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Cauliflower mash can be served in place of mashed potatoes, which can add to inflammation in some people.

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'Tis the season for trick-or-treats, giving thanks, cheering the Yuletide fun … and cold weather-induced aches and pains. As the seasons cycle again, we may be used to creaking out of our warm bed in the cold mornings, but must this be our fate as the years go by? Is there something we can eat to stave off these twinges, or might there be something from which to steer clear?

Inflammation is in health headlines time and time again and is blamed for everything from arthritis and dementia to even more grave conditions like cancer. Inflammation is natural, and one of the defense mechanisms our body employs to protect us, but when we get overly inflamed, the domino effect begins with not only aches and pains, but disease as well.

Many foods that are rumored to cause inflammation like sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats and some overly refined products can be lumped into that age old 'bad' food group, but what about healthy foods that contribute to our inflammation levels?

Night, night to nightshades?

There are some heathy veggies on the loose that might just be sabotaging our efforts to reduce the inflammation in our bodies in spite of a healthy diet and exercise. Nightshades include white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers (even cayenne and paprika) — all seemingly healthy choices. They are packed with vitamins and minerals, but can exacerbate inflammation in our joints and the rest of our body due to their defense mechanism, a natural insecticide-type alkaloid called solanine.

White potatoes, though packed with fiber and nutrients, are starchy, so many of us eat them in moderation, if at all, but what about all those other potato colors? Interestingly, sweet, yellow and purple potatoes lack the inflammatory alkaloids that their counterparts possess, and even contain antioxidants (evident by their rich color) to help combat inflammation.

How do I know?

Nightshades exacerbate inflammation that already exists, so if you do have joint pain, eliminate your intake of these fruits and veggies for a couple of weeks, then add them back in one at a time to find out if you fall prey to their alkaloid effects. If, after two weeks without nightshades, you enjoy a Mexican night with lots of salsa, and wake up stiffer than you were pre-fajitas, you may have uncovered a clue that nightshades get you, and not in a good way.

In better nightshade news, the higher concentration of solanine in tomatoes tends to be in the stem and vine and unless you’re really into fried green tomatoes, chances are, you won’t feel many ill effects from a few of these fruits. Plus, they’re high in antioxidants.

If kicking nightshades to the curb is just not an option for you potato lovers out there, some recommend peeling them, as the skin tends to have a higher alkaloid count than the rest of the spud. Getting rid of the skin, however, also rids you of about half its fiber, making this a sub-par remedy.

Lectins on the loose.

Alkaloids in nightshades aren’t the only plant defense mechanisms giving us trouble. Another newly publicized rogue on the health scene, lectins, play a part in inflammation as well. Lectins, like alkaloids, occur naturally in foods and are considered anti-nutrients, meaning they inhibit our absorption of the vitamins in our foods. Lectins don’t break down during digestion, which is a key reason why they give us trouble. They’re there to wage battle 'til the bitter end.

I have a picture-perfect garden scene in my mind, where a farmer wanders through each row of his crop, lovingly picking vegetables, ripe for eating and just asking to be harvested and placed gently on plates across the world. Not so, according to Dr. Steven Gundry. Plants don’t want to be picked and eaten. They’re not plucking themselves from their stems just to walk onto our plate to sacrifice themselves for our greater good. They want to live. Every living organism’s goal is to survive, so nature has given them lectins — toxic defense mechanisms that create inflammation in our bodies.

Well great! More good news — don’t eat processed foods, sugar and now lectin and nightshade-rich fruits, grains and veggies?! Before you drop this newspaper in defeat, there’s a solution for this: Dr. Gundry recommends soaking beans and legumes that are high in lectins, especially kidney beans (could this be why chili has the reputation it does?), and cooking lectin-rich veggies and grains. Sprouting grains, a natural process, can help lower the lectin content in foods as well. As grains are innately high in these anti-nutrients, steering clear of grain-fed animals can be helpful in reducing lectin-induced bloat and inflammation. Peanuts are high in these culprits, but cooking doesn’t quite do the trick for this legume, so if we suffer from lectin lethargy, we can simply limit these and other nuts.

Processed foods and some oils are high in omega 6s, which, when we have too many of those, and not enough omega 3 or 9s in proportion, can cause inflammation to build as well. Once again, we’ll find the solution in antioxidant-rich, whole foods — the majority of which do not contain alkaloids or lectins, as you’ll find that only about 30 percent of foods actually contain levels of lectins that will bother us.

In the know

Knowledge is power, and perfection just isn’t attainable in nutrition, or in life, really. We have to eat to live, all the while enjoying life’s moments of chaotic and imperfect perfection. I find it important not to fix something if it’s not broken. If you’re feeling good and know you’ve got it going on, don’t change a thing! If you’re feeling the pre-holiday bloat, perhaps looking into how these foods affect you might be helpful. To each our own, but if we know what’s in our food, naturally occurring or otherwise, at least we can make informed decisions. Life is about moderation, so pass the potatoes … once in a while, at least.

Cauliflower mash

Prep Time: 7 minutes

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Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yields: 6 servings – depending on size of cauliflower head

Ingredients

1 large head of organic cauliflower

2 to 3 cloves garlic

1/3 cup of milk (whole or 2%)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1 thin green onion, chopped

Sea salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Wash and cut head of cauliflower.

Put cauliflower and garlic together in large steamer. Cook until very tender (about 15 minutes or more).

Transfer cauliflower and garlic to large bowl.

Mash with fork, add milk, oil, parsley, about ¾ of the green onion and salt and pepper.

Once roughly mashed, use electric hand mixer or food processor to blend until mostly smooth.

Reheat in double boiler or bake or broil in a casserole dish until golden brown and hot.

Sprinkle with remaining green onion.

Serve in place of mashed potatoes.

Katharine A. Jameson, a certified nutrition counselor who grew up in Williamsville and Townshend, writes about food and health for Vermont News & Media. For more tricks, tips and hacks, find her on Instagram: @foodforthoughtwithkat


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