What is inflammation and how can the foods that we eat affect it?
Inflammation is a natural process that occurs as part of the immune’s system response to removing foreign substances from the body. When the body feels threatened by a substance that it is not sure of, it will mount up a response to remove it, and as a consequence we undergo a process of inflammation. The process is useful to get rid of bacteria, viruses, or to heal damaged tissue. However, if the body keeps sending inflammatory cells when there is no outside danger, we can develop a process or chronic inflammation, a process that can be behind many chronic diseases and manifest as obesity, rashes, allergies, body pain, insomnia, anxiety, frequent infections and gastrointestinal complications.
In order to help yourself and allow the body’s responses to ‘calm down’ you can adopt healthy lifestyle habits and follow an anti-inflammatory diet, by including the types of foods that naturally help the body manage inflammation and help you reduce the risk of long term damage.
Alkaline foods and anti-inflammatory foods
There are plenty of foods which naturally have anti-inflammatory properties, and one of the first things you would want to consider is how important alkaline foods can be. Our body’s pH should sit around 7.4, which means it is slightly alkaline. The foods that we eat can affect our internal pH and avoiding acidic forming foods is a way of supporting a healthier inflammatory response.
To naturally help maintain a balanced pH, we need to introduce plenty of plant-based foods, because they will help us improve the balance potassium to sodium, which is needed to support the body’s pH. Most fruits and vegetables are alkaline, and that means they can help us reduce the risk of certain health problems related to inflammation, such as osteoporosis, allergies, cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Aim to consume plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and unprocessed plant-based sources of protein, which are the foods that promote alkalinity the most. Include mushrooms, citrus fruits, dates, raisins, spinach, grapefruit, tomatoes, avocado, alfalfa grass, barley grass, cucumber, kale, wheatgrass, broccoli, oregano, garlic, ginger, turmeric green beans, endives, cabbage, celery, beetroot, watermelon, figs and ripe bananas.
And since cooking foods can deplete some of the alkalising minerals in them, it is good to increase the amount of raw vegetables in your diet, you can try juicing and also lightly steaming as a way to preserve their goodness. You may also include sprouts and seeds to top up your salads and make green drinks from green vegetables to which you can add green powders from wheatgrass, barley grass or spirulina. Watch your skin start to glow!!
We tend to eat on the go, and grab ready-made meals as a way to save us having to prep food but this may not be ideal when we need to introduce more anti-inflammatory foods, which will require us to move away from processed and packaged foods, as they often contain high levels of refined carbohydrates , unhealthy fats and other inflammatory ingredients; and primarily base our diet on plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, little red meat and an abundance of omega-3 rich foods. These can help us regulate our immune system and lower the impact that inflammation has on our health.
Some of your best anti-inflammatory staples are –
- Green leafy vegetables- which are really high in vitamin A and C and have great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity.
- Broccoli- this hero vegetable appears on every healthy food list, as it is an antioxidant powerhouse that contains key vitamins, potassium and magnesium to help battle inflammation.
- Blueberries – very rich in quercetin, an antioxidant with particularly strong anti-inflammatory capacity. Quercetin is also found in citrus fruits, onions, buckwheat and olive oil.
- Walnuts – excellent source of alpha-linoleic acid, the plant-based omega 3 fatty acid.
- Turmeric – the primary compound of turmeric is curcumin, well documented for its effects against inflammation. Its benefits are invaluable in an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Salmon - an excellent source of essential fatty acids and considered one of the best omega-3 foods. Omega-3s are some of the most potent anti-inflammatory substances.
- Ginger – can contribute to reduce swelling and joint pain caused by overactive immune responses and benefit those with allergic conditions.
- Garlic – research shows that garlic has anti-inflammatory properties by lowering the body’s inflammatory reactions.
How to reduce inflammation
Focusing on colourful foods that are rich in antioxidants, avoiding processed foods, refined sugars, excess alcohol and saturated fats. Eating more fruits and vegetables and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Some of the best sources of omega-3s are cold water fish, such as salmon and tuna, and tofu, walnuts, flax seeds and soybeans. Some spices like rosemary, turmeric and ginger also have great anti-inflammatory capacity.
Cut back, or completely eliminate anything with trans fats, such as margarine, corn oil, deep fried foods and most processed foods. Limit or avoid white refined flours, rice and pasta, as well as food made with sugar and flour. Build meals around lean protein and whole foods high in fibre, such as vegetables, fruits and wholegrains.
Take up regular exercise to promote circulation and reduce stress levels. Exercise is an excellent way to prevent inflammation. Make time for 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise and 10-25 minutes of resistance training at least 4 times per week to reap the benefits.
Manage stress, as chronic stress activates our cortisol response, lowers our immune capacity and is a great contributor to inflammation. Simple walks in nature, yoga, meditation, or engaging in any activity that gives you joy are all good ways of releasing our happy hormones that counteract the stress response.
And don’t forget to sleep! During sleep time our blood vessels relax and blood pressure drops. When sleep is restricted we don’t allow for blood pressure to decline as it should and the body continues to be in a state of ‘alarm’ or stress.
Stay hydrated, as drinking enough water can help flush out toxins from the body and reduce inflammation.
Reduce alcohol and tobacco consumption, known to trigger inflammation, and hinder the body’s ability to get rid of toxins.
Consider supplements - Certain supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, and ginger have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects. Supplements can boost your intake and make up for the insufficient amounts of these powerful anti-inflammatory compounds we may be having in our diet.
Inflammation is a natural response of the body's immune system, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to serious health problems. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet that includes plenty of plant-based foods, omega-3 rich foods, and antioxidants, along with regular exercise and stress management, can help reduce inflammation and improve overall health. Small changes in our diet and lifestyle, combined with the right supplement, can make a big difference in the body's inflammatory response.
Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Elson M.Haas
The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods. Dr. Michael Murray and Dr. Joseph Pizzorno
The Cleveland Clinic – Inflammation, possible causes, care and treatment.
Curcumin, inflammation and chronic diseases: how are they linked? (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26007179/)
Sureda A, Bibiloni MDM, Julibert A, et al. Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet and Inflammatory Markers. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793290/)
Effect of Dietary Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986486/)
Chronic Inflammation - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/