To Combat Inflammation in My Body, I Eat Two Superfoods and Avoid Three

  |   Food, Food Choices, Health, Healthy foods, Healthy Life Style, Science   |   No comment

Chronic inflammation is associated with diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease

Photo by Isaac Quesada on Unsplash

Inflammation in our body is a normal, healthy response; it becomes a problem only when it is a long-term condition due to particular habits. According to Harvard Health Publishing (20192020), inflammation is when our immune system fights off foreign invaders, but certain lifestyle (e.g., smoking or constant consumption of foods high in sugar) can evoke lingering immune responses that lead to serious illnesses like heart disease or diabetes, and one of the best ways to prevent or treat the condition is to eat foods with anti-inflammation effects.

Since I was a kid, adults would tell me not to eat too much of certain foods because they caused “fire” in our bodies to rise. This idea of “fire” within us, of course, is from Chinese medicine (e.g., Thomson Chinese Medicine, n.d.). Based on my quick research, I have a strong feeling that this “fire” idea is referring to inflammation; at least they should be related. For one thing, many websites in Mandarin (e.g., here, in case you use Google translate) explain that chronic “fire” can lead to heart disease and diabetes, same with inflammation.

The symptoms of too much fire, according to the Mandarin sites and what I’ve learned growing up, including the swelling of mouth and gum, acne flaring up, bad breath, thirst, maybe constipation, and headaches, to name a few. Among them, the first two are the most bothersome to me.

Whenever I don’t sleep well, I know I have a bunch of troubles waiting for me the next day. I think everyone is different and therefore will have different symptoms, but for me, I’ll find myself way more likely to bite my lip or tongue — the sign that they’re swelling. Then either my nose, lip, face, head, or even annoying private areas like my butt will start feeling pain; when I feel the aching spot, yup, a huge lump is forming under the skin waiting to become a zit like a volcano. It’s not only annoying and inconvenient but also painful like hell.

Many sources (e.g., Harvard Health Publishing, 2020; Mayo Clinic, 2019) list anti-inflammatory foods such as leafy greens, fruits, legumes, fish with Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., salmon, tuna), nuts. From the wisdom of the adults around me in my childhood, and also from my personal experience, I find two foods to be the most effective: grapefruit and mung beans.

Two of my superfoods

1. Grapefruit

Some might not like the slightly bitter taste, and if you choose one that happens to be sour it’s quite unpleasant. Plus, eating it isn’t the most convenient thing. But grapefruit is high in nutrients and low in calories, and when it’s ripe and sweet, it’s very delicious. According to Ware (2019), grapefruit is a good source of vitamin A and C, can reduce risks of diabetes, stroke, hypertension, even certain cancers, etc. It can also help weight loss and skin health.

If you decide to try it, I strongly recommend eating the whole fruit instead of buying juice. For one thing, without the benefit of fiber, one might consume too much sugar — even with 100% juice, there’s a lot of natural sugar in it, and sugar is sugar, too much isn’t good for you. Plus, I don’t know if grapefruit juice only will have the same anti-inflammatory effect.

There’s another potentially serious side effect we have to be careful of: grapefruit has some special qualities that make it easy to interact with certain medications (U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), n.d.). If you’re taking medicine(s), make sure you consult a doctor first. Further, all citrus fruits can hurt teeth; if you have sensitive teeth, you’ll have to eat in moderation and rinse your mouth with water afterward (Feintuch, 2016).

If I toss and turn all night, I’ll make sure I eat one grapefruit the next day; that usually can prevent most swelling and acne problems. If necessary, I might eat another the following day. Eating a grapefruit a day for several days should be a healthy habit anyway.

2. Mung beans

Photo by author, 2021

Many Americans probably aren’t familiar with mung beans. They are of the legume family, small with deep green color (see photo), very common in Asia; the majority of Asian stores have them. They’re available on Amazon too, but some seem to be overpriced. Basically, if it’s more than 50 cents per oz I don’t consider it.

Mung beans are packed with nutrients. Hou et al. (2019) stated that they’re a great source of protein, as well as fiber and antioxidants that can prevent diseases. Pahwa et al. (2020) pointed out that mung beans have anti-inflammatory effects. Anderson and Li (2021) claimed that mung bean protein can improve muscle strength. Therefore, mung beans are not only good for the anti-inflammation effect, but also for building muscle, especially when we consider the protein is plant-based so we don’t have to worry about saturated fat.

In Taiwan, the most common recipe is sweet mung bean soup. It’s simple and straightforward: some say you better soak them in water before cooking, but I simply put about a cup of beans with 3–4 cups of water in a small pot, slow heat for about 40–60 minutes or until beans break and soften. Add some more water when needed. When they’re done, add probably two teaspoons of sugar and maybe some lightly sweetened soymilk or milk. For me, the soup is a good snack between meals, and I usually finish it in about 2–4 days.

If you want to try other recipes, YouTube “mung beans recipe” and you’ll get a bunch of hits. But I’ll shy away from any recipes that involve too much oil and/or sugar (e.g., fried bean pancakes) when I have “too much fire” in me. They can be delicious, but for anti-inflammation, probably not that good. Bakeries in Taiwan will also make sweets like mung bean cakes, but usually there’s a lot of sugar in it.

I read somewhere saying that mung beans taste a little like potatoes, though to me they’re not that alike. I think the main reason is I eat mung beans with some added sugar or honey, but I can’t imagine potatoes with sugar.

Avoid three types of foods

But merely eating the two superfoods is not enough if we want to be totally free from inflammation, or the fire in the body. Besides a good night’s sleep, we have to avoid certain types of foods at least temporarily. According to Harvard Health Publishing (2020) and Mayo Clinic (2019), red meat, sugary foods, processed foods, deep-fried foods, pastries, and saturated fat like shortening and lard will cause inflammation.

From the listed references, some Chinese websites (e.g., here and here), and my personal experience, here I summarize the three worst types of foods that lead to the fire.

1. Fried or greasy foods

For example: fries, burger, fried chicken, pizza, sausage, TV dinner, even flavored crackers like cheese crackers, etc. In fact, if you see any grease on it, if it’s been in hot oil, try to avoid it in any case for now; they are probably the biggest contributor to inflammation. Yes, I guess I pretty much eliminate the majority of foods one can conveniently buy in stores. That’s why preparing your own meals is a critical part of a healthy lifestyle. For instance, instead of fried chicken, try to steam or boil the chicken. I love boiled chicken: I can use the broth for cooking a bowl of delicious noodles.

2. Sugary foods

For example: soda, pastries, flavored drinks, candy/chocolate, flavored yogurt, granola, etc. Because we try so much to avoid fat, many “healthy” food products labeled “low fat” are loaded with sugar for taste. One just has to know how to read labels to avoid these culprits.

3. Spicy foods

Interestingly, in Chinese medicine, spicy foods aren’t the best choices. In fact, Chinese medicine claims that any food can be unhealthy if it’s heavily spiced. However, this view is a huge contrast compared to Western medicine. For example, the University of Pennsylvania Medicine (2019) listed all the benefits of spicy foods, including “keep your heart healthy” and “promote weight loss.”

However, a few things are for sure: first, Dr. McDonald (2018) at the University of Chicago Medicine stated that though spicy food can be healthy, if one has low toleration to spicy flavor, eating spicy food can be too much for their stomach. Further, spicy food may irritate anal fissures. He also warned that if the spice is extremely hot (e.g., ghost peppers), it can cause serious stomach pain and vomit. Personally, if I eat spicy foods, I’m more likely to have an acne problem.

More importantly, many spicy foods are also loaded with salt as well. Just the other day I was in a Poki Poki restaurant in Alburquerque. Oh my goodness, the spicy taste was okay, but the whole bowl was swimming in soy sauce, it was like drinking seawater! I guess it was a bad day for that particular restaurant. Now, I believe I don’t have to cite any reference about the danger of too much sodium. I trust you might have this experience: after a meal in a restaurant you become especially thirsty. That’s because pretty much ALL restaurants add way, way too much of all the spices for taste, the high sodium levels make you desire extra glasses of water. This is simply not healthy to say the least.

Habits to stop

Food is not the only thing that causes inflammation (e.g., Zhang et al., 2015). If you smoke and/or drink alcohol, it’s time to rethink these habits. We don’t need to talk about smoking, we all know it’s bad and it kills a lot of people every day. For alcohol, even a moderate amount of drinking is not risk-free (e.g., Mayo Clinic, 2019). If you have to drink, be sure to always monitor the amount.

The takeaway

Chronic inflammation is mostly from bad habits, and it’s associated with life-threatening diseases. Eating healthy is one of the best ways to tackle the problem. Personally, I especially LOVE grapefruit (if choose right — again, the sour ones are just too much) and mung beans; they are luscious and super healthy. They do wonders for me, I hope they can have positive effects on your health as well.

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