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The (Delicious) Anti-Inflammatory Diet

by Dana Demas

No gluten? No dairy? An anti-inflammatory diet, often prescribed by CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) practitioners for radiant health, sounds about as much fun as, well, being on a diet.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Krishna Bader, MTCM, L.Ac, a Chicago-based acupuncturist.

“Nutrition is the foundation of lots of Chinese medicine,” says Bader.

“I tend to favor a less-is-more approach and I think that food can be the best way to modify almost any health condition.”

Her food-as-medicine program comes with one basic guidelines: limit wheat and dairy foods — or, ideally, eliminate them all together.

Why? In Chinese medicine, most health problems, whether mental or physical, are considered to be the result of inflammation. In addition to stress and exposure to toxins in our environment, food may be perhaps the biggest inflammation-instigator — and also the easiest to modify in our daily lives, if we can get over those emotional food cravings.

Wheat and dairy are the most irritating to our systems, since they encourage the production of phlegm in the body, known as “dampness” in Chinese medicine. Phlegm leads to inflammation, which leads to a host of everyday symptoms like low energy, poor sleep, erratic digestion, and more, which, if left untended, leads to disease.

In other words, fluffy French bread with melted bucheron cheese is basically an inflammatory one-two punch for the digestive system. So are wheat breads, wheat cereals, pastas, and cheeses.

However, as they say, the forbidden fruit always tastes the sweetest. So how can a person healthfully give up the offending foods and not become a closet French-bread-and-cheese devourer?

Bader says, “It’s not as if you have to live without inflammatory foods forever (bread, pasta, cheese, etc.). It’s just that we have a lifetime of build-up from eating these foods and eliminating them for a while will do wonders. Then, you modify. You have some of those foods occasionally and then when you begin to feel symptoms of inflammation, you once again eliminate those foods until you feel better.”

Bader says to think of it as an experiment. Try eliminating wheat and dairy from the diet just for a week. “Once people substitute and see what a difference it makes, it can be pretty rewarding,” she counsels. The benefits include a boost in energy, better mental clarity, improved digestion, and fewer colds and flus.

Bader also admits she’s not immune to breaking her own rules. “Life is short. Eating lots of pizza and pasta when you’re on vacation in Italy, relaxing and enjoying yourself, is not going to have the same effect as doing that in daily life where we’re stressed. Don’t be daunted by eating this way. If anything, be curious and eat this way as an experiment for a week.”