We have all heard that anti-inflammatory foods are beneficial for us, but what does that actually mean? Luckily, we have Dr. Elke Cooke here to answer all of our questions!
Elke Cooke, M.D. practices anti-aging and preventive medicine at BodyLogicMD of Sacramento where she uses individual, customized wellness programs tailored to address each patient's specific, personal needs. Dr. Cooke is trained in Emergency Medicine as well as Functional Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine,A4M, the Kalish Mentorship Program and the Clinical Development Program with Dr Kara Fitzgerald. You can find her on www.elkecookemd.com
Q&A between Brightland + Dr. Elke Cooke, MD.
Brightland: What exactly does anti-inflammatory mean?
Dr. Cooke: Inflammation happens when the immune system has to defend against irritants that come into the body such as poorly tolerated food particles, bad bacteria, environmental
toxins such as pesticides, pollen but also things like stress and processed foods such as sugar. So you could say that inflammation is really a defense mechanism. It only turns
into a problem if it becomes chronic and the body cannot turn the immune response down. Anti-inflammatory is therefore anything that does not trigger the immune system or actively
calms it down. A drug, food or lifestyle can be anti-inflammatory.
Brightland: Are there any especially inflammatory foods that we should avoid?
Dr. Cooke: Gluten and dairy have repeatedly proven to be among the most irritating substances that trigger the immune system the most. But there are also other food triggers that include eggs, yeast, sugar, corn and soy. Bad fats such as omega-6 refined vegetable oils cause inflammation. Overconsumption of omega-6 fats and underconsumption of omega-3 fats have led to many of our modern day illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and autoimmune disease.
Brightland: What are the primary inflammatory diseases that people should be aware of?
Dr. Cooke: Inflammation is at the root cause of all chronic diseases ranging from asthma, allergies to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimotos’ Thyroiditis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis are a specific form of inflammation in which the body starts to attack itself.
Brightland: What are some top anti-inflammatory foods?
Dr. Cooke: Rather than focusing on just a few anti-inflammatory foods I want my patients to understand how to embrace an anti-inflammatory lifestyle and way of eating.
In general an anti-inflammatory diet consists of whole foods high in fiber, is plant-based and rich in different colors and healthy fats such as monounsaturated fats in olive oil, nuts and avocados. Here are my rules for a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet:
1. Low in refined and processed vegetable oil such as Canola or Sunflower oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is a healthy alternative
2. Low in glycemic load (sugar, flour and refined carbohydrates).
3. High in colorful vegetables and fruit. The more colors the better.
4. Organic, no pesticides, antibiotics or hormones. Avoid preservatives, additives, artificial sweeteners…you get the picture.
5. Add fish to your diet. Choose low mercury and low toxin fish such as wild salmon, anchovies, sardines.
If you follow these general rules, this will go a long way towards an anti-inflammatory diet without focusing too much on a specific food.
Brightland: Why is olive oil considered an anti-inflammatory superfood?
Dr. Cooke: Extra virgin olive oil is rich in polyphenols with powerful antioxidant activity. Polyphenols are plant compounds that give plants their color and taste. A recently discovered phenolic compound is called oleocanthal. Oleocanthal is contained in virgin olive oil and possesses similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen. Oleocanthal has been shown to stop the inflammatory cascade by inhibiting both cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inflammatory enzymes in a dose-dependent manner. Oleocanthal is unique to olive oil only. Olive oil also contains Vitamin E, beta carotene and squalene, an important anti-oxidant that is great for your skin. One study showed that just 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day has significant anti-inflammatory effects.