Ayurveda teaches that inflammation is caused by too much intensity in life and heating foods and herbs. It is typically the result of too much of the fire element in the body. What are some of the foods most likely to inflame your body, sending you to the ice box for a quick cool down?
Each of us is born with a unique percentage of fire in our bodies, and the percentage varies based upon genetics, stress levels and diet and lifestyle choices. People who are born with more fire or those who live an ‘inflammatory’ lifestyle need to take extra care to balance that fire with cooling food choices.
See Cooling & Calming Foods for a list of some of the best foods to reduce the fire and help cool and detox your liver. And here are a few of the foods and food groups to avoid when your fire is high. Typically, they reflect the three most heating of the six tastes in Ayurveda–pungent (made of fire and air), sour (made of fire, earth and a little water) and salty (made of water and fire).
- Nightshades – eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, white potatoes. They contain capsaicin, the chemical in chili peppers that makes them spicy. Which brings me to the next food on the list…
- Hot Peppers – capsaicin occurs in the fruits of plants in the Capsicum family, and includes jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers, and other chili peppers.
- Onions and Garlic – these are sulfur-rich and hot as you know what.
- Beef and Other Red Meats – these are hard to digest and require that the metabolic fire be fully stoked to digest them well. They can be even more heating when barbecued and/or smoked.
- Fermented Foods – leading the way is vinegar and all condiments that include vinegar (which is most condiments!), hard cheeses and sauerkraut and kimchi.
- Sour Fruits – grapefruit, tart cherries, cranberries and sour apples are best eaten in the Fall and Winter when we need the extra warmth. Particularly if you have mouth sores or a dry throat, it’s best to avoid the sour taste, which we tend to do naturally. Lemons can be acidic in the mouth even while they create a cooler alkaline environment in the digestive tract. Limes, though they contain citric acid, have more of a cooling effect on the system.
- Salty Foods, Seafood & Sea Vegetables like seaweed and kombu – while we may need a little more salt if we’re sweating a lot, consuming more salt than needed can make us hotter both physically and mentally.
- Nuts & Seeds – Nuts, particularly when roasted and salted, can be harder to digest and create more heat, particularly if they are un-soaked and still have their skins on.
- Heating Spices – pungent, aromatic spices all have a fire component, which is often what makes them such flavorful digestive aids, helping to increase the digestive fire (agni). The hotter we run, however, the less we need added spices and the more chance we have of overheating the digestive system with them. Too strong of a digestion prevents the body from properly assimilating the vital nutrients we consume. Some of the most heating spices include asafoetida (hing), calamus, Cayenne pepper, cloves, fenugreek, garlic (raw), ginger (dry), horseradish, hyssop, marjoram, mustard seeds and nutmeg.
- Stimulants – caffeine and chocolate can both raise blood pressure short-term, increasing heat and inflammation in the body.
Frying foods and barbecuing them make them hotter. In general, if you are going to heat heating foods, make sure you couple them with cooling foods. And know that processed fast foods are definitely heating and very inflammatory.
The bottom line: if you are feeling too warm or getting irritated or angry, compare your meals to the list above and determine whether one or more of the foods you ate might be causing the problem. You can always balance hotter foods with cooler foods to tone them down, but if you have been diagnosed with systemic inflammation, it is best to avoid inflammatory foods as a whole, particularly when it is hot outside or you are overly stressed.
Life can be challenging enough on its own; don’t let your foods inflame you. Stay cool and be calm! Namaste.
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at info@positivelyayurvedic.