By Casey Dick
Since the “clean eating” movement, terms such as inflammation have been on the tip of everyone’s tongue and for good reason. Research is continuing to establish inflammation as a key driver in a multitude of disease states from obesity and hypertension through to diabetes, mood disorders and infertility. Poor diet, stress and our environment are all causes of inflammation, within our control. Before we discuss controlling inflammation, let’s take a closer look at what inflammation is.
Inflammation is a normal bodily response to protect ourselves from injury, illness and any external ‘thing’ that may cause harm if left unchecked. Constant activation of the immune system (e.g., through eating something our body identifies as harmful) can result in chronic inflammation and may increase risk of disease. Specifically, the body may respond to an injury/intruder (which we call an inflammatory trigger) by mounting a response and producing pro-inflammatory chemicals to fight off the intruder.
This response, if left uncontrolled or by repeated exposure, can lead to tissue damage, accumulation of free radicals and pro-oxidants (molecules causing harm to our cells) as well as weakening of our body’s ability to fight inflammation. Increased free radical damage can be observed in many inflammatory conditions where our internal anti-oxidant defence system is called upon to fight pro-inflammatory chemicals.
Common health conditions – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Inflammation can be a key underlying factor for many health conditions and can also exacerbate existing health conditions. A great example is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). According to the Victorian government’s Better Health Channel, PCOS effects from 12-18% of all women. With symptoms such as irregular (or less frequent) menstrual cycles, excessive hair growth, acne, weight issues and reduced fertility – it can make life challenging for women who suffer from it. A hallmark of the condition is poor blood sugar regulation – a key driver of inflammation. Not surprisingly, PCOS increases the likelihood of developing diabetes later in life. For women, often PCOS can cause the most trouble when trying to conceive and tackling the effects of inflammation in the body as early as possible is the best approach to reducing complications later in life.
Inflammation and diet – the bad and the good
As we can see already, diet plays a major role in our ability to have the means to fight off pro-inflammatory chemicals.
Whilst poor diet may be a large source of inflammation, thankfully and undoubtedly food is medicine and the correct dietary practices including incorporation of anti-inflammatory foods into the diet can assist with overcoming inflammation and preventing related inflammatory diseases.
Generally alcohol, high-glycaemic index carbohydrates (refined white bread), processed sugar and trans-fats (processed cakes and meats) are the most commonly cited pro-inflammatory foods. However, individual foods are not the only dietary source of inflammation but also our dietary composition. For example, an increased intake of omega-6 (vegetable oils) versus omega-3 fatty acids (wild salmon or walnuts) is known to be pro-inflammatory. Similarly, a high overall caloric intake and diet high in animal products may increase inflammation. Importantly, being aware of what foods nourish you and what foods cause your body stress is vital, as food sensitivities and intolerances are known to evoke inflammation.
Research suggests a diet comprised of low-glycaemic index carbohydrate (slow-releasing complex carbohydrates), high-fibre, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids is key to overcoming inflammation and assisting with healthy blood sugar management. Furthermore, it goes without saying, a diet high in vitamins and minerals assists to overcome the damaging effects of inflammation. Amongst others, vitamin C (kiwi fruit), E (almonds) and beta-carotene (sweet potato, carrot) provide antioxidant and free radical scavenging abilities offering protection against inflammation and associated tissue damage. Similarly, wild salmon and flaxseeds containing omega-3 fatty acids promote potent anti-inflammatory signals.
Tips for eating to reduce inflammation
- Design your diet to crowd out pro-inflammatory foods (see table below) with anti-inflammatory foods. Download my anti-oxidant rich tomato salsa recipe.
- Eating until satisfied not overfull – if you place too much stress on your system by trying to process far too much at once which can result in inflammation
- Opting for low-glycaemic index carbohydrates to help regulate blood sugar levels
- Get educated about types of foods which fail to nourish you are or encourage inflammation. A nutritionist can easily assist in developing a diet which works for your individual needs
- Regular exercise goes hand in hand with an anti-inflammatory diet to further help the body regulate blood sugar which will reduce occurrence of inflammation. It also means you get the natural high and are less likely to reach for the chocolate bar!
|Pro-inflammatory foods (to be avoided)||Anti-inflammatory foods (to be included)|
|Refined high-glycaemic index carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, commercial cereals [e.g.] Just Right), biscuits and cakes made on white flour||Low-glycaemic index carbohydrates (sourdough, quinoa, brown rice)|
|Processed meats and high-intake of red meat||Wild salmon, small white fish (whiting or snapper) and eggs|
|Vegetable oil, canola oil and deep-fried foods||Avocado, tahini, nuts and seeds, macadamia nut oil|
|Dairy and gluten (if sensitive/intolerant)||Legumes, chickpeas, tempeh|
|Green leafy vegetables|
|Bright coloured vegetables (capsicum, sweet potato, carrot)|
|Fruits (kiwi, strawberry, berries)|
|Spices and herbs (coriander, ginger, garlic)|
Putting it all together
The anti-inflammatory 7 day eating plan provides an example of how to adopt an anti-inflammatory style of eating and allow you to reap the associated benefits. The eating guide focuses on healthy fats (including omega-3 fatty acids), adequate fibre, lean protein and low-glycaemic index carbohydrates incorporated into balanced and importantly delicious meals ideas! Dig in and glow from within!
Bullo, M, Casas-Agustench, P, Amigo-Carreig, P, Aranceta, J & Salas-Salvado, S 2006, ‘Inflammation, obesity and comorbidities: the role of diet,’ Public Health Nutrition, Vol. 10, No. 10A, pp. 1164-1172.
Calder, P, Albers, R, Antoine, J, Blum, S et al 2009, ‘Inflammatory Disease Processes and Interactions with Nutrition,’ British Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 101, Supp. 1, pp. S1-45.
Chantal, J, Meunier, N, Touvier, M, Ahluwalia, N, Sapin, V, Paper, I, Cano, N, Hercberg, S, Galan, P & Kesse-Guyor, K 2013, ‘Dietary patterns and risk of elevated C-reactive protein concentrations 12 years later,’ British Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 110, No. 4, pp. 747-754.
Egger, G 2013, ‘Determining an Anti-inflammatory Diet Based on Post-Prandial Research Findings,’ ACNEM Journal, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 12-14.
Khan, M, Anjum, F, Sohaib, M & Sameen, A 2013, ‘Tackling metabolic syndrome by functional foods,’ Rev Endocr Metab Disord, Vol. 14, No.3, pp. 287-297.
Viscogliosi, G, Cipriani, E, Liguori, M, Marigliano, B, Saliola, M, Ettore, E & Andreozzi, P 2013, ‘Mediterranean Dietary Pattern Adherence: Associations with Prediabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Related Microinflammation,’ Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 210-216
This article provides general information and is not intended to constitute advice. All care is taken to ensure information is accurate and relevant. Please see your Practitioner for health treatments and advice.
Thank you for this very helpful information. The article was easy to read and easy to remember.