Inflammation is a hot topic with health experts – it can be behind everything from IBS and depression to cancer and diabetes. The word ‘inflammation’ may be associated with swollen red joints, but in some cases, your body could be inflamed without any visible symptoms.
The immune system attacks anything your body recognises as foreign, such as bacteria, viruses or chemicals. However, with some conditions such as arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks without a foreign invader triggering a reaction, causing damage to the tissues known as inflammation.
Symptoms of inflammation include redness, swollen joints, joint pain and loss of joint function. Sometimes only a few or none of these symptoms are present, making inflammation tricky to diagnose. Look out for flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, fatigue, headache and a loss of appetite, as these could be linked to inflammation.
Doctors can diagnose inflammation with an X-rays, blood tests and a physical exam to test joint pain and other symptoms.
One of the best ways to fight inflammation is with your diet. “Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Dr. Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Following the Mediterranean diet full of anti inflammatory foods is your best bet at combating inflammation. That means plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil – foods that are essential in a healthy diet and can prevent other serious ailments like dementia and heart disease.
Here are a few of the best anti inflammatory foods to add to your shopping basket:
Oily fish, like mackerel and salmon, cooked in healthy ways such as boiling or baking. If you don’t like fish, try fish oil supplements. The Arthritis Foundation recommends at least two 3 ounce servings a week.
Wholegrains contain high amounts of fibre, which is said to reduce levels of C-reactive proteins (markers of inflammation in the blood).
Colourful fruit and veg like tomatoes and leafy greens such as kale are high in vitamins, minerals and protective plant chemicals such as antioxidants and polyphenols. Aim to eat as many different colours as possible.
Berries are great for fighting inflation as they are packed full of antioxidants, and keep in mind dried fruit such as raisins which reduce a marker of inflammation known as TNF-alpha. Cherries also contain anti-inflammatory compounds.
Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds, are high in healthy omega-3 fats and antioxidants like vitamin E.
Herbs and spices can also help fight inflammation, studies have linked ginger to lowered post-exercise inflammation and a drop in joint pain. Researchers suggest this could be down to the plant’s active compound gingerol.
Sweet potatoes which are high in vitamin C and E are also anti-inflammatory, they are also great for your heart, skin and immune health.
New research has shown that mango contains anti-inflammatory properties and could also help stop obesity and type 2 diabetes! Mangoes have been found to boost the good bacteria in the gut, which helps prevent against conditions such as type 2 diabetes. One cup of mango is bursting with antioxidants and over 20 different vitamins and minerals.
As well increasing your consumption of anti inflammatory foods, it is advisable to reduce or eliminate foods that cause inflammation. These include:
Refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, rice, sugar) – The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that processed sugars and high GI starches increased inflammation. When you eat too much sugar, it increases levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are proteins in the blood. As the body tries to break these down, immune cells secrete inflammatory messengers known as cytokines.
Fizzy and sweetened beverages – Fizzy drinks are loaded with sugar and have little nutritional value, so will ramp up the amount of AGEs floating in your bloodstream. Diet drinks may seem like the virtuous option, but these contain artificial sweeteners, which are reported to affect insulin levels and reduce the number of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Fried foods – Foods fried in vegetable oils like sunflower are high in inflammatory omega 6 fats and raise levels of AGEs, just like sugary snacks.
Red and processed meat – Processed meats are not only high in saturated fats that can cause inflammation in adipose tissue (fat), but they create AGEs as they are dried, smoked and cooked. Additional preservatives, colourings and artificial flavourings can also trigger an immune response in the body.