Diet plays a major role in affecting inflammation, both positively and negatively.
Inflammation is linked to consuming various different foods particularly those containing high levels of glucose and fat. If you eat red meat you are more likely to have high levels of arachidonic acid, a fatty acid which your body naturally produces, which if it is too high, can lead to inflammation. Sugar, white bread and pasta, processed foods, fast food and oils which have been damaged by heating them too high and trans fat (usually found in baked goods such as biscuits, cakes, pies and margarine), are also likely to lead to inflammation.
Fortunately however, there are many foods that are anti-inflammatory and can help you.
With our gut being so fundamental in our immune system, we must consider our gut health as part of the overall fight against inflammation. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and the drink kefir can help to replenish good gut bacteria. You might also need to rule out any food allergies or intolerances by making a food diary or taking a blood test but this can be advised by a nutritionist. Food intolerances such as a gluten, (found in wheat, rye and barley), dairy and yeast, can often also lead to inflammation. Fibre is also very important as it helps maintain gut health.
Fruit and vegetables all contain phytochemicals which when we eat them can carry out biochemical changes in our cells. The different colours of their skin carry different phytochemicals within them, which have varying benefits. In all, over a thousand different phytochemicals have been discovered. Processing can destroy some of their beneficial properties so it’s best to consume them in their natural wholefood state if possible. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries oranges and cherries are all high in antioxidants and polyphenols and can help protect against inflammation.
One particular phytochemical - resveratrol is thought to be particularly good at fighting inflammation, it is found in grapes, red wine cocoa and dark chocolate. Making it quite a popular one! Although these I’m afraid, need to be consumed in moderation.
Beware however as red wine, along with cheese and coffee to name but a few, can in some people who are intolerant to these foods provoke a histamine intolerance, which causes inflammation.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, it is essential because our body needs it to function properly and it can’t make it on it’s own. It is found mainly in oily fish (salmon, mackerel & sardines), and nuts and seeds such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and linseed, avocados and organic eggs. Omega 3 not only provides us with essential fats but when it’s metabolised it can decrease inflammation.
Another essential fatty acid is omega 6, whilst it is essential and needed by our body too, most of us already have plenty of it in our diet, where as omega 3 is anti-inflammatory, omega 6 is pro-inflammatory. It is found mostly in vegetable oil, which is often used in processed foods. So we need to readdress the balance and eat more omega 3 foods, if we aren’t having enough however, we may need to take supplements. We can also help to modify our omega 6 intake by swapping vegetable oils for coconut oil and olive oil and avoiding processed foods.
Certain spices and herbs have anti-inflammatory properties. Curcurmin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is both anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant and can stop pro-inflammatory compounds being produced in the body. Similarly ginger is able to work in the same way. Cinnamon, parsley, cloves and rosemary are all also beneficial.
Onions contain a potent antioxidant called quercetin, which inhibits histamine which in turn can also help fight inflammation.
Sweet potatoes and squash both contain carotenoids, this is what gives them their lovely yellow and orange colours. Squash contains the carotenoid beta carotene, this has antioxidant properties which helps to fight free radicals (toxins) that arise during the inflammatory response. Whilst sweet potatoes also contain antioxidant compounds which help inflammation.
Pineapple, perhaps lesser known for it’s anti-inflammatory properties contains bromelain which blocks inflammation. The reason it’s probably not so well known however is that most of the bromelain is found in it’s core, which is much tougher, but if it’s ripe enough is actually quite edible or could be added chopped and added to a smoothie.
Green tea is also considered anti-inflammatory due to its high levels of antioxidants.
We must also consider that deficiencies in certain minerals and vitamins such as vitamins B9 (folate), B12, B6, D, E and zinc can lead to an either an exacerbated or ineffective inflammatory response.
A diet similar to those eaten in the Mediterranean which consists of lots of fresh fish, nuts, vegetables, fruit and olive oil compared to a Western diet high in processed foods is considered to be not just better a better diet in terms of reducing inflammation, but generally better for your whole well being.
So we can see whilst inflammation isn’t totally in our control, eating a better diet, combined with exercise, reduced stress and quality sleep is something we can change to improve our health for the better.