Anti-inflammatory vs. Pro-inflammatory Foods

Anti-inflammatory vs. Pro-inflammatory foods, inflammation, diet, health, ginger, tumeric, berries

I treat pain all the time with acupuncture and herbs and it generally responds very well.  When I have a particularly tough case, however, I ask my patient, “are you aware of the connection between diet, inflammation and pain?”  And the answers I get probably won’t surprise you.  The majority of people are totally misinformed about the link between what they eat and their stubborn low back pain, tense shoulders or achy knees.

While “anti-inflammatory” has become a bit of buzzword that gets thrown around when talking about the wonders of turmeric or flax, most people don’t fully understand what this term means and that there is much more to reducing inflammation than just adding a few so-called “super foods” into their diet.

Not only are there several anti-inflammatory foods which battle inflammation in the body, there are also a slew of pro-inflammatory foods which can do more damage then a cup of ginger tea will ever be able to rectify.  Especially since high stress levels and lack of sleep can also cause inflammation, keeping the scales balanced can be particularly tough with a fast paced modern lifestyle.

And pain isn’t the only problem, chronic inflammation can contribute to endocrine disorders, neuropathy, diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.  So it should come as no surprise how very important it is to keep inflammation in check.

In case you’re curious what inflammation actually is, it is an immune and circulatory response that the body uses to protect itself while it repairs damaged tissue.  One of the most obvious examples is physical trauma such as twisting your ankle, the body causes the damaged area to become inflamed in order to keep the area immobilized while it heals.  In moderation inflammation is a necessary process the body uses to function properly, but causes problems in excess.

Inflammation doesn’t just happen in response to physical trauma, it is common for inflammation to occur hidden deep inside our guts.  Certain foods in particular can kick up inflammation along the digestive tract, which can effect how nutrients are absorbed and may cause body-wide inflammation.  On the other hand, some foods are very effective at battling the inflammatory response.  The best strategy seems to be keeping anti-inflammatory foods prevalent and pro-inflammatory foods few and far between.  Let’s take a look at which are which.


Anti-inflammatory Foodsbrussel sprouts, anti-inflammatory

  • Most vegetables, especially:
    • Dark leafy greens
    • Orange vegetables
    • Onions and garlic
    • Peppers, especially spicy ones
    • Tomatoes
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Fatty fish and Seafood
    • Raw or minimally processed grassfed dairy products
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Most nuts and seedsalmonds, anti-inflammatory
    • Almonds
    • Walnuts
    • Cashews
    • Flax
    • Chia
  • Herbs/Spices
    • Turmeric
    • Ginger
    • Green herbs such as basil, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, etc.
  • Colorful fruits
    • Berries
    • Acerola and other tart cherries
    • GrapefruitGinger, anti-inflammatory
    • Lemons and limes
    • Pineapple
  • Black and Green tea
  • Fermented foods
    • Raw apple cider vinegar
    • Sour Pickles
    • Sauerkraut
    • Kefir
    • Kimchi
  • Mushrooms
  • Dark chocolate, 70% or above
  • Red wine, in small amounts

Pro-inflammatory Foodspotato chips, pro-inflammatory

  • Refined carbohydrates, the higher the carbohydrate count the more inflammatory
    • Sweets
    • Breads
    • Pasta
    • High fructose corn syrup
  • Transfats, found in many junk foods
    • Fried foods
    • Hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils
  • Omega-6 fatty acids, also found in many junk foods, most margarines contain these oils
    • Grapeseed oil
    • Cottonseed oil
    • Safflower oilcorn, pro-inflammatory
    • Corn oil
    • Sunflower seeds and oil
    • Peanuts and peanut oil
  • Coffee
  • Fruits and fruit products high in sugar
    • Dried fruit
    • Fruit juice
  • Starchy Vegetables
    • Corn
    • Potatoes
  • Alcohol, small amount may improve inflammation, but excess has the opposite effect

Keep in mind that everyone reacts to food differently.  If you have an allergy or sensitivity to a certain food then it will cause inflammation, regardless of if it has anti-inflammatory effects for other people.  Listen to your body and learn what works best for you.  If you are really perplexed by which foods may be causing inflammatory symptoms then an allergy test and/or elimination diet may be in order.

The Perfect Egg

The Perfect Egg, recipe, fried egg, runny yolk, how to,

Eggs are seemingly one of the simplest to cook foods, in fact it’s the first thing many people learn to make for themselves.  But getting the texture juuuuust right can be tricky.

Personally I like a really runny yolk and I want the white to be fully cooked but still soft.  Often with fried eggs the whites get too crispy and browned around the edges.  Or, by the time the whites are cooked through the yolk is half cooked too.  That’s why I’ve added a little steam to the frying process to get, in my opinion, the perfect egg.  It took me a bit of practice, but here is all you need to enjoy the perfect egg for yourself.

You’ll need:

  • 1-4 eggs (pasture-raised for the darkest, tastiest yolks)
  • 1 tbsp oil or fat for cooking (my favorites are coconut oil, ghee or butter)
  • 2 tbsp water
  • A small frying pan with lid (if you’re using a large frying pan then double the amount of oil and water)
  • A slotted spatula

The Perfect Egg, recipe, fried egg, runny yolk, how to,


  1. Crack the eggs into a small bowl.
  2. Heat the oil in the frying pan over high heat until just beginning to sizzle.
  3. Take the pan off the heat temporarily to gently pour the eggs in the hot oil, return to high heat.
  4. Let the eggs cook on high for about 30 seconds until just beginning to cook around the edges.
  5. Add water, cover, reduce heat to low.
  6. Now, watch the pan like a hawk until the eggs are just cooked to your liking, should only take 1-2 minutes.  I like to cook the whites all the way through but if you are using fresh eggs and don’t mind a little uncooked white then the yolk will stay really bright.
  7. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and scoop eggs out of the pan with a slotted spatula so the oil and water are left behind in the pan.  If you are cooking more than 2 eggs in the same pan then I recommend to cut the whites with the spatula to divide the eggs before attempting to scoop them out of the pan.
  8. Serve topped with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and whatever other flavors you’d like.  In these pictures I also topped with some smoked sweet paprika but a little chili garlic sauce is another favorite of mine.

The Perfect Egg, recipe, fried egg, runny yolk, how to,

I served these eggs with sautéed kale and sliced avocado, which are a great compliment, but I’ve put these eggs on a number of different dishes.  It goes great with a simple veggie hash, a fresh noodle bowl, or makes for a perfect breakfast sandwich.

Chicken Pho with Spaghetti Squash Noodles

Chicken Pho with Spaghetti Squash Noodles, paleo, gluten free, fresh, healthy, real food

I am a total soup fiend, I love it in all its forms and all year long. Blended veggie soups are my go to, I love congee and other porridges, tom ka gai and tortilla soup are obsessions of mine, but pho ranks up there as one of my favorites.

Pho has so many complex flavors, some fresh, bright and aromatic, some rich, deep and comforting.  A dish with such complex layers understandably requires a laundry list of ingredients and hours to develop, so I usually save myself the time and just get it from a restaurant.  Every once and a while, I like to take the time and make it myself, just the way I like it.

I’ll warn you now that this is not a simple weeknight meal. This is for a special Sunday when you have the time to chop, roast and simmer all afternoon long. It also requires a number of ingredients which might be tough to find at a standard grocery store, so a trip to an Asian grocery store might be in order, but one trip is all you need to get stocked and make this over and over again.

Especially when you make this recipe with spaghetti squash noodles, which keeps it very light, it makes for a special and memorable meal.  I first made this recipe for a couple of friends who were coming over for dinner and aiming to eat low carb, but it is also gluten free and paleo, perfect for people with dietary restrictions.  So eat up!


Chicken Pho with Spaghetti Squash Noodles
2 medium yellow onions
4-1/2 inch pieces of ginger
3 star anise pods (optional)
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
1 tsp coriander seeds (optional)
1 small stalk of lemongrass (optional)
1 whole pasture-raised chicken (about 3lbs)
1 large or 2 small spaghetti squash
coconut oil for coating the squash
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp fish sauce (optional)
a few handfuls of mung bean sprouts
1 lime
a few basil leaves
a few cilantro leaves
4 scallions/or thinly sliced onion
1 jalapeno
chili garlic sauce to taste (optional)


Preheat oven to 400F.

roasted onions and ginger

Quarter the onions, leaving skin and roots on.  Smash the ginger slices with the back of a knife until broken up. Roast on a greased roasting pan for 30 minutes.

spaghetti squash

spaghetti squash

Roasted Spaghetti Squash

spaghetti squash

Open up the spaghetti squash lengthwise, removing the stem and seeds. Rub with coconut oil and place face down on a roasting pan.  After roasting the onions/ginger put the spaghetti squash in the oven, keeping it at 400F.  Roast for 20 minutes for small squashes, up to 30-40 minutes for a larger one, or until the squash is soft and flakes with a fork.  Let cool before scraping the noodles out with a fork and setting them aside and discarding the skin.

(Note: in my pictures you’ll only see 1 small spaghetti squash because that was all I had on hand, it was only enough for 2 servings of pho but the whole recipe makes about 4.  You can also just use rice noodles for a more traditional pho.)

star anise, coriander, cinnamon

Toast the star anise, cinnamon and coriander in a saute pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, or until they become toasty and fragrant.  I notice a lot of recipes only include these spices when making pho with beef, not chicken, but I love the spicy sweet notes they contribute to the broth, especially when toasted, which brings out even deeper flavors.  If you don’t have these herbs on hand you can leave them out.



Rinse the lemongrass and smash with the back of a knife until it is pliable but still in tact.  Tie it in a knot once or twice, just to keep it together while cooking.  Again, not all chicken pho recipes call for lemongrass and I know it can be somewhat difficult to find, but it adds such a bright and tangy flavor that I love to add it in, you can skip it and still have a very tasty broth.

Rinse the chicken, removing and giblets if present.  If the neck is included use that in the broth, it adds a lot of flavor to broths.

In a large stock pot add the salt, sugar, roasted onions and ginger, toasted spices, lemongrass, whole chicken and chicken neck if you have it, fill with water to cover the chicken entirely.  Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.  Take the chicken out with tongs, allowing it to drain sufficiently before setting it on a cutting board and allowing it to rest, at that point it should be cooked all the way through.

Chicken for Pho

Once cool enough to handle, separate the white and dark meat from the bones and skin of the chicken.  Cut the breasts off whole, then slice thinly.  Cut the legs off at the hip joint, then shred the dark meat from the legs/thighs, along with any meat you can pull off of the back and wings.

Return the bones and skin to the pot to simmer an additional 2 hours.  Set aside all the chicken meat in a sealed container in the fridge for later.

While the broth is simmering prep all the other toppings, the smell in your kitchen will be unbelievable.

Slice the lime into wedges, mince the scallion or thinly slice the onion (full disclosure: I forgot to add scallion or onion to mine – oops,) slice up the jalapeno into thin pieces and remove the seeds, wash the basil and cilantro and pull off a few of the top leaves.

Once the broth is done, strain it and return to the pot to keep simmering.

Add the fish sauce to the finished broth.  Fish sauce is a fermented condiment that has a rich umami flavor which really fills out the broth.  Too much fish sauce can push the flavor profile into being a bit too fishy and funky, so a little goes a long way.  If you don’t have fish sauce on hand o then consider using a little soy sauce, tamarai or coconut aminos as a replacement.  Stir in and taste, add more sea salt to the broth if needed.

finished pho

To serve, add some chicken and spaghetti squash noodles to each bowl, then ladle the hot broth over and let warm for a minute.  Serve with bean sprouts, jalapeno, scallions/onion, basil, cilantro, lime wedges and chili garlic sauce on the side.

Yields 4 servings

Homemade Butter

How to make Homemade Butter, butter, homemade, recipe, diy, butter, grassfed, raw, organic, yum

If you have never had homemade butter then you are in for a real treat.  Homemade butter is softer, sweeter, moister and downright tastier than its store bought counterparts.  Plus you can control exactly how much salt you add, and it’s an added bonus that people will be very impressed that you made your own butter.

If you think butter is bad for you then think again!  As long as it comes from grassfed cows and is minimally processed (raw or only lightly pasteurized) then dairy is a much healthier options than margarines or refined vegetable oils.  Learn more about why in my post about Why I Choose Raw Dairy.

I don’t make homemade butter for day-to-day use, but it’s a special treat for occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas when I like to bake homemade rolls which compliment the butter perfectly.  Bread and butter, meaning really good bread and butter, are some of my favorite foods in the world.  It is so simple but in my mind nothing beats good room temperature salted butter slathered generously on a slice of soft freshly baked french baguette.  It is ultimate comfort food.

Making bread is a learned skill, it is difficult for me to convey exactly how to make really good bread because it has so much to do with texture and intuition.  It’s just something I’ve learned over many years of baking, but the good news is that making butter is really quite simple and I nailed it on the very first try!

Butter is basically the fat within cream. When you work cream beyond the point of whipped cream the fats begin to congeal and separate from the liquid in the mixture.  All you need is some heavy cream and a stand mixer or food processor to whip up some butter of your own!

Homemade Butter
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
(makes 1 cup of butter)
sea salt (optional)

Use twice as much cream as the amount of butter you want.  In a food processor or stand mixer add cream right out of the fridge and mix/whip on medium speed.

How to make Homemade Butter, butter, homemade, recipe, diy, butter, grassfed, raw, organic, yum

At first the cream will thicken, then turn into a whipped cream. This happens within 3-5 minutes.  Next the cream will start to get chunky, this stage lasts longer than you’d think, at least 10-15 minutes.

Finally, the butter starts to completely separate from the liquid.  Continue mixing on medium until you see a thick ball of butter and a pool of liquid at the bottom of the bowl which is a light, watery milky consistency.

How to make Homemade Butter, butter, homemade, recipe, diy, butter, grassfed, raw, organic, yum

This liquid is like a cross between buttermilk and whey, you can use it for baking or cooking if you’d like.  With a rubber or silicone spatula press the butter up against the side of the bowl and gently pour the milky liquid away.

Then you want to “wash” the butter with some ice water.  Pour about a half cup of ice water (just the water, none of the ice) over the butter, mix and press the butter together, then drain the water away.  Repeat this washing step two more times, the water should be much more clear the third wash. This step helps the butter to keep longer.

Once washed, if you want salted butter add in sea salt to taste, then press the butter into a small bowl or dish. I like to put a hash pattern on top with a fork, then chill in the fridge until needed.  It will continue to throw off water, which can be poured off.

How to make Homemade Butter, butter, homemade, recipe, diy, butter, grassfed, raw, organic, yum

I like to take it out 30-60 minutes before serving so it can come to room temperature.  This goes best with fresh baked bread, but it’s really delicious on nearly anything.


Why to Soak or Sprout Grains, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds

Why to Soak or Sprout Grains, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds, sprouting, soaking, phytic acid, real food, health, nutrition

Many health conscious folks incorporate whole grains, legumes, nuts and/or seeds into their diets because of the nutrients they contain, such as B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc) just to name a few.

But did you know that without first soaking or sprouting these foods many of those nutrients are not bioavailable to humans?  Not just that, but antinutrients actively block absorption of vitamins and minerals from the other foods in the gut and put strain on the digestive system.

Cultures around the world figured this out long ago and are sure to always soak, ferment or sprout these foods before eating.  But for some reason in the past few generations we seem to have missed the memo, touting granola, raw nuts, and improperly cooked brown rice as some of the healthiest foods we can consume, when indeed they are not.

It takes more time to properly prepare these foods but it is well worth the effort for the nutrients gained and increased ability to digest them.  Especially if you have trouble processing certain foods such as beans or gluten grains, give these methods a try.

First things first, let’s get to the science behind it all.


The Science of Sprouting

Soaking Kidney Beans, sprouting, soaking, phytic acid, nutrition, real food

When it comes to whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds they all act as the seeds of the plants they came from.  They serve as little pods of genetic information and stored nutrients that can survive the off season in order to sprout in the future, without which these plant species would never survive.

In order for these seeds to sprout into healthy little plants the nutrients they contain must be able to last months or even years, so they come packed in very complex forms to prevent them from breaking down.  When a seed gets the right signals to sprout again it starts converting its dormant energy into usable forms so it can start growing.

One common component of seeds is phytic acid, which acts as a seed’s main source of phosphorus.  Phosphorus is a nutrient necessary for plants and animals alike as it is used in the structure of DNA and cell membranes.  Phytic acid, however, has a complex structure which locks the phosphorus away, so it is not bioavailable to humans.

Furthermore, phytic acid has a strong affinity for binding with minerals, like calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc, as well as vitamin B3, also known as niacin.  When phytic acid is present in the gut it acts as a sponge for these nutrients and prevents us from absorbing them, it is therefore considered an antinutrient.

In order to neutralize phytic acid’s harsh effects the enzyme phytase is needed to break it down, however seeds before sprouting contain enzyme inhibitors which keep phytase and many other enzymes dominant, preventing them from doing their job.  Humans do not produce phytase, and furthermore, many of our own digestive enzymes are rendered useless when we consume food full of enzyme inhibitors.  Luckily, there are methods to neutralized enzyme inhibitors and reduce the amount of phytic acid in food.  Cooking alone breaks down some, but soaking and sprouting are even more effective methods.


How to do it at home

There are a growing number of options for buying pre-sprouted flours, nuts, and seeds at health food stores nowadays, but the freshest, most nutritious and cheapest option is always preparing it yourself.

Soaking Method

Cooked Brown Rice, sprouting, soaking, phytic acid, health, nutrition, enzymes

All you need to do to neutralize most of the phytic acid in foods is to soak in liquid for a few hours, particularly if it has a bit of acid or salt in it, which further help to neutralize enzyme inhibitors.  This kick starts the first steps of sprouting without fully sprouting the food.  The result will be something very similar to how these foods are normally enjoyed, just packing much more of a nutritional punch.


For whole grains and legumes:

Bulk Grains at Rice and Beans LA, sprouting, soaking, phytic acid, enzymes, health, nutrition

  1. Put dry grains or legumes in a glass or ceramic bowl
  2. Cover with filtered water (grains you can fill about an inch above, legumes drink up more and need a water level twice as high)
  3. For every cup of dried grain or legumes add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (white vinegar or lemon juice work as well, but raw ACV works best)
  4. Cover the bowl (not air-tight, just putting a plate over will do)
  5. Let soak for at least 6 hours, up to 24
  6. Strain, discarding soaking liquid, rinse
  7. Cook as usual (on the stove or in a rice cooker, a slow cooker is great for cooking beans as they need a bit longer)

This is based on soaking methods in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon as well as Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford.  I use this process all the time with rice and whole barley, which I get from Rice and Beans LA, pictured above.  I typically make a big batch of some cooked grain at least once a week to have on hand.

It is ideal to use raw whole grains and legumes as they are still alive and intact so they can begin sprouting as they usually would, but this method will still help reduce phytic acid even if the product isn’t raw or whole, for example rolled or steel cut oats.

Whey, a byproduct of fermenting raw dairy which is rich in lactobacilli probiotics, may also be used as a soaking medium because the probiotics help to break down complex starches and proteins, as well as neutralize tannins.  Learn how to make your own in my article about Making Clabber and Whey.


For nuts and seeds:

Brazil Nuts, soaking, sprouting, health, nutrition, enzymes

  1. Soak raw nuts or seeds in filtered water, plus 3/4th a teaspoon of sea salt per each cup of nuts or seeds
  2. Soak for at least 7 hours
  3. Drain soaking liquid
  4. Dry/dehydrate in a warm over no higher than 150F or a dehydrator for 12-24 hours for a crunchy consistency

This method is also called “brining” and is based on the instructions in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.  Once dehydrated, these will be very similar to how most people enjoy nuts and seeds already, so you can eat them as a snack or toss them in any recipe that calls for them.

If you are using the nuts or seeds in a smoothie, pesto, or any other dish that requires they be blended, you can stop at step 3 when they are still soft.  You can make nut butter with them at this point, but it will be a little loose, drying them before food processing will make for a thicker nut butter.

You can also stop at step 3 if you wish to make your own nut or seed milk.


For flours:

If you do a lot of your own baking Sally Fallon recommends that you get a grain grinder and make your own whole grain flour at home because it begins to go rancid shortly after grinding.  That’s a bit too much for me, but I really don’t do much baking any more.  If you have access to it, try to get your hands on some fresh milled whole grain flour, but even if you can’t soaking still helps.

There is no set method for soaking flours because it will depend on the recipe you are using, but ideally soak them in an acidic liquid for 12-24 hours.  This acidic liquid should preferably be cultured milk, buttermilk, or water with whey or yogurt added to it, as these all contain lactobaccilli probiotics which as I said above help to break down complex starches and proteins, as well as neutralize tannins.  If you have dairy sensitivities you can use water with lemon juice or vinegar added, it just won’t work quite as well.

If you are interested in recipes for things like baked goods and breads using this method I recommend to get your own copy of Nourishing Traditions, there are a slew of them in there.


Sprouting/Germination Method

Sprouted Black Eyed Peas, sprouting, germination, sprouts, healthy, nutrition

While soaking is the beginning of the sprouting process and helps to neutralize compounds that prevent us from digesting food properly, seeds can gain further nutrition when fully sprouted.

As Sally Fallon explains in Nourishing Traditions, the Chinese were among the first civilizations to learn to germinate legumes for nutritional purposes, they would bring dried mung beans on long ship rides for germinating.  Being able to enjoy fresh bean sprouts throughout their voyages provided a steady supply of essential vitamin C, usually only available from fresh produce.  Sprouting also increases the content of B vitamins, carotene, and enzymes in food.

All you need to sprout in your own kitchen is a medium to large clean mason jar, some clean cheesecloth big enough to cover the mouth of the jar, the outer ring of a mason jar lid or a rubber band, and a bowl.

  1. Wash the raw grain, legume, nut or seed well in fresh water
  2. Place in the jar (do not fill the jar more than 1/2 full as they will expand, legumes should fill no more than 1/3rd of the jar)
  3. Secure the cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar with the outer ring of a lid or rubber band
  4. Invert the jar and let it drain, place the jar in the bowl upside down and at a tilt so excess water can drain but the contents of the jar can still breath, place in a cool place out of direct sunlight
  5. Rinse with fresh water and drain at least 3-4 times per day

When they have sprouted to your desired size, give them a final rinse and use as soon as possible or you can dry them off and store in the fridge for a day or two.  With legumes in particular the skin will get loose and can be peeled away, it improves texture, flavor and digestion but is a bit of a tedious step – if you have small children that might be a fun task for them!

Grains like wheat, rye and barley will be ready in 3-4 days and produce a very small white sprout.  Beans like mung, adzuki, kidney, or black beans take 3-4 days and form a longer sprout which should be 1/4th inch for most beans, 1 inch for adzuki, and 2 inches for mung beans.  Lentils sprout a little quicker in 2-3 days and their sprout should be about 1/4th inch long as well.  Nuts such as almonds can be sprouted for 3 days and will produce a tiny white appendage.  Hulled pumpkin seeds take 3 days to sprout 1/4th inch long.  Perhaps the quickest, hulled sunflower seeds only need 12-18 hours to begin to sprout, but should be used immediately.

Sprouted Lentil

Whatever you are sprouting must begin raw, make sure it has not been pasteurized, blanched, roasted, or irradiated because as that will prevent sprouting from occurring.  Flax seeds are not recommended for sprouting because they form a gel around them which makes them difficult to rinse, but luckily they are low in phytic acid and are safe to consume raw in small amounts.  Nuts that have been shelled, like pecans and walnuts, cannot be sprouted, but the soaking method above can be used to improve our ability to digest them.

While they must start raw in order to sprout, Sally Fallon warns against overconsumption of raw sprouted grains, which contain irritating substances neutralized by cooking, such as a light steam or boil.