What is anti-inflammatory and why do I want it in my diet?

I see a lot of posts on social media about anti-inflammatory ingredients and recipes. Good Food Australia just posted an article on why anti-inflammatory eating is "the next big thing." I suppose it sounds good – no-one wants to be inflamed, right?

But what does it really mean? And how do I get more anti-inflammatory ingredients in my diet? I did a bit of reading and research and here's what I found. 

Inflammation isn't all bad

First up from what I read there is this fact: inflammation in the body isn’t necessarily bad. We get inflammation when we are ill or injured and our body’s immune system jumps to the rescue, inflaming an area and sending white blood cells in so healing can then take place. 

But constant or chronic inflammation is not so helpful; if our immune system goes a little haywire and starts attacking perfectly healthy body tissue we start to suffer. 

A really quick (completely un-sexy), easy to understand video of Dr Andrew Weil (THAT BEARD!) explaining why we should eat an anti-inflammatory diet

Inflammation causes disease

Dr Axe states this pretty brutal fact: inflammation is at the root of most diseases. And I also found this claim too on sciencedaily.com in which there is this clear quote:

"Inflammation acts as both a friend and foe, being essential in metabolic regulation, with unresolved low-grade chronic inflammation being a pathological feature of a wide range of chronic conditions including the metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases"
Prof. Anne Marie Minihane, University of East Anglia (UK)

The list of diseases associated with inflammation includes things like allergies and asthma which you might expect, right through to heart attacks, liver failure, strokes and even Alzheimer’s. 

And until recently it seems we’ve mainly focused on treating the symptoms of inflammation, not the causes. Heart disease? Pop some pills to help your heart pump. Arthritis? Take some steroids. But what about prevention? How do we reduce inflammation in the body? 

Inflammation can start in the gut

Inflammation can start in the gut. And that’s because two thirds of our body’s immune system is in our gut (read my blog post on probiotics for more on this). So if we put food into the gut that causes inflammation we’re going to potentially open ourselves up to the risk of disease. 

 

Foods that promote inflammation

These are understood to be:

•    Corn, vegetable and soybean oils
•    Pasteurized dairy
•    Refined carbohydrates
•    Conventional (non-organic) / processed meat
•    Sugars
•    Trans fats

This list taken from Dr Axe's article on inflammation here and added to with the list from Authority Nutrition

These items don’t come as a major surprise to me and I suspect nor to you either if you’re thinking about a healthy diet. Many of them are at the core of my ‘Eat Less’ list - see my About Yeast Free page for more on this. Dairy, refined carbs, sugar and processed meats are all on there as foods that contain yeast or promote candida growth. Because of the correlation a yeast free diet is also anti-inflammatory, hooray!  

And just to be clear, no one food is to blame for causing inflammation, a quote from Julie Daniluk R.H.N., author of Meals That Heal Inflammation.

It's not that you should never eat the things on this list; I love sesame oil and trans fats can be found in low levels in things like meat for example. It's just that your overall diet, particularly if high in the sort of ingredients listed above, could contribute to inflammation and disease. More research is being done to get conclusive evidence on the links. 

The best anti-inflammatory foods

So what are the best anti-inflammatory foods? Here’s the top list from nutritionist Dr Nicholas Perricone:

•    Acai
•    Allium vegetables (chives, garlic, leeks, onions, scallions and shallots)
•    Beans and lentils
•    Green leafy vegetables
•    Hot peppers
•    Nuts and seeds
•    Sprouts

These are just the ‘superfoods’ of the list, but there’s loads more anti-inflammatory foods (see Dr Andrew Weil’s pyramid or Dr Axe’s Top 15 for more) including beets, broccoli, blueberries, salmon, chia and flaxseeds (backed up by practising nutritionist Caroline Trickey in that Good Food article I mentioned earlier). All things I love and make a lot of my recipes with. 

If you want a hit of those anti-inflammatory leafy allium vegetables try this omlettata

If you want a hit of those anti-inflammatory leafy allium vegetables try this omlettata

Doing this blog post makes me feel even more passionately about a good diet and the major effects it can have on your health.  If inflammation is the cause of many diseases and inflammation can start in the gut, is there a better reason to try to cut down on ingredients that may cause this damage? 

Oh and fancy a Brucey Bonus? Surprise surprise, Dr Axe also points out that whilst it might not have been the main intention when eating anti-inflammatory foods – this sort of diet also helps people lose weight. And losing weight helps reduce inflammation by lowering the amount of excess fatty acid in the blood. It’s like one big happy cycle! I hope I’ve convinced you to get on board?

If so you should try some of these recipes here on The Flourishing Pantry packed with anti-inflammatory promoting ingredients:

For acai try my acai smoothie bowl
For leafy greens and broccoli whip up an omlettata
For sprouts get making my roasted brussels sprouts quinoa
For chia try a chia pudding with granola for breakfast.

Chia for breakfast anyone? 

Chia for breakfast anyone?