From gut health to glowing skin to reducing disease risk, the anti-inflammatory diet appears to be the hottest thing headlining the health world. But is it legitimate science or nutritional nonsense?
To begin, what does inflammation actually mean?
Inflammation is an indicator of illness or injury and is usually characterized as either acute or chronic.
The type of inflammation we are most familiar with is ‘acute inflammation’. This is when an increased number of white blood cells are sent to an area of the body fight off infection or injury (e.g. when you cut your finger or break a bone). Acute inflammation is essential and normal and is your body’s way of protecting itself from injury or illness.
The problem arises if this inflammatory process goes on for extended periods (weeks, months, years) or if there is too much inflammation taking place.
Prolonged inflammation is referred to as ‘chronic inflammation’ and is one of the root causes of major diseases. Some medical conditions may result in inflammation in localised areas, or throughout the entire body. The most common medical condition you might think of when you hear inflammation is arthritis. However, conditions like obesity, heart disease and diabetes are all inflammatory conditions as well.
Side note: It is important to note that it is overly simplistic to talk of ‘inflammation; as a single phenomenon, since it is a complex process mediated by the immune system, involving many different physiological processes.
What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is focused on eating whole, unprocessed foods in an effort to try and reduce inflammation in the body. This diet combines foods that work together to help suppress the main pathways of inflammation.
A diet high in the following foods may help reduce inflammation:
- Nuts and seeds
- Oily fish
- Herbs and spices such as turmeric and ginger
This diet typically excludes foods that are more likely to contribute to inflammation in the body such as:
- Junk foods
- Processed meats
What does the science say?
Many studies have shown that certain foods and dietary patterns can play a role in reducing inflammation in the body. These studies have explored biomarkers of inflammation in the body such as C reactive protein and Interleukin 6 and the changes in these biomarkers with different eating patterns.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet has been shown to help manage inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and other types of arthritis. New studies have shown that a high anti-inflammatory diet can also help to boost bone health.
It is essential that you look at your diet as a whole, rather than focusing on specific foods or nutrients to reduce inflammation. No single food or nutrient is responsible for inflammation, just like no single food or nutrient will cure inflammation.
The Bottom Line
Following an anti-inflammatory diet has been shown to help people manage inflammatory related conditions. We must point out however, that an anti-inflammatory diet is consistent with consensus recommendations for a healthy diet (lots of fruit and veg, healthy fats, fish etc), so it can really be of benefit for anyone, not just those suffering from chronic inflammation. Following a diet rich in wholefoods can help to prevent lifestyle related conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Aside from healthy eating, other things we can do to help reduce inflammation includes exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep.
4 Ways You Can Help Reduce Inflammation
- Boost consumption of vegetables
Current research shows that only 5% of Aussies are currently eating enough vegetables. Leafy green vegetables are particularly high in antioxidants, which can help to reduce inflammation in the body. Eating a mix of raw and cooked vegetables is important, as heat can reduce the anti-inflammatory vitamin C components of some veggies like beetroots and carrots. Try to include at least two to three different coloured vegetables at lunch and dinner to reap the benefits.
- Eat more lentils and beans
Research suggests that consuming four cups of legumes per week can have a positive effect on inflammatory markers in the body. Legumes contain resistant starch which is makes them a prebiotic which is a type of fibre readily digested by healthy bacteria in the gut. This fermentation process can help to reduce inflammation in the gut and throughout the body. Try adding some chickpeas to your salad or mixing in lentils next time you make spaghetti bolognaise.
- Cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
EVOO contains several compounds that can help to slow down inflammation. EVOO also contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can help to prevent inflammatory diseases and help individuals with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Try adding EVOO to salads, raw or roasted vegetables and pasta.
- Choose oily fish
Fish is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, a type of fat that plays a role in managing inflammation. Aim to consume oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) that are high in omega 3 fatty acids two to three times per week.
To learn about other diets and the science underpinning them head to our blog.