Inflammation is our body's natural defense mechanism against anything it recognises as foreign. Without it we wouldn't be able to fight infections or repair damaged tissue. However, chronic inflammation can cause great discomfort to those who suffer from it and in the long term can increase our risk of certain diseases.
While prescription and over-the-counter medication may be necessary for some chronic inflammation conditions there are also some simple food choices you can make to assist with reducing inflammation.
The No-Nos: Foods to Avoid
First and foremost it's important to remove foods from your diet that can actually trigger inflammation. As a general rule I suggest to "keep it natural" and avoid foods that are overly processed or adulterated. Here are 5 foods that you should watch out for:
Sugar is one of the number one inflammatory foods. When I say 'sugar' I don't just mean the white stuff. I'm talking about all forms of sugar - white, brown, raw, honey, maple syrup, agave, corn syrup, rice malt syrup and to some extent even fructose. A high consumption of sugar can weaken white blood cells, lowering the body's immune system thus leading to inflammation.
2. REFINED CARBOHYDRATES
White breads, biscuits and pastries are all refined carbohydrates which essentially break down into glucose when digested (yes, sugar!) Go for whole grains like rolled oats, rye, quinoa and brown rice and keep those sweet biscuits to a minimum.
3. TRANS FATS
Trans fat is a type of unsaturated fat that is chemically hydrogenated to convert it into a semi-solid state (think butter and margarine). Trans fats can also be found in fried and overly processed, packaged foods. This type of fat isn't just a source of inflammation but can also raise LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) as well as increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Cut trans fats from your diet by avoiding fried foods and replacing margarine with healthier spread options like smashed avocado, hummus, nut butters or Greek yogurt.
4. GRAIN-FED RED MEAT
A recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a higher intake of red meat was associated with increased inflammation in women. Some grain-fed meat can contain high amounts of hormones and antiobitics which only aggravate the condition. If you are going to eat red meat, opt for organic, grass-fed varieties.
As I mentioned in a previous post, our body treats alcohol like a toxin and as soon as we consume it our system works overtime to try and eradicate it. Like sugar, alcohol suppresses white blood cells and impairs the immune system. Inflammation is a common response to this weakened immunity. Limit alcoholic drinks to once or twice a week.
What You Should Be Eating
1. OMEGA 3
This essential fatty acid is one of the best sources to combat inflammation. Omega 3 is considered essential because it cannot be made from the body and must be obtained from food (or supplements). EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines). ALA, another type of Omega 3 is found in nuts and seeds.
Take a daily fish oil supplement (look for those brands which include EPA and DHA), and increase your fatty fish intake to at least twice a week.
Eat a small handful of nuts and seeds once a day. Nuts high in Omega 3 include walnuts, pecans and almonds. Great seed shoices include pumpkin, chia, hemp and flax. (Check out my separate post on the health benefits of flax seeds and a great muffin recipe). You can add these seeds to salads or snack on them in a homemade trail mix.
Before you get excited and reach for that Snickers bar I'm actually referring to natural, unsweetened cocoa. The cocoa bean is high in flavanoids, a type of antioxidant known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Use raw cacao nibs or unsweetened cocoa powder in baking and smoothies.
Lycopene is a natural carotenoid (another antioxidant) that inhibits inflammation. Studies show that the bioavailability of lycopene (put simply: the rate at which your body absorbs and uses it) is higher in processed tomatoes than in raw tomatoes. Go for recipes with tomato paste or canned tomatoes in their natural juices (with no added sugar). Tomato juice is also an excellent option (and no I'm not saying that's your excuse for a Bloody Mary - sorry folks!)
The yellow pigment that gives tumeric its rich colour is called Curcumin. Curcumin has very powerful anti-inflammatory properties that help treat joint pain, especially when caused by osteoarthritis. The bioavailabiity of curcumin is higher when combined with black pepper. Try these recipe suggestions to incorporate tumeric into your diet:
Add a good sprinkle to scrambled eggs
Use with some salt and pepper to marinate chicken breasts before baking
Mix with some olive or coconut oil to form a paste and coat vegetables like sweet potato or cauliflower before roasting
Add it to soups to add colour and flavour
The health benefits of ginger can be linked back centuries to Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines. Recent studies have shown it to be an effective anti-inflammatory treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. There are numerous ways to add ginger to your diet from stir-fry, salad dressing, fresh juice or even in tea.
Making simple food choices can go a long way in treating inflammation. Try adding some of the above-mentioned anti-inflammatory foods into your diet and make sure you limit foods that aggravate inflammation. You'll likely notice the extra benefits of making healthy lifestyle choices too.
Health & Happiness,
Ley, Sylvia H and Qi Sun (2014). Associations between red meat intake and biomarkers of inflammation and glucose metabolism in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 99, 352-360.