What is the inflammation diet?


One of the best measures you can take to prevent or reduce inflammation is to try an anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet involves eating certain foods and avoiding others in order to minimise the symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases.


Effie Parnell-Hopkinson
MSc BDA & SENr Registered Nutritionist

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What is inflammation?

When something harmful or aggravating affects a part of our body, there is a biological response to try to remove it. This response occurs in the form of inflammation and is the defence mechanism our immune system uses to begin the healing process.

There are two main types of inflammation; acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is one that starts rapidly and can be present for just a few days but may persist for weeks in some cases. Acute bronchitis, a sore throat, a scratch or cut, high-intensity exercise and tonsillitis are some examples of diseases, conditions and situations that can result in acute inflammation. Chronic inflammation is long-term inflammation that can last for several months and in some cases years. Chronic inflammation can result from a failure to remove the cause of acute inflammation, an autoimmune disorder that attacks normal healthy tissue or exposure to a low-level irritant over an extended period of time. Although inflammation is a necessary self-defence mechanism the body needs to begin the healing process, chronic inflammation is a key risk factor in a number of diseases and conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis.

What is the inflammation diet?

While medication and other treatments are important in the improvement and management of chronic inflammation, following a diet that focuses on anti-inflammatory foods can help further decrease the occurrence of flare-ups and pain. We are by no means saying that an anti-inflammatory diet will cure your condition, however, it will help to make it more manageable and improve other health markers.

The anti-inflammatory diet focuses on replacing sugary, refined foods with fruits, vegetables, lean protein, plant-based protein, nuts, seeds, healthy fats and herbs and spices. By following these principles, the anti-inflammatory diet also increases antioxidants in the body that aid in the reduction of free radicals (molecules that may damage cells and increase the risk of certain diseases).

What to eat

Fruit & vegetables
By including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, you are not only increasing your daily fibre intake, shown to prevent diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer, but also your antioxidant levels. Examples of these foods include; berries, apples, avocados, dark leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.

Whole grains
Oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread and other unrefined grains are high in fibre and can help to reduce inflammation. Similarly, beans and lentils are very high in fibre and contain the same health benefits as whole grains.

Nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans and almonds will help to reduce inflammation due to the healthy fats they contain. However, it is important to be aware that nuts are a low-volume, high-calorie food group meaning that just a small handful can add up to at least 300 calories. Keep an eye on your intake to ensure you are eating within a healthy range of calories and fat for your goals.

Salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines all have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which will help to fight inflammation. Include these oily fish at least once or twice a week to see the associated health benefits.

Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are a great and easy way to add antioxidants and flavour to your food. Turmeric, found in curry powder, has a strong substance called curcumin whose anti-inflammatory properties can support joints, increased mobility and pain relief. In addition, this natural herb is a powerful antioxidant and has also been shown to aid heart health, brain function and promote overall wellness and anti-ageing.

What not to eat

The main foods that people should avoid that are suffering from chronic inflammation include processed foods (in particular processed meat and snacks), sugary drinks, desserts, excess alcohol, trans fats and fried foods, butter, whole milk, cheese and refined carbohydrates such as white bread. Some people find that foods in the nightshades family (tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, and potatoes) can trigger flares in some inflammatory diseases. Despite limited evidence surrounding the nightshade foods and the associated symptoms, cutting nightshades from the diet for 2–3 weeks and assessing symptoms is a great option for these individuals.

Anti-inflammatory diets may be a big adjustment for people who tend to eat different kinds of food so we have included several tips you can do to make the transition to an anti-inflammatory diet easier:

  • Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables including dark leafy greens in particular
  • Reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet
  • Remove all soda and sugary beverages, whilst also cutting back on alcohol intake
  • Writing a shopping list ahead of time
  • Supplementing with omega-3 and turmeric
  • Staying with your daily calorie requirements, exercising regularly and getting an adequate amount of sleep

While these dietary solutions do not alone hold the key to controlling inflammation, they can help prime the immune system to react in a measured way. An anti-inflammatory diet will help to reduce the occurrence of flare-ups and pain that an individual who suffers from chronic inflammation experiences on a daily basis. It may also help the person avoid some of the potential health problems that chronic inflammation can cause as well as decrease the need for medication.

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