Inflammation is the immune system’s biological response against different infectious or non-infectious stimuli. These stimuli may activate a cascade of inflammatory responses. Inflammation is needed to fight infection, but a prolonged state of inflammation may lead to chronic inflammatory diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Many natural compounds can be used to fight against or prevent these diseases due to their anti-infective, antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties.
Fermented plant products are highly popular foods worldwide and are a rich source of natural compounds, such as probiotics and phytochemicals. Traditionally, fermentation was a method to preserve foods for a longer time; however, this process recently has attracted great attention due to the increase in the nutritional value of foods and the production of health-promoting components.
Although dairy products, such as certain yogurts, kefir, and cottage cheese remain the main source of probiotic bacteria in our diet, fermented plant foods are also unique sources of health-promoting probiotics such as lactic acid-producing bacteria (LAB). Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Pediococcus, and Weissella genera are the main LAB involved in plant foods’ fermentation process. Look for these words under “Live and Active Cultures” on select food products, usually located next to the nutrition facts label. The gut remains the most important organ in which fermented foods exert their beneficial effects. Probiotic consumption in the form of fermented foods can increase the amount of favorable gut bacteria, which may help promote a healthy weight and improve overall health. Additional anti-inflammatory plant foods to be on the lookout for are fermented blackberries and blueberries, fermented cabbage, like sauerkraut or kimchi, and fermented soy products, such as tempe, natto, douche, hawaijar, and miso.
While probiotics are the healthy type of gut bacteria, prebiotics are the foods that feed them. Prebiotics mainly come in the form of plant-based fibers from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and starchy roots.
In addition to colorful fruits and vegetables, coffee and tea also have antioxidant properties, but should be enjoyed without added sugars.
Lastly, omega-3 fat sources, such as fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, cod, mackerel, and sardines, as well as chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and soybeans are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and, therefore, might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Written by Victoria Luera, Lone Star Circle of Care Registered Dietitian. Published by Ashley Wild.