Chronic cellular inflammation is thought to be the underlying cause disease, obesity to some extent, and premature aging and wrinkles (among other skin problems). Inflammation can be caused by stress, chemicals, and most commonly by eating the wrong foods. Western cultures like ours have simply been doing it all wrong since the advent of industrial agriculture that brought us grains and refined foods. Read on to learn about all the amazing foods you should be eating as well as the ones you should avoid for gorgeous skin and a healthy body.

Vegetables: Low starch veggies like dark leafy greens (kale, collards, spinach, dark lettuce, etc), broccoli, asparagus, and cabbage pack some of the highest nutrient content of all foods and are very anti-inflammatory. Your day should be brimming with these and ideally they should be present at every meal! A great way to work veggies into your morning is to add them to a scramble or throw some spinach into a fruit smoothie.

You should limit or avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and corn as these contribute to inflammation by breaking down as simple carbs in the body.

Nuts and Seeds: Raw and organic (and ideally soaked for several hours) nuts and seeds are an incredible source of vitamins, minerals, good fats, and protein. Particularly if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, nuts and seeds should be an essential part of your daily food plan. My personal favorites are almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flax.

Fruits: Nature's candy! Is there anything more wonderful than fruit? Enjoy a couple of fresh servings each day. When it comes to preventing inflammation - berries are especially helpful.

Fish: For those that eat meat, high quality fish is an excellent choice. It is high in essential fatty acids and is a good source of protein and other nutrients that plump up the skin and help it to resist aging and blemishing. Any fish you eat should always be labeled "Wild" and salmon is highly recommended.

Legumes: All beans and lentils are so ultra-nutritious and fiber-rich that they offset their carbohydrate factor. They are such complex carbohydrates that they provide your body with energy and fuel without having a negative impact on blood sugar or causing inflammation. A great source of iron for vegans!

Meat and Poultry/Eggs: Another good source of protein and fats for those who do not follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Any meat you eat should be labeled as certified organic and grass fed (not vegetarian/grain fed).

Dairy: Yogurt, kefir, and some cheeses like cottage cheese can play a helpful role in your diet, but ensure that these are also organic and free of sugar. Yogurt and kefir are especially beneficial due to their natural probiotic content. If you choose vegan yogurt, remember to check that it is unsweetened.

Grains: Although the USDA recommends many servings of grains each day, most grains cause blood sugar spikes and a huge inflammatory response. Compared to other foods, they have a low nutrient content with a more negative impact on the body. It can be very helpful for your skin and health to avoid wheat and wheat flours, rice, and corn. Opt instead for two very complex ancient grains: buckwheat groats and plain oats (no sugar added).

Oils: Coconut Oil and Olive Oil are great sources of healthy fats that give your skin a beautiful glow. I prefer to use coconut oil when cooking because it is more stable when heated and resists free radical production. Coconut Oil is an incredible food. It is heart-healthy despite its saturated fat content and has even been found to contribute to weight loss!

Herbs and Spices: These are the key to flavoring all the foods mentioned above to create delicious dishes. Most herbs and spices are not only anti-inflammatory, but are also germ-fighters and detoxifiers. Rely first on flavoring foods properly with these before you add more salt or sweetness. Use freely.

Sugar: Speaking of sweetness, sugar is your worst enemy when it comes to a healthy body and youthful skin. Sugar and anything containing sugar, corn syrup, cane juice, maple syrup, etc., wreak havoc on our bodies and comprise one of the biggest contributors to aging skin. Furthermore, the more we eat these sweet things, the more we want them because our bodies develop almost insatiable cravings for sugar and simple carbs when they are present in our diets. Eliminating sugar from your diet could be the single best thing you ever do for your body, and once you've done it for awhile, the cravings completely subside. Indulge in fresh fruit instead! When you really need a sweetener that behaves like sugar, opt for the natural alternatives: stevia or erithrytol.

Other Things to Avoid to Prevent Inflammation: Alcohol, caffeine (except in green/white tea), coffee, processed and fast foods, fried foods, packaged foods, preservatives and stabilizers, vegetable oils (like corn, soybean, and canola), food coloring, and artificial sweeteners.

Additional Tips: Drink at least 64 oz of pure water each day, get your beauty sleep, emphasize raw foods in your diet, invest in high quality supplements like those from New Chapter and Vitamin Code, and treat yourself to regular exercise. All of these reduce inflammation to keep your skin and body in optimal shape.

To learn more about the anti-inflammatory diet, read Dr. Chilton's Inflammation Nation or any of Dr. Perricone's books.*

*Consult a doctor or nutritionist before making any changes to your diet, especially if you have been diagnosed with any health conditions or take any prescriptions.