You’ve likely heard it before: reducing inflammation in your body will result in optimal health. But what exactly is inflammation, how can you identify it in your body, and how do you correct an internal imbalance? Do not fear, VegNews is here! Kick back and follow this simple breakdown on how to identify, correct, and heal from this potentially harmful health hazard and bring your body back to its best.

The Low Down

Inflammation is an immune response that occurs in the body when cells are signaled to heal damage caused by something foreign. Say you cut your finger or you’re fighting off an infection; your body’s white blood cells and other healing molecules rush to the site of the problem to fight destructive cells, removing any unwanted or unwarranted activity or debris, and initiating the healing process. However, when inflammation persists—due to something you ingested that provides little or no nutritional benefit to you—those cells are still called to action, but mistakenly harm healthy areas of your body instead. In Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet, contributor Lilli B. Link, a board-certified internist and nutritional counselor, describes the process in more detail: “The more time [the cells] spend in circulation—because you’re eating inflammatory foods throughout the day, for example—the more opportunity they have to damage your blood vessels and lead to a heart attack, or destroy cartilage and cause rheumatoid arthritis, or alter DNA and change healthy cells into cancerous cells.” If these inflammatory cells continually attack healthy ones, the inflammation becomes chronic, and chronic inflammation is now identified by many health practitioners as the root cause of serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few.

You’ve Been Warned

As you likely know from scraping your knees on the playground as a kid, on the surface of the body, inflammation can be identified as a localized redness, swelling, pain, or irritation. While we easily recognize these telltale signs of external distress, internal inflammation is much harder to detect because the symptoms are often familiar, daily occurrences that we become accustomed to—or hardly present at all. Lack of energy and general sluggishness, regular digestive discomfort, accumulated belly fat that is difficult to shed, and dry, irritated skin are just a few of the indicators of an internal imbalance. Thought your sugar craving was no big deal? A continual craving for junk food should also send up a major red flag. Internal inflammation is caused by a number of factors: continual stress, lack of exercise, undiagnosed food allergies, or unaddressed infections, among others. More often than not, the cumulative cause is the consumption of inflammation-inducing foods, namely sugar, refined and processed foods, wheat and gluten, trans fats, and animal products. Yes it’s a downer, but there’s good news: a bevy of plant-based foods that not only help your body heal and repair properly, but that also taste fantastic, are waiting to be gobbled up.

Healing and Dealing

The dietary choices you make every day offer you a new chance at healing. Remember: a healthy body bursting with energy showcases the absence of inflammation, so eat up these seven shining food groups to bring you back to brilliant.

1 First, eat your veggies.

Eat more vegetables than any other food. Best-selling author Kris Carr recommends starting by automatically filling half your plate with them. Packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, choices including kale, spinach, cauliflower, carrots, beets, and sea vegetables are the ultimate natural remedies to help your body heal. Keep a daily minimum of four to five servings of raw, slow-cooked, lightly simmered, or steamed veggies instead of frying, roasting, or grilling. Give yourself bonus points for adding them to every meal—even breakfast. Good morning spinach and strawberry smoothie!

2 Fruits are great, too.

Eat more fruits with the least amount of natural sugar, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and pink grapefruit. Integrative-medicine guru and best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil recommends cutting down your intake of high-sugar tropical fruits and replacing them with organic, seasonal, or frozen varieties in a wide range of colors—taste the rainbow (and no, we don’t mean Skittles).

Don’t forget essential fatty acids. 

Devour five to seven servings per day of omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats from foods like nuts and nut oil, flax, chia seed, and extra virgin olive oil, and nab marine sources like algae and phytoplankton in tonic or supplement forms.

Add a little spice to your life, literally. 

As natural anti-inflammatory agents, spices should be added generously to each meal. Reach for turmeric, ginger, hot red peppers, and garlic in spades (grant yourself an exception on the last one during date night).

Have some tea.

Green tea is a great inflammation-fighter since it is rich in catechins, antioxidant compounds that reduce inflammation. Make sure to buy high-quality, organic varieties and follow brewing instructions carefully. Sip away!

Invest in supplements. 

Savvy vegans know the importance of B12, but simply put, additional supplements will help fill in the gaps where you might be lacking in nutrients while you correct your diet. Make sure your daily vitamin includes vitamin C, vitamin E, and mixed carotenoids.

Enjoy healthy sweets in moderation. 

Healthy sweets such as dark chocolate should be consumed sparingly, but offer antioxidant benefits in varieties that are 70-percent cocoa or higher. You read right: eat chocolate to improve your health.

Unfortunately, just being vegan (as awesome as you are) doesn’t grant you lifelong-inflammatory immunity—eating the wrong foods can leave you shipwrecked on Diabetes Island if you’re not careful—but preventing chronic diseases also goes beyond your plate; it’s about a thoughtful and considerate lifestyle, too. No matter how much you change your diet, if you don’t reduce stress and make room in your life for items that enhance your health you won’t get too far. Carr makes massages part of her weekly routine to ensure she’s at her best, and emphasizes spiritual practice for emotional health. “Creating space in your life … also reduces inflammation,” she asserts. We couldn’t agree more. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of a weekly rubdown followed by a gorgeous plate of fresh fruit and veggies?

For more vegan health tips, read:
These 10 Vegan Foods Help Fight Stress
The 5 Healthiest Cooking Oils for Vegan Diets
8 Nutrition Secrets from a Vegan Olympian

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