Some of the food that is widely consumed in our society today can have a harmful effect on the body by contributing to inflammation. This was the subject of a report published in Nature Medicine in 2019, which noted that some foods, such as refined sugars and ultra-processed convenience foods can actually change the bacteria balance in the gut, which can damage the gut lining and switch on pro-inflammatory genes in the cells.
These pro-inflammatory foods include red meat, refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks and processed foods. Inflammation is something that we want to avoid to the greatest extent since several major diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer's disease have been linked to chronic inflammation.
However, there are also anti-inflammatory foods that can help prevent inflammation and these foods are all part of the anti-inflammatory diet. With this diet, you can help to prevent inflammation by making healthy food choices.
What is the Anti-inflammatory Diet?
The anti-inflammatory diet is a style of eating to actively prevent inflammation and the effect of such a diet has been proven by several studies. A systematic review published in the journal BMC in March 2021 noted that an anti-inflammatory diet was associated with lower inflammation in general among an adult population.
Perhaps understandably, the two key guidelines of the anti-inflammatory diet are to focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods and to avoid eating pro-inflammatory foods.
Anti-inflammatory foods include unprocessed, plant-based foods that are rich in healthy fats. You might have heard of the Mediterranean Diet which is considered an anti-inflammatory diet and includes foods such as fish, healthy oils, and nuts.
Here’s some examples of anti-inflammatory foods:
- Vegetables including spinach, kale and tomatoes
- Legumes, for example beans, peas and lentils
- Fruits including strawberries, blueberries and oranges
- Certain nuts including almonds and walnuts
- Fatty fish, for example salmon and tuna
- Healthy oils such as olive oil and coconut oil
- Whole grains including bulgur wheat, oats and quinoa
The pro-inflammatory foods that you should avoid include the following:
- Sugary drinks
- Refined, white carbohydrates (as opposed to the brown, wholewheat versions)
- Processed meat including red meat and sausages and burgers etc
- Trans fats
Benefits of the Anti-inflammatory Diet
Inflammation is a natural and vital process that occurs in the body and supports the immune system to protect us from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. However, it can be dangerous when this inflammation persists and develops into chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is thought to be one of the root causes for the development of many diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Instead of combating inflammation with pharmaceuticals, it might be much more efficient to prevent chronic inflammation with anti-inflammatory foods.
By choosing the right anti-inflammatory foods, like the ones we’ve mentioned above, you can give your body the ability to fight inflammation and thereby prevent the risk of developing several diseases.
The reason anti-inflammatory foods help to prevent inflammation is that these foods contain antioxidants that can reduce the levels of free radicals in the body. If the levels of free radicals are too high, they can cause inflammation and damage to the body.
The importance of antioxidants was discussed in an article published in the journal Biomolecules in 2018, in which the authors concluded that to minimise adverse effects of free radicals, it’s important to follow a balanced and varied diet which includes grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Anti-inflammatory foods also contain polyphenols, which are protective compounds found in plants.
As well as reducing inflammation, the anti-inflammatory diet also has other beneficial effects on the body including enhanced mental and emotional health. Furthermore, switching to an anti-inflammatory diet can reduce the risk of obesity since this diet means avoiding foods such as refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats, which are associated with an increased risk of weight gain.
Why you Should Switch to an Anti-inflammatory Diet and How to Do It
Anti-inflammatory foods are packed with antioxidants and polyphenols, which can prevent inflammation. Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory diet means avoiding processed foods that have pro-inflammatory effects on your body. By switching to an anti-inflammatory diet, you’re giving your body the best chance to prevent chronic inflammation and this diet can also give you enhanced mental and emotional health!
So, how do you switch to an anti-inflammatory diet? Here’s some practical tips that can help you make anti-inflammatory food choices:
- Make a slow transition to the anti-inflammatory diet by slowly including more colourful vegetables and greens into your diet to progressively make these changes become more of a lifestyle, rather than a strict diet.
- Eat the rainbow! Fill your shopping basket with fruits and vegetables that together comprise the colours of the rainbow and be sure to also include whole grains and legumes.
- Start the journey to an anti-inflammatory diet together with a friend or a partner. That way, you can motivate each other and maybe even share recipes.
- If you feel more comfortable following a particular diet, you can follow the Mediterranean diet, which is considered an anti-inflammatory diet.
Hart, M. J., Torres, S. J., McNaughton, S. A., & Milte, C. M. (2021). Dietary patterns and associations with biomarkers of inflammation in adults: a systematic review of observational studies. Nutrition journal, 20(1), 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-021-00674-9
Salehi, B., Martorell, M., Arbiser, J. L., Sureda, A., Martins, N., Maurya, P. K., Sharifi-Rad, M., Kumar, P., & Sharifi-Rad, J. (2018). Antioxidants: Positive or Negative Actors?. Biomolecules, 8(4), 124. https://doi.org/10.3390/biom8040124