Inflammation is the body's natural, temporary, healing response to infection or injury. But if the process fails to shut down when it should, inflammation becomes chronic-and tissues are injured by excess white blood cells and DNA-damaging free radicals.

Result: Elevated risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis and other diseases.

Richard E. Collins, MD, "the cooking cardiologist," recently weighed in on how to prevent chronic inflammation.

His advice: Follow a diet that is rich in immune-strengthening nutrients and use cooking techniques that neither destroy food's disease-fighting nutrients nor add inflammatory properties to it.

Smart Ways With Vegetables

Deeply colored plant foods generally are rich in antioxidants that help combat inflammation by neutralizing free radicals.

Examples: Healthful flavonoids are prevalent in deep yellow to purple produce...carotenoids are found in yellow, orange, red and green vegetables.

Exceptions: Despite their light hue, garlic and onions are powerful antioxidants.

Unfortunately, these nutrients are easily lost.

For instance: Boiling or poaching vegetables causes nutrients to leach into the cooking water-and get tossed out when that potful of water is discarded. The high heat of frying causes a reaction between carbohydrates and amino acids, creating carcinogenic chemicals called acrylamides. And even when healthful food-preparation techniques are used, overcooking destroys nutrients. Better…

  • Microwave. This uses minimal water and preserves flavor (so you won't be tempted to add butter or salt). Slightly moisten vegetables with water, cover and microwave just until crisp-tender.
  • Stir-fry. In a preheated wok or sauté pan, cook vegetables over medium-high heat for a minute or two in a bit of low-sodium soy sauce.
  • Steam. This beats boiling, but because steam envelops the food, some nutrients leach out. To "recycle" them, pour that bit of water from the steamer into any soup or sauce.
  • Stew. Nutrients that leach from the vegetables aren't lost because they stay in the stew sauce.
  • Roast. Set your oven to 350°F or lower to protect vegetables' nutrients and minimize acrylamides.

Best Methods For Meat

When beef, pork, poultry or fish is roasted at 400°F or higher, grilled, broiled or fried, it triggers a chemical reaction that creates inflammatory heterocyclic amines (HCAS)- especially when food is exposed to direct flame and/or smoke. At least 17 HCAs are known carcinogens, linked to cancer of the breast, stomach, colon and/or pancreas.

Safest: Roast meat, poultry and fish at 350°F. Avoid overcooking-well-done meats may promote cancer. Also, be sure to avoid undercooking to prevent food poisoning.

If you love to grill: Buy a soapstone grilling stone, one-and-a-quarter inches thick and cut to half the size of your grill. (Stones are sold at kitchen-counter retail stores and at Dorado Soapstone, 888-500-1905, www.Dorado Soapstone. com). Place it on your grilling rack, then put your food on top of it. Soapstone heats well, doesn't dry out food and gives the flavor of grilling with out exposing food to direct flames or smoke.

If you eat bacon: To minimize HCAs, cook bacon in the microwave and take care not to burn it.

The Right Cooking Oils

Do you cringe when the Food Network chefs sauté in unrefined extra-virgin olive oil? You should. This oil has a very low smoke point the temperature at which a particular oil turns to smoke) of about 325°F-and when oil smokes, nutrients degrade and free radicals form.

Best: Sauté or stir-fry with refined canola oil, which has a high smoke point. Or use tea seed cooking oil (not tea tree oil)—its smoke point is about 485°F.

Try: Emerald Harvest (www.Emerald-Harvest com) or Republic of Tea (800-298-4832, www.

Rule of thumb: If cooking oil starts to smoke, throw it out. Use a laser thermometer (sold at kitchenware stores) to instantly see oil temperature, so you'll know when to turn down the heat.

Don't Chop Those Carrots

Cooking carrots whole before chopping them helps to retain their nutrients. Chopping before cooking increases the surface area of carrots, so more of the nutrients, including vitamin C, disappear into the water. Cooking carrots whole also keeps them tasty-80% of people preferred the flavor of carrots cooked whole over the flavor of ones chopped before cooking.

Delicious Flavor Without Salt

Limiting sodium often lowers high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk-but many Americans consume double the recommended limit, as much as 5 grams (8) per day.

Problem: Reducing salt can reduce a food's flavor, too.

New study: Participants reported that low-sodium foods prepared with a broth flavored with karebushi (dried bonito, a fish in the mackerel family) tasted better than other low-sodium foods.

Try it: Karebushi is sold as thin shaven flakes in Asian food stores and online. Add it to low-salt soups, sauces, rice and vegetables.

Eat Your Way to Great Hair

Protein-found in foods such as fish, meat, cheese, and cereals—helps build strong keratin, which makes up the outer layers of hair.

Also: Silica, commonly found in cucumbers, oats and rice, can boost hair growth. Vitamin C, found in citrus foods, such as oranges, lemons, limes, melons and berries, supports the body's effort to absorb protein and will keep hair follicles and blood vessels in the scalp healthy. Finally, eat salmon, carrots, egg yolks and sardines--the high amounts of vitamin B in these foods promote hair's growth and improve its texture.

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