Favorite Meatless Monday Recipe
I made an awesome recipe for dinner tonight and I am super excited to share it with you. It’s actually one of my favorite recipes and I’ve made it dozens of times. But first I want to share a secret and a story with you.
A Dietitian’s Secret
First, my secret, I may be a dietitian but… are you ready for this?! I. Am. A. Clumsy. Cook. Dietitians are not chefs. We don’t have any formal cooking training. I make cooking mistakes all the time! I’ll be sharing them periodically on my blog, and today I have an epic story to share! As a dietitian, the only formal training I had on cooking was a cooking/science lab in college that taught me about chemical reactions during cooking and fancy words such a “saute” and “the maillard reaction”. You want to know what it didn’t teach me?
Things You Don’t Learn in Dietitian Programs
It didn’t teach me how to season foods to give them ultimate flavor. I also didn’t learn to pair different types of food for the best presentation or flavor profiles. It didn’t teach me what types of wine go best with what types of meats/fish/poultry (I’m feeling kind of ripped off right now, really…). It also didn’t teach me how to care for cooking injuries.
Yes. Cooking injuries. I have scars y’all. Multiple. Burns, cuts, bruises – they can all happen while cooking! My kitchen has become a war zone. I have several serious and yet also hilarious cooking mishap stories. So today I thought I would share one with you.
A Story for Laughs and Life Lessons
I was working on this epic recipe tonight that I’m about to share with you. Breezing through the recipe, I had chopped the peppers, jalapenos, and cilantro without a drop of blood. I had sauteed the veggies, opened, rinsed, and drained the black beans and was still in one piece. Also, I had started the quinoa in the rice cooker and preheated the oven. I was almost home free without any type of injury.
Almost. Until… that pivotal moment when I went to rub my itchy eye. Without a second thought I reached up and rubbed the corner of my left eye with a single finger. It only took about half a second to realize I had 1.) made a grave mistake and 2.) remember that I had CHOPPED JALAPENOS WITHOUT WASHING MY HANDS AFTER!
Life Lesson #1:
Wash your dang hands after touching jalapenos and any other hot pepper! Seriously y’all. Want to know what it feels like to set your eyeball on fire? Touch it with jalapeno juice. Want to know what it feels like to want to rip your eyeball out of its socket so the pain will stop? Touch it with jalapeno laced appendages. Want to know what it feels like to have your nose run because you had hot peppers in your eye instead of your mouth? Touch it with jalapeno fingers. *Side Note: Your nose literally runs like it does when you eat spicy salsa when you get spicy eyeball. So not only were my eyes watering like crazy, my nose was also dripping snot… Let me tell you how sexy it was not.* If you would like to avoid these feelings and are good with taking my word for how horrible of an experience this was – WASH YOUR HANDS after messing with hot peppers. Twice just to make sure. It will be worth it, I promise.
The story continues…
So my family, husband, 2 kids, and mother-in-law, are sitting at the kitchen table playing a board game while I’m making dinner and witness me briskly walk (because I’m already afraid of running in socks on my hardwood floors) out of the kitchen saying “I’ll be back I just got jalapeno juice in my eye”. My loving husband follows me into the bathroom with our 5 year old on his shoulders where I am vigorously trying to wash my eye out in the sink and asks me if there is anything he can do to help. Yes actually, “take our child out of here so I don’t say bad words in front of her” was all I could muster out at the moment. He quickly retreated. After wiping my eyes and blowing my nose and still feeling no relief I called down the hallway “google how to get jalapeno juice out of my eye!”. By the way, I realize its not juice but actually oils from the pepper that got in my eye – that is entirely beside the point when your eyeball is literally burning.
Life Lesson #2:
If perhaps you forget life lesson #1, it’s important to at least remember life lesson #2: The best remedy for calming down pepper spiced eyeballs? Soak a paper towel in milk and hold it over your eye for several seconds. It was that simple. I was in pure agony for what felt like eternity (y’all might want to think about what hell really feels like if you don’t know where you’re going when you die!) because in reality it lasted less than 5 minutes. Maybe 8 – I wasn’t exactly checking the clock. But it felt like forever and it hurt like hell. Literally. I imagine that’s how it would feel to have your eyes burn out of their sockets. In my humble opinion, I don’t think you really ever want to experience that. But alas, to each their own.
Favorite Meatless Monday Recipe
Black Bean and Quinoa Enchilada Bake by Two Peas & Their Pod.
Photo source: Two Peas & Their Pod
All-In-One Anti-Inflammatory Recipe
Why do I love this recipe so much? Even after I nearly lost my eye making it? It has all the food groups in one place minus fruit. Protein, healthy starch, and non-starchy vegetables in a beautiful array of vibrant shades with all the anti-inflammatory rainbow colors. Learn more about the red, yellow, and orange anti-inflammatory colors that this dish contains. It can be hard to find a healthy casserole recipe that is a complete meal and also fits the anti-inflammatory meal plan. This recipe is also high in fiber! A great anti-inflammatory nutrient that most American’s don’t get enough of in their daily diet. Look at these beautiful colors!
Due to the jalapeno fiasco this is the only picture I managed to snap.
Perfect Recipe for Sharing
This is my go to dish for potlucks and families who need a meal cooked for them. I’ve cooked it several times for new moms who’s last thought is what they are going to be cooking for dinner. It freezes well – just combine and place into a freezer safe casserole dish prior to baking! When you want to eat it, bake as directed. It’s easy to double the recipe and feed large crowds or have several days of leftovers for healthy lunches. It also doesn’t take a ton of work but tastes like you spent hours slaving over it. It’s amazing!
Budget Friendly Recipe
I love how budget friendly this recipe is. I broke down the cost below so you could see for yourself. Prices (except fresh produce) were obtained from Walmart.com because it’s easy to search for grocery costs there and they’re available all over the country. Produce are averages in my area. I did not include cost of spices. It’s hard to find such a healthy recipe of under $1.50 per person! I paired it with baby carrots and cuties for sides so our total meal was less than $2 a person! Great option for those budget conscious families.
- Quinoa $8.22 for 32oz = $1.64 for 1 cup
- 2 cans black beans $0.625 each if bought in 4 pack = $1.25
- Red Enchilada Sauce 28oz can = $2.98
- Bell Peppers $1 each = $2.00
- Jalapeno pepper $1/lb = $0.25
- Onion $0.50 = $0.50
- Can Corn $0.50 = $0.50
- Cilantro $0.50 = $0.25
- Shredded Mexican Cheese $7.97 32oz/8 cups = $1.98
- TOTAL per Recipe: $11.35
- Cost per serving (makes 8 servings): $1.42
Healthy Recipe Facts
Nutrition Facts below are per serving and based on making 8 servings from the recipe. We easily made 8 servings out of the recipe. We had 2 kids and 3 adults eat and had about 1/3 of the recipe leftover.
- Calories 357.3
- Total Fat 13.0 g
- Saturated Fat 6.1 g
- Sodium 495.6 mg
- Potassium 372.3 mg
- Total Carbohydrate 45.7 g
- Dietary Fiber 9.7 g
- Protein 16.8 g
Plus it contains good amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Folate, and Riboflavin. Overall this dish is a great healthy choice! It would be suitable for diabetics and those needed to watch their sodium intake as long as you use no salt added canned black beans or dried beans. This recipe definitely gets two thumbs up from this dietitian. I would recommend it to pretty much everyone!
Easily Adjust Recipe to Your Preferences and Needs
You can mix and match ingredients very easily in this recipe. Any color and type of pepper would work well depending on your flavor preferences, what’s on sale that week, and how badly you want to avoid jalapeno juice in your eye! You can add a lot of different vegetables to increase the nutrients from the original recipe. Consider adding tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, green onions, or your other favorite veggies. You can also choose a different whole grain if you forgot to purchase quinoa. It would easily be adaptable to brown rice and I also think a whole grain pasta would work well. You can leave out the cheese if you are dairy free. Those that need to avoid gluten can happily consume this as the recipe is already gluten free. If you struggle with IBS you can sub the black beans for canned lentils (lower in FODMAPS) and chose green onions instead of regular onions. It’s low in calories so can be great for weight loss as well.
Honestly I just can’t think of reason not to eat this! It’s amazing. If you haven’t yet, head over to Two Peas & Their Pod and check it out.
Anti-Inflammatory Food and Colors
The foods that help fight inflammation come in all different colors. Each color has special properties that help fight inflammation and provide a myriad of other benefits to our body. These special properties are often referred to as the large category of “phytonutrients” which is basically a fancy word for plant nutrients. There are over 100,000 phytonutrients in the plants we eat! You can learn more about phytonutrients here. The anti-inflammatory nutrients make up hundreds of those phytonutrients. The color of a plant tells us some things about which phytonurients and which anti-inflammatory nutrients that plant contains. It’s vitally important that we get a variety of colors in our diet to make sure we are getting in the wide variety of phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds that we need for optimal health. This post is all about the yellow foods and how they benefit our health.
Anti-Inflammatory Yellow Foods
Yellow Food Compounds include: Lutein, Rutin, Zeaxanthin. These yellow compounds help yellow fruits and vegetables to provide anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits. Yellow foods also help protect our brain, eyes, skin, and heart. Some yellow food will be familiar such as lemons and bananas. But don’t be afraid to try something new like star fruit or succotash for variety. Many people shy away from corn but it actually has the highest amount of Lutein out of all our vegetables and fruits (see the research). Just remember that corn is a starch and should be paired with, not take the place of, non-starchy vegetables for a balanced meal.
Yellow Foods List:
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY YELLOW FOODS COMPOUNDS
Lutein and Zeaxanthin:
Are carotenoids that require healthy fats for absorption; which means its best to eat them with a meal containing healthy sources of healthy fats. These two yellow food compounds are particularly beneficial for eye health. These orange compounds help filter blue-light waves to keep our eyes healthy and fight of macular degeneration. The American Optometric Association has more info on these carotenoids and eye health. Here is another study supporting both Lutein and Zeaxanthin in preventing and/or treating different diseases of the eyes including malignant tumors and possibly dry eyes.
A flavonoid anti-oxidant that assists with blood flow and keeps our vascular system running smoothly. Rutin is known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects as well as other biological activities. Research is currently being conducted on rutin as a potential blood clot prevention agent – but current recommendations suggest consuming it in foods until we know more.
Tips for Increasing Yellow Foods in Your Diet:
- Add Banana slices to cereal or peanut butter sandwiches
- Include Corn in soups and casseroles
- Use Ginger in teas or when seasoning Asian dishes
- Try Gold Potatoes instead of russet
- Toss Pineapple into a healthy fruit salad
- Choose yellow bell peppers in Mexican dishes or dip in hummus or guacamole
Don’t Be Afraid of Corn
Corn is actually a healthy food! Now of course you will want to be mindful of adding tons of butter and salt, but overall corn itself is a good choice. Many people hold beliefs about corn that are false, you can read some myths about corn here. Half a cup of corn has only 65 calories. Corn contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Although corn doesn’t always get digested completely, if you can still benefit from its many nutrients. It’s actually a good thing that some of the fibers are indigestible because that helps move things through your intestines. As mentioned above corn is extremely high in lutein and beneficial for your eye health. Keep corn limited to one-fourth of your plate along with other starchy foods (when following the plate method). Corn is a starch and should be treated as one, but you can still eat it and benefit!
Recipes to Boost Yellow Foods consumption:
Easy Pineapple Fried Rice by Emilie Eats
Oven Roasted Herb and Garlic Parmesan Potatoes by Mom on Time Out
Honey Lemon Ginger Chicken by The Recipe Critic
Orzo Salad with Starfruit Salsa by Vintage Kitty
How to Eat to Fight Inflammation
Just eating a few yellow foods each week mixed in to your normal intake of fast-foods and sweets isn’t going to get you the benefits you are after. Check out my Ultimate Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet to make sure your following the full plan for optimal results. If you’d like to not only fight inflammation and gain health; but lose weight as well, check out How to Go Low Carb the Healthy Way. You can combine the anti-inflammatory diet and low-carb meal plans together for optimal health and weight management results. Sign-up for my newsletter below to get even more tips on following the Anti-inflammatory meal plan.
I’ll be sharing information on red foods, green foods, blue and purple foods, white and brown foods, and orange foods over the next few months. Make sure to check back often or sign-up for my newsletter so you don’t miss a thing! Eating a rainbow of colors is the best way to ensure a highly anti-inflammatory diet that includes the broad spectrum of phytonutrients we need for optimal health.
What’s your favorite orange food and/or recipe? Post in the comments below!
Anti-Inflammatory Food and Colors
The foods that help fight inflammation come in all different colors. Each color has special properties that help fight inflammation and provide a myriad of other benefits to our body. These special properties are often referred to as the large category of “phytonutrients” which is basically a fancy word for plant nutrients. There are over 100,000 phytonutrients in the plants we eat! You can learn more about phytonutrients here. The anti-inflammatory nutrients make up hundreds of those phytonutrients. The color of a plant tells us some things about which phytonurients and which anti-inflammatory nutrients that plant contains. It’s vitally important that we get a variety of colors in our diet to make sure we are getting in the wide variety of phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds that we need for optimal health. This post is all about the orange foods and how they benefit our health.
Anti-Inflammatory Orange Foods
Orange compounds help protect our eyes, skin, and immune system. Additional benefits include anti-bacterial effects, anti-cancer, and reproductive health. The healthy orange compounds include: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, cucuminoids, and naringenin. The orange foods come in a wide variety of starchy vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, and fruits. Some orange foods are starchy; pair those with a compete meal to prevent blood glucose spikes. The starchy orange foods include winter squashes and sweet potatoes. Tangerines and Oranges, among other citrus fruits, are high in powerful phytonutrients and provide many health benefits so make sure to incorporate them into your weekly intake. Check out this post to find out more benefits you can gain by eating citrus fruits. Carrots make a great, easy addition to snacks and meals. Baby carrots are a healthy convenient item to keep on hand in your fridge for quick access. Keep reading to learn more about the orange foods.
Orange Food List:
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY ORANGE FOOD COMPOUNDS
This phytonutrient founds in orange foods turns into vitamin A. So in-turn beta-carotene helps maintain healthy vision, promote cell growth, supports healthy reproduction, and supports our immune system. Cooking foods like carrots helps us absorb the caratenoids more efficiently. Also, beta-carotenes are fat soluble – meaning they need some healthy fats to be absorbed. This emphasizes the importance of balanced meals for optimal health. Check out the anti-inflammatory plate method to ensure you are balancing your meals correctly. The University of Maryland Medical Center has some more information on beta-carotene here.
Water soluble phytonutrients found in orange (and yellow) fruits don’t require fat to be absorbed. Together with vitamin C bioflavonoids help reduce the risk of heart attacks, maintain strong bones and teeth, and fight off cancer. Other benefits include treatment or prevention in the following conditions: allergies, atherosclerosis, stress, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, lupus, and urinary tract infections. Huntington College of Health Sciences has a fact-sheet on these orange colored nutrients here. Bioflavonoids can help reduce the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and surprisingly, emphysema. Overall, bioflavonoids help protect us against inflammation and boost our immunity.
Tips for Increasing Orange Foods in Your Diet:
- Choose sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes some of the time
- Cook with turmeric more often
- Have orange colored fruits as snacks or incorporate into fruit salads
- Add orange peppers to fajitas or stir-fry
- Grill peaches or nectarines for a sweet surprise
- Keep carrots handy for snacks and meal additions
Recipes to Boost Orange Foods Consumption:
Mexican Chicken Skillet with Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans by Recipe Runner
Golden Coconut Lentil Soup by Budget Bytes
Golden Turmeric Hummus by Healthy Nibbles and Bits
Mango, Tangerine, Yogurt Smoothie Bowl by Martha Stewart
How to Eat to Fight Inflammation
Just eating a few orange foods each week mixed in to your normal intake of fast-foods and sweets isn’t going to get you the benefits you are after. Check out my Ultimate Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet to make sure your following the full plan for optimal results. If you’d like to not only fight inflammation and gain health; but lose weight as well, check out How to Go Low Carb the Healthy Way. You can combine the anti-inflammatory diet and low-carb meal plans together for optimal health and weight management results. Sign-up for my newsletter below to get even more tips on following the Anti-inflammatory meal plan.
I’ll be sharing information on red foods, green foods, blue and purple foods, white and brown foods, and yellow foods over the next few months. Definitely check out the other wonderful colors of the anti-inflammatory rainbow and incorporate them into your nutrition plan as well. Your meals will not only be healthy and tasty, but beautiful as well! Check back often or sign-up for my newsletter so you don’t miss a thing! Eating a rainbow of colors is the best way to ensure a highly anti-inflammatory diet that includes the broad spectrum of phytonutrients we need for optimal health.
What’s your favorite orange food and/or recipe? Post in the comments below!
Everything You Need to Know About the Anti-inflammatory Diet
You are about to learn all the basics to the Anti-inflammatory nutrition plan – I don’t like the word “diet” but it catches people’s eye and it’s probably why you clicked to find out about it. But this is NOT a diet! WAIT! Let me explain. This is a nutrition plan that should be adapted into your daily life permanently. Diets are short-term and only provide short-term results. The anti-inflammatory meal plan will be life long and provide you with life long results. There is no pill you have to purchase or program you have to sign up for. Anyone can learn to eat an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan and everyone can benefit!
Why would you want to follow an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan? Well, for starters, EVERY chronic health condition in America has underlying chronic inflammation! ALL. OF. THEM. Yes, you read that right. EVERY chronic health condition can be managed better or be more likely to be prevented by changing eating habits to a less inflammatory plan. This includes the typical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. But the list goes on to include: neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia, auto-immune conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Again, I have not found a chronic condition that did not include chronic inflammation. Eating an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan can help manage these conditions. You don’t have any chronic health conditions? That’s great! An Anti-inflammatory nutrition plan will also help prevent you from obtaining one!
You will learn the foundations to an Anti-inflammatory meal plan in this post BUT you will need to individualize per your health needs. For example, Gout is an inflammatory condition in which too much uric acid builds up in joints and causes extreme pain. Individuals with gout may need to avoid or limit their seafood choices – however, those without gout (or a seafood allergy) should incorporate fish into their diet for the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. If you are not sure what individual modifications you need to make I suggest you consult with your physician or a Registered Dietitian for an individualized nutrition plan.
The Anti-inflammatory diet is a cross between the Mediterranean diet, a plant-based diet, and a traditional Asian diet with a few other tidbits sprinkled in. The healthiest people in the world follow a plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet. They just don’t call it that.
The Anti-inflammatory Plate
You’ve probably heard of the “plate method” by now. If not you can view some research on it here and you can learn a lot about the USDA My Plate version of the plate method here. The plate method is useful for managing pretty much any nutrition related condition from diabetes to weight management to inflammation. The Anti-inflammatory plate looks a little different than other versions:
The plate is split into 4 main sections: Non-starchy vegetables, fruits, proteins, and starch. Protein and starch each get a quarter of the plate. Non-starchy vegetables need a little more space than fruits. Healthy fats are also an integral part of the anti-inflammatory meal plan. Healthy fats are noted on the side to emphasize that our portions of fats typically doesn’t need to be very large (think oils) but optimally are included daily. There is not a separate dairy category on an anti-inflammatory plate. Dairy can be included in other parts of the plate but it is NOT an essential food group. We can get all of the nutrients in milk from other food sources. Beverage choice is important and should mainly consist of water and teas. The most important part of the anti-inflammatory plate is the section that gets the most space: non-starchy vegetables. If this was a food pyramid, non-starchy vegetables would be the bottom or the foundation of the pyramid.
Anti-inflammatory Non-Starchy Vegetables
First of all, lets clarify what counts as a vegetable here. I often ask people what they’re favorite vegetables are and they will tell me “peas and corn”. For an anti-inflammatory meal plan legumes and grains are not considered a vegetable. So peas (a legume) and corn (a grain) do not fit into the non-starchy vegetable group. Didn’t know corn was a grain? Check out this post to learn even more mind blowing facts about corn. For nutritional purposes and for the anti-inflammatory plate purpose corn will be considered a grain.
Since this food category is literally called NON-STARCHY the starchy vegetables also do not belong here. They belong in the starchy part of our plate with grains and legumes. Starchy vegetables include all types of potatoes, some root vegetables such as Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, and jicama, and winter squashes. They are healthy additions to many meals but should not replace your non-starchy vegetable at that meal. Anti-inflammatory non-starchy vegetables should be included in EVERY meal. But starting out, just aim to have them at least once a day and increase as you get more familiar and comfortable with these additions to your meals.
Here is a long, but not definitive, list of anti-inflammatory vegetables:
What makes these non-starchy vegetables anti-inflammatory? The nutrients they contain. The wide array of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics makes this the most important food group regarding fighting inflammation and maintaining health. Non-starchy vegetables are also high in fiber and low in calories and starches making them ideal for individuals who are trying to lose weight or manage blood sugars (diabetes). Nearly every non-starchy vegetable can be considered anti-inflammatory. You can eat vegetables in almost unlimited quantities.
Leafy greens have been shown to reduce colon cancer risk, improve heart health, repair DNA damage, protect again osteoporosis, and assist with maintaining healthy digestion. Read what the USDA says about Leafy Greens here.
Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals that are known to have anti-cancer effects. These effects include preventing DNA damage, inactivation of carcinogens (cancer causing agents), anti-inflammatory properties, and inhibiting metastasis (spreading of cancer cells). You can learn more about their anti-cancer benefits here. Cruciferous vegetables also help reduce cognitive decline, improve our body’s natural detoxification systems, and help fight pathogens (boost immunity).
Mushrooms help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars. They boost immunity and have anti-cancer and anti-viral properties. Mushrooms are unique in the fact that mushrooms should be cooked prior to consumption due to some potential carcinogens that are often found in common mushrooms such as button and portobello. Cooking mushrooms also helps make their nutrients more bio-available to our bodies (increased ability to absorb and utilize nutrients).
All vegetables contain a variety of nutrients (things that benefit our body) and the key in the non-starchy vegetable group is to get a variety of color and type. Eat the plant rainbow! You can learn more about the different colors of our vegetables and fruits and their health benefits in the upcoming Anti-inflammatory Rainbow Foods series.
Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked. Again, the key is variety. Certain nutrients need to be heated to be “unlocked” or become more bio-available to our system. Other nutrients don’t like heat and can be lost in the cooking process. Lycopene – an anti-oxidant found in tomatoes works better for us when tomatoes have been cooked. Vitamin C – found in many vegetables (and fruits) is often cooked out of foods if heated too long or at too high a temperature.
Fresh and Frozen non-starchy vegetables and fruits are just as healthy as each other. Research has shown that the freezing process often preserves nutrients versus fresh produce that has been picked prior to ripening and shipped thousands of miles before consumption. One tip is to consume fresh, local produce in season and purchase out of season produce frozen. You should limit your intake of canned vegetables. Notice I said limit and not avoid! Canned vegetables are still better than no vegetables at all.
When using canned vegetables consider the following tips: Always rinse and drain canned items before cooking/consuming. This helps reduce the sodium content and washes away some of the pesticides and chemicals on canned vegetables. Look for canned items that say “low sodium” or even better “no salt added”; again to help limit the extra salt intake. You can also find brands that do not use BPA in their can linings if avoiding BPA is important to you. The research on BPA is still mixed but many health companies are switching to BPA free containers and all baby bottles and formula containers are required to be BPA free in the USA.
Fruits are also high in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Many contain prebiotics that support our good bacteria in our digestive track. Adults need a minimum of 3 servings of fruit daily and kids need 2 a day. Preferably eat your fruit throughout the day instead of all at once. Fruit does contain natural sugar and for people who are insulin resistant, pre-diabetic, or have diabetes they especially need to keep fruit portions appropriate. What’s a serving size of fruit? Well it depends on the fruit! But a good guide for single fruits (apples, pear, peaches etc) is 1 serving = a tennis ball, berries = 1 cup, small fruits like cuties or plums = 2 fruits, melons or tropical fruits = 1 cup of 1 inch chunks. You can find more information on fruit serving sizes here. Below is the list of anti-inflammatory fruits; again it’s not an extensive list.
Most nutrition resources will count fruit juice as a serving of fruit. For anti-inflammatory purposes, fruit juice does NOT count as a serving of fruit. Because fruit juice lacks fiber. The more fiber you intake, up to 40 grams a day, the lower your inflammation will become. One of the essential nutrients of fruit is the fiber it contains! Also, without the fiber, the natural sugars in fruit get into your blood stream much faster – causing a bigger and quicker rise in your blood glucose. Whether you have diabetes or not – large rises in blood glucose (sugar) creates an inflammatory response in your body. Here are some research links about blood glucose, insulin resistance, and inflammation: Dietary Strategies for Improving Post-Prandial Glucose, Lipids, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Health (supports an anti-inflammatory diet), Chronic inflammation in fat plays a crucial role in the development of obesity-related insulin resistance (obesity and insulin resistance are inflammatory conditions!), and Inflammation and Insulin Resistance.
Most of the same things that apply to non-starchy vegetables also apply to fruit. Fresh and frozen are just as healthy as each other. Canned fruits are a little less healthy – they contain added sugars and lack fiber. See above for the importance of fiber. Removing the skin of fruits (and vegetables) removes a lot of the fiber. Always aim to eat the skin of fruits and vegetables when possible. Apples, pears, peaches, and nectarine skin should be eaten. Obviously some of them cannot be eaten (pineapple skin?!?). Use common sense here.
Dried fruit should be limited. A serving of grapes is 1 cup – but if you have diabetes a serving is 15 grapes. (You can read more about diabetic serving sizes here.) Just think for a minute how many bites of raisins equals 15 grapes? If you were to fill up on raisins, or any dried fruit, you would most likely have a severely large increase in your blood glucose with an equally as large inflammatory spike. Dried fruit should not be eaten alone or in large quantities. You can always top oatmeal or salads with dried fruit or bake them into granola bars, just don’t over do it. Most companies also add sugar to dried fruits – making them even sweeter! If you do use dried fruits, look for ones with no added sugars.
The starchy food group has a couple of sub-categories: Whole Grains, Starchy Vegetables, and Legumes. All of these food groups go on the same spot of the anti-inflammatory plate. But each one has special properties and considerations.
For a grain to count as anti-inflammatory it should be a whole grain. The definition of whole grains is a little vague. Most people would consider whole wheat bread or whole wheat bagels as a whole grain. But if you can’t tell already, I’m not most people. For a grain to be considered whole for an anti-inflammatory purpose, it should be un-milled. Think of quinoa or wild rice. Things made with whole grains are still better than bleached or refined grains. So there is a spectrum to the grain category. It’s always encouraged to make the most wholesome choice you can in regards to food choices. So whole wheat tortillas are still a better choice than white flour tortillas. Without further ado, take a look at the anti-inflammatory grains:
What about Gluten? I knew you were thinking about it! It comes up all the time. Gluten is, well, unique. My opinion (supported by research, another paper), is that anyone with an autoimmune disease, cancer, or a nervous system disorder should avoid gluten. In general, wheat or gluten is not harmful, but it can be when your immune system is compromised. Many people have improvements in autoimmune conditions after removing gluten from their diet. You can always trial going gluten free to see if your symptoms improve – I strongly encourage meeting with a registered dietitian to make sure you are meeting all of your nutrient needs on a gluten-free diet if you choose to go down that path. If done incorrectly, you can become nutrient deficient which can cause other problems!
When purchasing pasta, tortillas, and breads – aim for ones high in fiber. A lot of pasta alternatives such as lentil pasta or edamame pasta have much higher fiber content than any wheat ones (even whole wheat). Sprouted breads make a healthier options in the bread realm. Again, look for fiber! There are healthy options every where. Aim for 50% of your grain choices as whole grains (listed above) and another 30% as made from whole grains (whole wheat products for example). Limit refined grains to 20% or less of your grain intake.
Pay special attention to your portions of grains. In America we tend to cover our entire plate with pasta or rice when eating these foods. That is an excessive amount of starch and will lead to an inflammatory reaction in your body. Keep grains to a quarter of your plate (or less). If you are still hungry after eating a balanced meal with less starches then you can fill up on non-starchy vegetables, proteins, nuts/seeds, and small amounts of fruit.
Anti-inflammatory Starchy Vegetables
Potatoes get a bad rap. I don’t really know why, if I had to guess it started with the “avoid white foods” trend that is really unsound scientifically. If I could rewrite this saying I would say “Don’t eat unnaturally white foods” but no one asked me. Potatoes are actually highly nutritious. Although starchy vegetables don’t get as much of a bad rap, they still aren’t as consumed as often as they could be. Let’s take a look at this flavorful food list:
Starchy vegetables should be limited when a meal contains another starch. For example, you wouldn’t want to eat a baked potato and a cup of rice at the same meal. Soups or casseroles that contain several starches must be balanced with non-starchy vegetables and contain a healthy source of protein and fat for optimal blood glucose regulation and to prevent inflammatory reactions. Another thing to consider with starchy vegetables is how we prepare them.
Potatoes, for example, in and of themselves are actually very healthy for us. They contain large amounts of vitamin C and Potassium. But when we start adding butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, etc. to our medium baked potato it quickly explodes from about 150 calories to over 500 calories! Potatoes are high in several vitamins and mineral which vary depending on the type and color of the potato. Sweet potatoes are often considered much healthier than white potatoes, but again, it matters how its prepared. I’ve seen recipes that add so much butter and brown sugar to the sweet potatoes you might as well just eat a pie – and don’t even get me started about adding marshmallows on top! I think we are really great at making healthy food less healthy.
Anything can be deep friend now-a-days. Fried green beans, fried onions, fried okra, fried potatoes… Let’s not pretend these are actually healthy choices because they “contain” vegetables.
Jerusalem artichokes and jicama are extremely beneficial for us because they contain large amounts of prebiotics (types of fiber that feed the good bacteria in our intestines). Consider adding them to stir-fries or salads. You can even eat jicama sticks as a snack. Spaghetti squash makes an awesome pasta alternative. Experiment a little in this sub-category. You might be surprised.
What’s a legume? Glad you asked. It’s something that grows in a pod. Nutritionally this included beans, peas, and lentils. Scientifically peanuts are also legumes but nutritionally they fit into the healthy fat/protein section with other nuts. Pretty much every bean is anti-inflammatory. This is where all the paleo lovers will hate my opinion. But I have based my opinion on facts and science (like this) not a fad diet. I digress… Beans and other legumes are a very important part of any healthy diet. Eliminating this entire food group from your intake is just down right unhealthy. You would be limiting your sources of certain phytonutrients, fiber, and plant-based proteins. The research is very clear on consuming a plant-based diet versus a diet high in animal proteins. To get adequate protein intake in a plant-based diet you will need legumes:
Beans, peas, and lentils have an average of 7 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup. They work great in almost any dish or cuisine depending on the legume. They are also wonderful options for those on a tight budget! I always respond to “eating healthy is too expensive” with “go buy some beans!”. Seriously this is a topic for another post, but eating healthy is NOT more expensive than eating unhealthy. It just requires a little more planning.
Legumes are extra special because they contain high amounts of protein. For vegetarians and vegans they make up a large portion of the protein section on a vegetarian/vegan plate. Even if you’re not vegetarian or vegan, legumes can be a wonderful protein for you too! If you’re having red beans and rice for example, there is no need to add sausage (or any type of animal protein) to complete the meal. Beans are the protein and rice is the starch (don’t forget to add some veggies). But if you were having chicken and baked beans, chicken is the protein and baked beans become the starch. So this is the one instance where two starches at a meal is completely healthy and even encouraged. Just be mindful of portion sizes, especially if you have diabetes.
Why would someone who is not vegetarian or vegan care about plant-based proteins? You’re about to find out.
ALL Animal proteins are inflammatory. Let me repeat that very important statement. ALL animal proteins are inflammatory. You can argue all day long that this is not the case but you would be wrong. It’s not a popular thing to say. But its honest and backed by science. Does that mean you have to avoid all animal products from here on out if you want to avoid inflammation and get healthy? Not exactly. There are several things you can do to reduce the inflammatory by-products in animal proteins; which I will cover in another post. To start, just try to reduce your animal protein intake by 50%. You can cut back by reducing you portion sizes, going vegetarian a few days per week, or skipping animal proteins at 1 meal per day. Choose an option you feel would work for you and your family. You can also choose healthier options in the animal protein section by choosing lean proteins, skinless poultry, and avoiding processed meats.
A word about Dairy: Cheese, milk, and yogurt contain protein and may be part of the protein section on your plate. Milk and yogurt also contain starch. Research is mixed on the anti or pro inflammatory effects of dairy. For some people, namely those with autoimmune disorders or chronic pain disorders, dairy can be inflammatory. For others, dairy may be anti-inflammatory or it can be a perfectly healthy choice. If you are following the anti-inflammatory meal plan but are still struggling with symptoms you may wish to do a 2 week dairy-free trial.
You can get all the nutrients in dairy products from other food sources so dairy is not an essential food group – check out this resource for more information. In my work with individuals who suffer from chronic pain I have successfully counselled many individuals to a dairy-free anti-inflammatory diet. Many reported going dairy free changed their lives. However, others have done a dairy-free trial with me and found no benefit. Listen to your body. If dairy aggravates your symptoms – make sure you’re eating a well balanced anti-inflammatory diet and you’ll be just fine without dairy. But if you enjoy your milk or yogurt and have no ill-effects then by all means, continue!
If you do choose to keep dairy in your diet choose hard cheeses, goat milk products, and Greek yogurts to support an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan. Soft cheeses and regular yogurts can have higher inflammatory effects. Also, I’ve decided to rename conventional yogurt to: *drum roll* Refrigerated Ice Cream. Seriously, it’s really sugary and more like a dessert – not part of a healthy breakfast! Read the nutrition label. You’ll be surprised some of those tiny little yogurt containers have as much sugar as a soda.
For now lets focus on getting more anti-inflammatory proteins in your diet to replace animal products. There are 4 main anti-inflammatory protein sub-categories. Legumes were discussed above. Nuts and seeds will be discussed below in the anti-inflammatory fats sections. Here, we will focus on soy and seafood.
Anti-inflammatory soy options include:
- Edamame (soybeans)
Many people believe the hype that eating soy will alter your sex hormones in unnatural ways and wreck havoc on your health. This is ABSOLUTELY FALSE! Whole soy foods actually help maintain proper hormone function, prevent breast cancer, reduce inflammation, and should be part of a healthy and balanced diet. Here are some resources of the health benefits of soy: Dietitians of Canada, Cleveland Clinic, Nutrition Facts with Dr. Michael Gregor,and the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This is another place paleo diet lovers will call me crazy. But again, science – not opinion here.
Soy has been shown to be protective against cancers (including breast cancer), helpful for preventing and managing heart disease and diabetes, useful for increasing longevity, and has many additional healthy benefits. The only people who should avoid soy are women who have an active diagnosis of breast cancer or those with a soy allergy, of course.
Soy foods that are not included in the anti-inflammatory nutrition plan: Soy protein isolates (this is where some research shows negative health effects) and soybean oil (highly refined and pro-inflammatory). Limit these foods in your diet. Whole soy foods contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phytonutrients while these foods/products are highly refined and missing said nutrients.
Seafood that is higher in omega-3 fatty acids has the biggest anti-inflammatory effects. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential (meaning we only get them from eating them) and most Americans don’t get enough. The current ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids has been estimated at 20:1. Optimal ratios have been suggested at a 4:1 or even greater 2:1. Research is still pending in this area but we know we don’t get enough omega-3s and we get too many omega-6s. So its time to make some changes. One way to boost omega-3 consumption is to eat more fish! But we do need the right types of fish. (note if you have a seafood allergy please do not consume foods you are allergic to). Although national guidelines encourage fish twice per week, to get optimal anti-inflammatory benefits I recommended closer to 4 times per week. Also, aim for variety in your seafood choices.
These are listed from highest omega 3 content to lowest and none of these fish are in the top mercury contaminated group:
Limit these high mercury containing fish to few times a year:
- Mackerel (King)
- Orange Roughy
- Tuna (Bigeye, Ahi)
Canned seafood can be just as healthy as fresh seafood, but should be canned in water and not oil. Seafood that is not listed, such as cod or catfish, is not necessarily inflammatory, but just lower in omega-3s. Try to choose higher omega-3 content fish at least 50% of the time. Also, don’t kid yourself – deep fried seafood of any kind does NOT count as anti-inflammatory. Preferred cooking methods for seafood include: Grilled, steamed, baked, or poached. Be aware of how much butter you use when preparing or eating your seafood as well.
If you are strict vegan or a vegetarian who does not eat seafood, see below for plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to a few nuts and seeds, seaweed also contains omega-3s.
Grass-fed meats and some eggs have omega-3 fatty acids as well, but in much lower amounts. Those amounts alone are not enough to help us reach our needs of this vital nutrient.
Hopefully you have learned by now that the low-fat craze was doing more harm than good. We need fat. Healthy fats are essential to good health. The type of fat is what is most important. For anti-inflammatory purposes omega-3 fatty acids and omega-9 fatty acids are the most researched and supported. Omega-6 fatty acids in too high amounts causes pro-inflammatory effects. Omega-6 fatty acids should be avoided, what we can do is choose oils that are higher in the other fatty acids as our main cooking oils. Saturated fats should be monitored and not eaten in excess. Trans-fats must be avoided completely. Anti-inflammatory fats include a wide variety of foods.
In general, any nut or seed butter is a healthy choice. Peanut butters, however, should only be purchased without trans-fats. Most name brands contain the hydrogenated oils so you most likely will need to purchase a natural peanut butter. The nuts/seeds above that make great cooking oils are noted, however some oils do not stand up to heat well. No-heat oils should only be added after cooking or used as salad dressings. The 3 nuts/seeds that contain omega-3 fatty acids are also noted. If you have a fish allergy or are vegan you may wish to increase your consumption of these nuts/seeds to meet your omega-3 needs.
Canola oil is a little controversial on it’s anti-inflammatory properties. I included it in the list but do not recommended it as your main cooking oil. Olive and Avocado should be your main cooking oils. When cooking with oils try to avoid extreme heat. Keep your oven at 400 or lower and the stove top around medium most of the time. If your oil is smoking you are cooking it at to high a temperature.
Coconut oil, butter, and other cooking fats not listed should only be used in moderation. A few times a week is acceptable. But butter 3 meals a day, 7 days a week is excessive. Coconut oil is okay, but it isn’t as healthy as many people would have you believe. Again, a few times a week is great – just don’t make it your only cooking fat.
Many people shy away from nuts and seeds due to their high calorie content. Don’t be one of those people. We only absorb about 75-90% of the calories in nuts and seeds (almonds for example). You can enjoy a variety of nuts and seeds and their many health benefits without worrying you will pack on pounds. Again, use common sense – if you’re going through a pound of nuts or seeds in a few days you might need to cut back. There is no reason to limit them to “a handful a day” either. Find your balance.
This section is going to be short. There are really only 2 anti-inflammatory drink choices. Water and tea. Black coffee up to 2 cups a day is acceptable but not necessarily anti-inflammatory. There is so much research on coffee that its hard to really determine what’s what. Your mocha cappuccino with a shot of espresso and heavy on the whip IS NOT COFFEE! Seriously people – stop fooling yourselves. Artificial sweetener containing products are pro-inflammatory and not allowed on this meal plan. Fruit juice, sports drinks, and soda are also pro-inflammatory. A good quality, low sodium vegetable juice would be acceptable. However, I prefer that you just eat the vegetables – again, we need the fiber. Stevia sweetened options are okay. Milk and milk substitutes are unique. They are not considered anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory; rather it depends on the individual and their health conditions.
Teas: black, green, white, oolong, and herbal teas are really all great choices that are high in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Be wary of herbal teas that could potentially interact with medications. 2-4 cups of tea a day is optimal. I really enjoy turmeric and ginger teas. Many teas offer a myriad of health benefits. Some teas contain caffeine so be aware of the time of day when consuming them.
Anti-inflammatory Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices not only provide anti-inflammatory benefits but also have anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, and anti-viral properties. Some herbs and spices aid in digestion. Many contain phytonutrients and vitamins and minerals. You can use fresh or dried herb and spices to obtain positive health affects. This is not an extensive list of herbs and spices but the most commonly available. Consider a fresh herb when possible.
Try experimenting with different herbs and spices. Get a variety in your diet. Fun fact: Herbs are the leafy part of the plant and spices are everything else. Spices range from seeds, bark, roots, and other plant substances.
70% or greater cocoa content dark chocolate and desserts made with whole fruit. That’s basically your options for anti-inflammatory sweets. The good news is that Pinterest has a ton of wonderful healthy dessert recipes. You can find some on my profile here if you want to take a peak. Most people know that dark chocolate has health benefits. The trick is to get high quality dark chocolate. Your favorite name brands do not often get up to that 70% cocoa content so double check your labels.
Now realistically most people are going to eat pro-inflammatory sweets. I’m not saying you can never have another brownie or your favorite candy ever again. I am saying to eat less. Everyone should limit refined sugars due to their inflammatory nature. A good rule of thumb would be limiting the less healthy sweets to once per week or less. Also, just because you are eating inflammatory desserts once a week does not mean you can eat the entire pie! Appropriate portions are a must when it comes to sugary food items as explained in the anti-inflammatory fruits section above.
Be honest with yourself. Does your intake contain the foods listed consistently? Are you eating vegetables and fruits on a daily basis? Do you get enough seafood in your diet? Your grain and legume intake – are they whole grains or highly refined? Pick one category of foods to improve upon at a time. Work your way to 80% of your food choices as anti-inflammatory to get the biggest benefit from this nutrition plan. Also, give yourself a few weeks to notice a difference in your health. Eating one spinach salad with quinoa and salmon isn’t going to erase your chronic health condition. Over time you will reap the benefits of changing your nutrition habits to an anti-inflammatory plan. It’s never too late to start eating healthy.
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