If you’re thinking of eating better in the new year, we’ve designed 30 Days & Ways to a Healthy New Year, a series of easy strategies for overall wellness. Rather than focusing on what to take away, this year we’re honing in on the cooking techniques and the foods to add into your life.
One of the most important components to build into a healthy diet are anti-inflammatory foods. Amanda Haas, our director of culinary and author of the new book The Anti-Inflammation Cookbook, sat down with us to talk about what makes certain foods so impactful in transforming health.
What’s the premise of anti-inflammatory foods? What can they do for you?
A lot of times, some of the ailments that we all have are just forms of inflammation in your body. I’ll reference myself: I was having a lot of back pain, joint pain and heartburn. I had an doctor say to me, “Whether it’s your back hurting or your stomach flaring up, this is all inflammation. There are foods that can fight inflammation, and there are foods that can make it worse.” I discovered all the things that promote inflammation in your body are all the things we love: sugar, caffeine, refined foods, alcohol. They’re also very easy to eat a lot of, and are available just about everywhere we look.
It’s empowering to know that you can affect your health that much by eating (and excluding) certain foods. In my case, reducing my own inflammation completely altered how I felt. Personally, I realized when I took gluten out of my diet and tweaked a few things that paying attention to what I ate was the number one way for me to feel better.
What are some of the best examples of foods that are anti-inflammatory?
Basically, anything that comes from the ground—all fruits and vegetables. If you add avocado to a salad, you increase the absorption of antioxidant carotenoids by 200 to 400 percent. All the green leafy vegetables have different things that make them great, from collard greens to kohlrabi to mustard greens. Blueberries are a big one. Oily fish like salmon, black cod, anchovies, sardines. Dark chocolate has benefits for increasing cardiovascular function, and if you eat dark chocolate with over 70 percent cacao, it can do great things for you.
[My co-author Dr. Bradly Jacobs and I] dig into moderation, as well as what happens when you eat grass-fed, organic meat versus the processed stuff. I was pleasantly surprised to find that you don’t have to take everything out of your diet—you just need to learn how to buy it, and try to buy the cleanest versions possible…It’s a way to show that you can eat delicious, well-rounded food, have a sweet treat from time to time, and feel so much better.
How do you like to work some of these foods into your everyday diet?
Every weekend I go grocery shopping, then make a couple of basic things that are the foundation for a lot of recipes. I’ll cook plain quinoa, and I’m a big fan of green sauces like chimichurri or a light pesto. Then when I go to cook for the week, I have some foundational ingredients already, which makes it easier to work those those anti-inflammatory foods into your diet.
Breakfast is the greatest place where you can start to pump up what you eat, and it’s not hard. One way I try to get good stuff in my diet is by making a breakfast that’s really fast: adding a vegetable or two to a pan with the quinoa, and while I’m doing that sauté, which takes about 5 minutes, I’ll either poach, scramble or fry an egg and put it on top. Today I had caramelized onions, butternut squash and eggs. The breakfast bibimbap in my book—that’s the fancy version.
How much of these foods do you need to be eating to reap anti-inflammatory benefits?
I don’t focus on how much I should be eating of them; I just try to make cooking with anti-inflammatory foods the way I cook all the time. But if you’re the type of person who doesn’t eat a ton of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, then start with some smart swaps. Start swapping what your grains are: If you’re a fan of white pasta or white rice, start looking at quinoa and brown rice. Then start mixing small amounts of veggies into those things. Maybe just get one vegetable, and try to use it in different applications. You don’t have to love everything. If you find that one green that you love, or a couple types of fruit, that’s great. Start with obvious things, and then try new foods. You might surprise yourself!