Everybody has to contend with inflammation at some point. It’s the body’s natural response to trauma or injury, and the area affected will be hot, swollen and red, as well as painful,. That’s down to two factors: the release of white blood cells, containing chemicals to protect the scene of the crime, and increased blood flow to the area due to the automatic response of the immune system to any perceived threat to the body.
Inflammation may be acute or chronic, and it can also affect the internal organs. Internal inflammation contributes to a number of chronic, life-limiting illnesses, including diabetes, asthma, arthritis and coronary heart disease. Poor lifestyle choices and excessive stress can set off an internal inflammatory response, which is invariably chronic, or long term.
The single most significant factor in chronic inflammation is diet – you absolutely are what you eat. If you put junk into your body, rubbishy things will happen inside you. Regular overeating can also trigger an inflammatory response, and habitually taking in more calories than your body needs messes around with the immune system, thereby hampering any attempts by your body to fight inflammation.
I have Lupus – it was a deciding factor in moving from divine but damp Devon to the healthy climate of the salt lakes of the Costa Blanca, and I battle chronic inflammation on a regular basis. For reasons I won’t bore you with, I can’t take any sort of anti-inflammatory medication. However, in the seven years since I moved here, I’ve discovered that I can control my internal inflammation naturally, just by rocking up at the local market on a regular basis.
Anti-inflammatory diets are mostly based around the Mediterranean Diet, and that’s acknowledged by health and nutrition experts to be just about the healthiest diet going. It’s also the way we eat here in Spain, so there’s plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish, as well as lots of fibre and healthy complex carbohydrates.
Now here’s the science bit – those with a low boredom threshold might want to skip this. Fruits and vegetables are brimming with lots of antioxidants which combat inflammation. That’s flavenoids and carotenoids to you. Here’s a tip – brightly coloured stuff has the highest antioxidant content. It looks prettier on the plate too, but maybe that’s just me being whimsical.
All plant-based foods contain different, naturally occurring phytochemicals, and the People Who Know believe these help to control chronic inflammation. Okay, phytochemicals like lycopene in tomatoes, or flavenoids in fruits are not essential, and you won’t die if you don’t get them. However, they do help to protect plants from disease, and it appears that they can also do the same for humans when it comes to internal damage due to oxidation and those pesky free radicals we keep hearing about.
So, what’s the market got to do with it? Well, that’s where I get all my anti-inflammatory medication, in the form of fresh, in season produce that’s picked ready to eat, so the flavour is perfect and the vitamin and nutrient content is at its best. If you buy Spanish strawberries in England, they won’t taste the same as mine from my local market, because they’ll have been picked before they’re ready to eat, then shipped in cold storage. Not only will you be disappointed with the flavour, you won’t get the full antioxidant hit either.
I’ve highlighted strawberries because not only are they my favourite fruit, they are also just about the best anti-inflammatory food going. The latest research concludes that eating 3 – 4 bowls of strawberries a week has the same anti-inflammatory effects as taking COX inhibiting medication. That does fancy things with enzymes in the body to help reduce inflammation, but it is also a no-no for people with hypertension or a history of heart disease in the family, as it can cause strokes and other nasty side effects. I might be wrong here, but I never heard of anyone getting a stroke through eating strawberries!
It’s not just strawberries either. At the time of writing – (late May) – the cherries, blueberries and apricots are piled high on the stalls, and there are avocadoes a-plenty to be had. Sweet potatoes (boniatos) are also looking good. Try one baked with tuna and home-made coleslaw for lunch. Those lovely pointy sweetheart cabbages make great coleslaw, and you can get three or four for a Euro. Or knock up a fabulous anti-inflammatory curry with sweet potatoes, chick peas and turmeric powder. This versatile spice also has many other health benefits.
Google ‘Anti-inflammatory foods,’ then head down to your local mercadillo to fill your trolley. It may take a while to notice a significant difference, but I find that I hardly ever need to take pain killers now, and the only lifestyle change I’ve made is switching to an anti-inflammatory diet. Give it a try – you have nothing to lose, and great new taste experiences to gain!