Anti-inflammatory foods are a buzzword when it comes to wellbeing. But why?
Increasing evidence suggests inflammation can be behind everything from IBS and depression to cancer and diabetes. The word may be linked with swollen areas of the body, or pain, but we can also have chronic inflammation in the body without any obvious symptoms.
What causes inflammation?
And, why do we need to eat anti-inflammatory foods? Well, we all recognise inflammation in the form of redness, swelling or pain from an injury, however, this is often short-term.
“Visible inflammation – such as an injury, can be helpful as it aids recovery by increasing blood flow to the injured area. This helps it to heal and remove damaged cells,” explains dietitian Ro Huntriss.
The danger is when inflammation exists deep inside the body and when left unchecked, this plays havoc with our health.
When the body is under attack from germs or toxins, its clever response is to kick-start the immune system, to defend and protect. However, if this occurs too often, the body remains in a state of inflammation. As a result, this activates the disease process.
With some conditions such as arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks without a foreign invader triggering a reaction, causing damage to the tissues.
“Many things trigger inflammation, including infections, injuries, chemicals and irritants,” explains Ro. A poor diet of processed foods and saturated fats also sets off an inflammatory response.
Signs of inflammation
Knowing the signs and symptoms of inflammation reduces your risk of developing a serious illness. Chronic inflammation plays a key role in many health problems, such as poor digestion and depression, as well as being a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks and strokes. “Other conditions linked to inflammation include eczema, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma,” says Ro.
Redness, swollen joints, joint pain and loss of joint function are linked to inflammation. Sometimes only a few or none of these signs 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 diagnose inflammation with an X-rays, blood tests and a physical exam to test joint pain and other symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory foods to eat
The good news is that certain foods contain nutrients and compounds that can help ward off disease. Adding these to your meals is an easy way to make a difference.
“Many 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.
Eating the Mediterranean diet full of anti-inflammatory foods can combat inflammation so the advice is to get plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil. These foods are essential in a healthy diet and can prevent other serious conditions like dementia and heart disease.
Your shopping list
Such as salmon, black cod, mackerel, sardines and anchovies “The best anti-inflammatory nutrients are omega-3 fatty acids, in particular EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid),” says Ro. ‘These are found in oily fish or can be taken as supplements. The Arthritis Foundation recommends at least two, 3 ounce servings, a week.
Enjoy strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and cherries. They’re full of antioxidants and disease-preventing anthocyanins. Don’t forget about dried fruit too. Raisins can reduce a marker of inflammation known as TNF-alpha.
Found in whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, oats, and quinoa. These contain high amounts of fibre, which reduces levels of C-reactive proteins which are markers of inflammation in the blood.
This juicy fruit is packed with bromelain which is an anti-inflammatory that helps digestion.
Load up on kale, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. These are high in vitamins, minerals and protective plant chemicals such as antioxidants and polyphenols.
Tomatoes and bell peppers
They contain lycopene and vitamin C that can curb inflammation.
Curcumin found in turmeric causes anti-inflammatory action, as does fresh ginger. Studies link 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.
Healthy fats include olive oil and avocados, and nuts such as walnuts and almonds.
A cup of your morning brew contains polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds.
They are high in vitamin C and E and are also anti-inflammatory and are great for your heart, skin and immune health.
Research shows that mango contains anti-inflammatory properties and could also help reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. One cup of mango is bursting with antioxidants and over 20 different vitamins and minerals.
This is the healthiest drink to help fight inflammation thanks to a compound called EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate).
Dark chocolate and red wine
These treats contain flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory properties. Enjoy in moderation.
Foods to avoid inflammation
Along with eating more anti-inflammatory foods, you should look to reduce or cut-out foods that cause inflammation. These include:
Processed carbs include white bread, pizza dough,white pasta, pastries, white rice and many breakfast cereals and having too much of these processed sugars and high GI starches can cause inflammation. After eating these foods, levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are proteins in the blood, increase. As a result, when the body tries to break these down, immune cells secrete inflammatory messengers known as cytokines.
Fizzy drinks are loaded with sugar, have little nutritional value and will ramp up the amount of AGEs floating in your bloodstream. Diet drinks may seem like the healthy option but they contain artificial sweeteners. These are reported to affect insulin levels and reduce the number of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Foods fried in vegetable oils like sunflower are high in inflammatory omega 6 fats and raise levels of AGEs, just like sugary snacks.
Sausage, bacon, ham and smoked meats are high in saturated fats that causes inflammation in adipose tissue (fat). They also create AGEs as they are dried, smoked and cooked. Additional preservatives, colourings and artificial flavourings also trigger an immune response in the body.
These fats are found in fast foods, processed foods and convenience meals and are known to increase systemic inflammation in healthy adults. Look for foods with partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredient label, and avoid these where possible.
Heavy drinking puts a strain on the liver and disrupts the healthy function of other organs – resulting in inflammation. On study showed that the more alcohol people consumed, the higher their levels of the inflammatory marker CRP in the body. Avoid binge drinking and keep your intake below 14 units per week.
5 of the best anti-inflammatory cookbooks
Inflammation sufferer and cook Amanda Haas discovered that good food really is the best medicine. In this book she shares her top anti-inflammatory tips along with 65 simple, inflammation-busting recipes.
Dr Cole takes a deep dive into the damage caused by inflammation – and offers up nutritional advice and empowering solutions in the quest to stay inflammation-free.
Take the stress out of cooking as you eat your way to being inflammation free. This handy guide contains 100 delicious anti-inflammatory recipes using everyday ingredients in just one pot.
Learn the science behind inflammation in this easy-to-read introduction to the anti-inflammatory diet. Includes the foods to eat and avoid, recipes and a 30-day meal plan too.
Described as the Eat, Pray, Love of health, this book by Swedish born Maria Borelius is already a bestseller in Scandinavia. In it, Maria reveals how she healed menopause symptoms, back pain and fatigue with anti-inflammatory food and shares her five-step plan to beat inflammation.