Myriad factors bear on inflammation: smoking and stress turn the dial up, and exercise and meditation turn it down, but the standout consideration is diet. You know that the right food – apples, cabbage, blueberries – is good for you, but have you ever considered why? Even rubbish food delivers the necessities of daily life – fat, protein, carbohydrate – so the question of good health lies elsewhere. Mostly, it lies with phytochemicals.
A phytochemical is any chemical from a plant (as “phyto” is plant in Greek) but the word is usually used for the health giving ones. Resveratrol (grapes), curcumin (turmeric) and catechins (tea) are well known examples. Phytochemicals do useful work for plants, such as attracting bees, and warding off sun damage. They are the bright colours, the bitter tastes, and the fragrances, but their properties translate, by happy serendipity, to wellbeing in humans. In particular, they are anti-oxidants, which means they mop up damaging free radicals (see Age Better) and, in various ways, modulate the inflammatory consequences of ageing.
We do not need phytochemicals to stay alive day to day, but eating more is likely to make us live longer, and seeking them out is a major strategy in the goal of living well for as long as possible. A diet of coloured plants is the perfect first step. You can do much more by adding some of the many useful phytochemicals, not found in the vegie section, which can be consumed as supplements (see Why Nutraceuticals Matter).