In a nutshell, the best rule of thumb to follow when trying to reduce inflammation is to stick with “real food”.
That means, buy foods that closely resemble the way they exist in nature i.e. they haven’t been stripped of their goodness, or had flavours, sugar, fats, preservatives and other additives added to them.
Eat lots of bright and deep coloured plant foods (e.g. dark green vegetables, sweet potato, berries) include portions of healthy protein sources e.g. fish, poultry, red meat, eggs, raw nuts and seeds, and wholegrain carbohydrate sources.
This type of diet will help to provide the fibre that maintains good digestion and intestinal bacterial balance (important for controlling inflammation in the body), plus it provides essential fatty acids, protein and plenty of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals (many of which exhibit anti-inflammatory properties).
A great anti-inflammatory diet is just as much about what you don’t consume as what you do.
Certain foods (in excess) will contribute significantly to an inflamed environment in your body. Five of the worst inflammatory culprits are below:
Alcohol is a toxin that requires removal from the body via the liver.
When we over consume alcohol, the speed at which we can detoxify this substance is exceeded by its accumulation, contributing to widespread damage and inflammation that is not isolated to the liver.
Alcohol also contributes to dehydration (as it interferes with the hormones involved with maintaining a healthy fluid balance), and depletes our system of key nutrients, compromising normal cellular processes. Further to this, many alcoholic beverages have the added downfall of being high in sugar and preservatives that add to their negative health impacts, particularly for those that are especially sensitive.
Just because food is fried in “cholesterol free” oil DOES NOT make it healthy.
When exposed to very high temperatures like those used in deep frying, fats can be “damaged”.
When consumed, these damaged fats can be harmful and contribute to inflammation in the arteries and other areas of the body. Therefore it’s best to avoid deep fried foods.
It is important to remember though, that we do need fat/oil for the body to function effectively (and the good types of fat can actually be anti-inflammatory).
So, what we need to do is focus on consuming healthy, undamaged fat types. The types of fats found in raw nuts (e.g. walnuts and pecans) and seeds, avocado, oily fish, and virgin olive oil are great. Coconut oil is suitable for cooking as it is very stable, and not likely to undergo the undesirable changes that many vegetable oils are susceptible to when they are used for frying.
High sugar/high GI foods:
When we consume a food high in rapidly absorbed carbohydrates it results in a large spike in blood sugar levels.
High blood sugar levels over time will contribute to a type of oxidative stress, and resultant inflammation, that is very damaging to many areas of the body (e.g. blood vessels, the eyes, kidneys and nerves). Foods like soft drink, most juices, cordials, most sweets and processed confectionary and sugary cereals should be avoided.
A sedentary lifestyle will also worsen these complications as exercise helps to improve blood sugar balance by enhancing body cells’ sensitivity to insulin. So get moving!
Refined and over-processed grains:
When grains are made “white” (e.g. white flour used in white bread and pasta, cakes etc.) they have undergone processing which has stripped the grain of what gave them not only their colour, but also fibre content and much of their nutritional value. A diet high in these types of refined foods is therefore compromising maximum nutritional density, and fibre.
In addition, it is becoming apparent that certain members of the population, despite not being a true Coeliac’s disease sufferer, can develop unpleasant symptoms as a result of over-consumption of wheat, and other gluten-containing products.
Researchers are still in the process of understanding why, but it appears that insufficient digestion of the gluten protein can see irritation occurring to the intestinal wall.
Some individuals may also have difficulty breaking down certain carbohydrates (e.g. fructans) found in wheat, resulting in intestinal discomfort when the grain is eaten in large amounts. These intolerant individuals may benefit from limiting these food types in their diet, and seeking the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.
Too much food!
Moderation is key – and simply consuming too many calories can be unhealthy for us.
In many cases obesity in itself is an inflammatory disorder, and will contribute to many disease types. In addition to this, emerging research is supporting the hypothesis that calorie restriction is anti-ageing (thus, in a way anti-inflammatory).
A good tip to avoid overeating is to listen to your body. Chew each mouthful at least 20 times as you eat, rather than mindlessly “inhaling” your food. This will ensure you not only digest your food properly (reducing gut discomfort), but it also gives you the opportunity to register that you are full sooner.
It is important to note too that you don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time. Treats are OK in moderation; but try to eat healthy most of the time. Knowing you can still have that odd glass of wine, or piece of chocolate, can help you stay on track with your new healthy lifestyle.
Author: Belinda Reynolds
Belinda graduated with an Honours Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2003. She has been involved in the complementary medicine industry for nearly 14 years. Belinda has spent time working in hospitals and lectured at the Australasian College of Natural Therapies.