It's easier than you think.
Reviewed by Dietitian Victoria Seaver, M.S., RD
The topic of inflammation is hot right now—pun intended. Some of us are actively seeking to enjoy meals rich in anti-inflammatory ingredients in hopes of staving off inflammatory conditions in the future. But for others, there’s growing awareness and understanding of inflammatory diseases like celiac and Crohn’s disease, high-blood pressure and diabetes and how food can help manage their symptoms—or cause a flare up.
And if you’re cooking for someone who’s managing symptoms, you may wonder how to do so safely. Because depending on the condition, they may avoid different foods—or none at all. To help you navigate these situations in the holiday season—and beyond—we asked several nutrition experts and professional chefs who have first-hand experience with inflammatory conditions for their best tips and advice so you can cook for your friends and family with care and confidence.
What Is Inflammation
“Many will think of inflammation as swelling or redness caused by an injury or infection,” says Kanchan Koya, PhD, founder of Spice Spice Baby. “But there are also harmful conditions that can arise from chronic low-grade system inflammation in humans,” she says. The list of conditions is long and includes high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease; rheumatoid and other types of arthritis; gastrointestinal issues such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); diabetes; autoimmune disorders, including lupus and multiple sclerosis; and certain cancers. And ongoing inflammation can impact your energy, pain, mood and more, as the immune system becomes overstimulated for prolonged periods that can range from months to even years.
According to the National Library of Medicine, experts expect instances of chronic inflammation to increase in the next 30 years. At the same time, awareness is growing. Robert Occhipinti shares, “Fifteen years ago, when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I couldn’t eat anywhere; there was no education about it.” Now as chef-owner of Long Island’s Maldon & Mignonette, he wants to make sure his diners don’t feel the same way, saying he considers it “a privilege and opportunity to make people feel there’s nothing wrong with them.”
Chef Joseph Gera, was inspired by his own health battles to create KeyStoNe Cue, a line of gluten-free sauces, and From Scratch with Love, a cooking channel devoted to helping people cook celiac-safe recipes. And celebrity chef Ming Tsai launched an entire company, MingsBings, to support his wife’s fight against cancer. “This diagnosis prompted my family to transition to a mostly plant-based diet with hopes of lowering inflammation by using food as medicine.”
1. Ask Questions
According to our experts, accommodating guests managing inflammatory conditions isn’t as tough as you may think. But because the ingredients that can cause inflammation are highly personal, you shouldn’t make assumptions of what they can and can’t eat.
“It’s important to note that individual responses to specific foods can vary and recommendations should be personalized based on each person’s unique health needs and tolerances,” says Kaitlyn I. Randall, M.S., RDN, LD for WellTheory, a company that specializes in supporting folks with autoimmune conditions.
For example, some people suffering from lupus or IBS flare-ups find it helpful to limit high FODMAP foods, a term used for short-chain polysaccharides that are fermented by gut bacteria and may cause stomach issues. These include wheat and rye-based products (gluten); alliums; cauliflower; mushrooms; dairy; legumes; and certain fruits like apples, pears, dried fruits, stone fruit and watermelon. Other people find that consuming sweeteners or too much sodium can make their symptoms flare.
Once you know what they can “stomach,” just “be sure to read labels,” Tsai advises. “Ingredients that can cause inflammation can be hidden in ingredient lists. For instance, gluten is in a lot of products you would not suspect, such as soy sauce or even fish sauce.” That also means getting to know alternative names for certain ingredients as well. For example, if your dinner guest is avoiding added sugar, it can be listed 65 different ways, including sucrose or fructose.
2. Avoid Cross-Contamination
This is the number one rule for chefs. Gera says, “Cross-contamination in a kitchen is a major problem, and most people don’t really think about it.” He admits it can be particularly difficult for those cooking for people with celiac disease, like himself, since “bread and wheat-based flour are all over the place.”
His advice is to approach gluten—or any ingredient that your guest finds triggering—like any potential bacteria-carrying ingredient. This is crucial because as Occhipinti says, “I’ve been to places where people have had to run to the bathroom within 20 minutes because of cross-contamination.” His advice: “Wash your hands, always. Know that if you use one utensil, don’t put it in another dish. Don’t put bread anywhere near anything else. If people have a specific allergy, use a separate cutting board just for them.”
3. Use Clever Swaps
Occhipinti reflects, “There are so many ingredient alternatives now; so much has changed in a positive way since I started cooking for inflammation.” Gluten-free pasta and alternative flours, whole-grain products, less refined sweeteners and healthy fats are much more readily available today.
He turns to rice flour for breading ingredients and thickening sauces, and he loves getting creative with vegetables. “Make zucchini ribbons with basil pesto and you have a great ‘pasta’ dish. For mashed potatoes without dairy, use mustard, mayo and garlic.” And Gera, who avoids dairy, is a fan of olive oil-based vegan butter, saying it has “all of the properties of [healthful] olive oil and the same characteristics as butter.”
For inflammatory conditions where complex carbs are preferred, like diabetes or arthritis, “It can be as simple as switching to 100% whole-grain bread or pasta,” Koya says. And quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat are some of Randall’s favorite gluten-free alternatives to simple carbs.
Tsai encourages you to get creative: “Try making a vegetable pot pie and substituting the pastry crust for a gluten-free panko topping! You can toast the panko with olive oil, creating a yummy, crunchy topping.”
4. Spice Things Up
The jars in your spice cabinet are more than a way to flavor dishes, many have anti-inflammatory benefits too. Koya suggests incorporating anti-inflammatory spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom to “add flavor and excitement while also providing inflammation-quelling benefits.” Crushed red pepper, rosemary and turmeric also have anti-inflammatory properties. Stir cardamom, ginger and cinnamon into your morning bowl of oatmeal, make cardamom- or cinnamon-spiced whipped cream to dollop on desserts or add some chopped fresh rosemary to salad dressing.
“Expand your spice profile beyond black pepper, and use natural garlic, minced onion, thyme, tarragon, basil, cilantro … use the garden in your cooking and the flavors will be magnified!” Tsai suggests. He also offers this pro-tip: “Cook with acids like lemon juice, lime juice and vinegar to amplify flavors instead of salt.”
5. Prioritize Whole Foods
The more processed your food is, the likelier they are to have traces of wheat or excess sodium and sugar. Crafting meals around whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, reduces that risk. Additionally, lots of whole foods have anti-inflammatory properties—sweet potatoes, berries, avocados, beets, tomatoes, nuts, leafy greens, fatty fish and more are often listed among the best foods to fight inflammation. For an easy weeknight meal, try topping baked sweet potatoes with black beans, salsa and cheese. Or if you typically serve roast beef or pork at a dinner party, try cooking a side of salmon instead. And a massaged kale salad is a welcome addition at any meal, casual or more fancy.
6. Offer Diverse Options
You don’t necessarily have to look for recipes that accommodate inflammation, but rather tweak your plan. For example, Koya suggests, “If you’re grilling up steaks, consider having salmon skewers or black bean veggie burgers ready to go as well. You can also set up a salad bar for your guests so that they have their choice of toppings and dressing.”
Randall adds that simply offering a diverse variety—some gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or plant-based options—can easily cater to everyone. This can be simplified by preparing some items ahead of time. Then, “Clearly label [these] dishes with their ingredients to help guests with dietary restrictions easily identify what they can or cannot eat.” This way everyone can enjoy the meal you’ve prepared without any awkwardness and with plenty of gratitude for your thoughtfulness.
Koya puts it best: “There is a common misconception that anti-inflammatory meals are boring and lackluster, but nothing could be further from the truth!” Simple and creative swaps can make traditional favorites exciting and unique, and choosing to make dishes that keep inflammation sensitivity in mind can help all of your guests eat healthier, feel better and have a great time at your gathering.
Read the original article on Eating Well.