If you are living with chronic pain – I’m willing to bet you’ve heard about the anti-inflammatory diet. But what is an anti-inflammatory diet? Low-carb? High-fat? Fish on Friday? There are a huge variety of diets claiming to be anti-inflammatory. You might have even tried an anti-inflammatory diet but… Do anti-inflammatory diets work?
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is not necessarily bad. You need inflammation to protect & heal your body. It is your body’s natural defence against bacteria, viruses & damaged cells. There are two types of inflammation – acute inflammation & chronic inflammation.
A typical response we all recognise, is the redness, swelling, heat & weeping you get with a grazed knee. This reaction is your body working to prevent infection. Your body produces more white blood cells, immune cells & signalling cells. This mini army heads to the injured area to fight the germy invaders & start the rebuilding process. Another example is the watery, itchy eyes & sneezing we get in hay fever season. Your body is creating inflammation in the area to fight the pollen intruders. Acute inflammation is very effective at preventing infection. It starts quickly & disappears in a few days.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can last for months or even years. It usually occurs inside the body with no noticeable symptoms. Many diseases are linked to chronic inflammation including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Heart disease
- Fatty liver
What causes chronic inflammation?
Chronic inflammation is the result of an overactive immune system. Your body, mind & social-wellbeing can all kick your immune system into overdrive. Triggers include:
There are scary examples of toxins creating inflammatory diseases. Aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in many diet soft drinks has been found to cause fibromyalgia. Pesticides have also been found to cause rheumatoid arthritis in some people. These environmental or dietary toxins can build up in your body, triggering your immune system & keeping it highly active.
Do Anti-inflammatory diets work?
One of the simplest ways to calm an overly sensitive immune system & reduce inflammation is through what you eat. It is common sense – reduce the number of triggers for your immune system -reduce your inflammation. Sadly, there is no such thing as THE anti-inflammatory diet. As with most things in health – there is no one size fits all solution. You might find after eating dairy you have a painful flare-up. Yet for the person sitting next to you can eat cheese until the cows come home – no problem whatsoever (pardon the pun). Most experts point to the ‘Mediterranean diet’ as being the best for reduced inflammation, weight loss & general health benefits. “Does that mean I can eat masses of pasta, salami & garlic bread?” Unfortunately not, the Mediterranean diet of the nutritional world is heavy on vegetables, whole grains & fish. There are also several key foods that are known to trigger inflammation. It would be best to avoid them altogether.
5 Foods that Trigger Inflammation
Certain foods are known to trigger inflammation, especially if eaten on a regular basis.
Sugary soft drink & added sugars
High-fructose corn syrup (common in soft-drink) & sucrose (table sugar) are the main types of sugar added to the diet. Both of these added sugars are high in fructose. The small amount of fructose in fruits & vegetables is OK but you should avoid getting large amounts from added sugars. These added sugars increase harmful inflammation & lead to disease. People with a high-fructose intake were found to have increased inflammatory markers. Fructose has also been found to cause inflammation in the cells that line your blood cells. The inflammatory response of mice fed high sucrose diets was linked to developing breast cancer that spread to their lungs. Another reason to avoid added sugars is that they can reduce the anti-inflammatory effect of foods that are high in Omega-3.
White bread, white pasta & biscuits
Refined carbohydrates such as white bread or white pasta have been linked to increased levels of inflammation. Whole grains should replace refined grains, as they are important sources of vitamins and minerals. Tasty & delicious – sourdough rye is fermented, making it easier for your body to break down & access the nutrients. Keep in mind that although grains are good for most of us – many contain gluten which can be an inflammatory trigger for some people. Pay attention to how you feel after that slice of wholegrain toast to see if gluten is a trigger for you.
I imagine you have heard about trans fats. They have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity & inflammation. Trans fats are common in some margarines, deep-fried foods, coffee-creamers & baked goods like cakes, pastries & biscuits. Avoid anything with “partially hydrogenised” on the label.
Fried foods are not healthy just because they are fried in vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is high in Omega-6 which we need – but only in limited amounts. Omega-6 has a pro-inflammatory effect in our bodies. We need a balance between Omega-3 & Omega-6 oils but most modern diets are too high in Omega-6. This leads to – you guessed it – increased inflammation.
Processed meat & full-fat dairy
Processed meat like sausages & burgers is high in saturated fats. As we all know, too much saturated fat is bad for your heart, waistline & causes inflammation. Saturated fats are also found in high quantities in full-fat dairy. Opt for lean cuts of meat & low-fat dairy options.
14 Anti-Inflammatory Foods
The following foods are proven to have anti-inflammatory properties:
- Dark Chocolate
- Oily Fish (Salmon, sardines, tuna)
- Dark purple fruit (blueberries, grapes, cherries)
- Cruciferous vegetables (sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower)
- Beans & legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils)
- Coconut oil
- Green tea
- Red wine (1-2 glasses a day)
Yet all the experts agree, instead of fixating on one ‘superfood’ to eat or one ‘trigger’ to avoid… The anti-inflammatory diet is a lifestyle change – not a short-term solution. So how do you know if your diet is anti-inflammatory? You want to see a rainbow of fresh produce in your shopping trolley when you look at your groceries for the week. The vibrant colours in fruits & vegetables are usually caused by unique vitamins & minerals. The wider the variety of colour – the wider the variety of nutritional goodness.
Stick with it
Unlike pain medication, it can take days or even weeks to feel the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet.
Don’t give up! Shaking off the bad habits & embracing the good is difficult for everyone – but it is possible. If you would like some advice on how to make a positive lifestyle change you might like these tips. We often don’t notice small incremental improvements so keep a journal to track changes in your symptoms. Exercise can also enhance the positive effects of the anti-inflammatory diet so if you would like some advice on getting more active check this out. Although an anti-inflammatory diet is not a ‘quick fix’ the benefits are enormous.
If you are wondering “do anti-inflammatory diets work?” – you first need to know what inflammation is. Inflammation is your body’s way of trying to protect you from infection. Acute inflammation plays a vital role in keeping you healthy. Unfortunately, inflammation can get out of control & become chronic. We now know that chronic inflammation is linked to a number of health conditions including arthritis, fibromyalgia, heart disease & diabetes. There are a huge number of diets claiming to be anti-inflammatory but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The anti-inflammatory diet that works for you may not work for your neighbour. The best advice is to eat a large variety of fresh fruit & vegetables, oily fish, lean proteins & whole grains. Aim to eat the rainbow. You should also avoid processed foods that are high in potential triggers. Steer clear of added sugars like fructose, refined carbohydrates, trans-fats & excess saturated fats. It might not be a quick fix but the health benefits of adopting an anti-inflammatory diet are enormous. They go far beyond reducing inflammation. So “do anti-inflammatory diets work?” The answer is a resounding “yes” you just need to work out what works for you.
Did an anti-inflammatory diet work for you?