Harness the power of food as a means to reducing inflammation in the body
Inflammation occurs when the body needs to heal – it’s the immune system responding to an injury or defending it against viruses or bacteria, but it can also be part of something more systemic.
When inflammation occurs white blood cells and the chemicals they produce flock to the injured area of the body to heal it. But there are two types of inflammation, one more short-term and reflective of the body trying to cure itself, the other chronic that can be extremely detrimental on health in the long-term.
Acute inflammation usually occurs when the body is injured. The effects, which can include swelling, pain and redness, usually subside after a few days once the body has healed itself.
Chronic or systemic inflammation, is long-term and is common in chronic and autoimmune diseases. It can be caused by bad habits or environmental influences, which can include an unhealthy diet, particularly one leading to obesity, lack of exercise, stress, smoking and pollution, to name a few. The symptoms are often not easily directly attributable to inflammation but heart disease, diabetes, lung issues, depression, cancer, anger disorders and skin issues have all been linked to chronic inflammation.
A carefully considered nutrition plan can, however, work wonders, particularly when anti-inflammatory foods are incorporated, the majority of which are healthy foods anyway regardless of the hard evidence promoting the efficacy of anti-inflammatory diets.
Like most healthy diets, the anti-inflammatory diet involves eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy fats, incorporating small portions of nuts, reducing red meat consumption and even having a glass of red wine once in a while.
The best anti-inflammatory diets to follow are the Mediterranean or predominantly vegetarian diets. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale contain sulforaphane, an anti-cancer compound thought to inactivate the key inducer of inflammation while also encouraging enzymes that lower inflammation.
Quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant found in a range of fruit and vegetables, particularly red, green and purple-coloured plants, is another substance to incorporate into an anti-inflammatory diet as it can inhibit inflammatory pathways and functions and neutralise cancer-causing free radicals. It’s found in apples, peppers, dark cherries and berries, green vegetables, cranberries and asparagus, to name a few. Lycopene, too, has a combative effect on free radicals and work as an antioxidant. It’s found in watermelon, tomato, papaya, grapefruit, guava, mango, carrots and red cabbage.
When consuming fats, the focus should be on healthy ones, such as those found in olive oil and hemp oil. Reduce red meat consumption, instead focusing on plant-based proteins. And look to foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids –which can help to prevent inflammation. Walnuts contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, while avocadoes contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as phytosterols, carotenoid antioxidants, and polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols, all of which help in the fight against inflammation.
It is important to get enough fibre in your diet. Avoid refined flour, and focus on whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat. This fibre can help feed beneficial gut bacteria associated with lower levels of inflammation. This is also why fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut are recommended from their probiotic effect.
Herbs and spices, too, can be anti-inflammatory. Try incorporating fresh oregano, rosemary, ginger, cayenne, cloves and nutmeg into your diet, all of which have been shown in studies to inhibit inflammation. Turmeric is considered particularly potent for the anti-inflammatory curcumin it contains.
It’s not all about what you should eat, but as much about what you shouldn’t. Foods can be directly inflammatory, and it’s best to avoid the oils found in fried foods, dairy, sugar, artificial sweeteners and additives and processed foods in general.
These simple dietary guidelines are as much preventative as they are a means to reducing and combating chronic inflammation, and the results of following an anti-inflammatory diet will be beneficial in both the short and longer term.
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