Why the anti-inflammatory diet is so important today

Inflammation is often described as being both a ‘friend and foe’. This simply means that it’s necessary, but can be harmful.  

Acute inflammation is your body’s first response to injury, and allows the delivery of plasma and white blood cells to tissues in need of repair.

However, chronic inflammation occurs when this process goes on for longer than it should. The immune system thinks that it is still under attack, so it continues producing white blood cells and chemical messengers. This can be extremely damaging to healthy tissues and organs. 

Low-grade chronic inflammation is a serious and harmful process implicated in a wide range of chronic conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, endometriosis, and more. An increased level of the proinflammatory cytokine  interleukin 1 (IL-1) has been found in people with coronary heart disease, and arthritis, as well as the autoimmune conditions Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and lupus erythematosus. High levels of proinflammatory leukotriene LTB(4), which is produced by omega-6 fatty acids, is also often present.

The risk of chronic inflammation is even greater in people with a higher proportion of visceral fat cells. Higher amounts of fat – along with eating a high-fat diet – can lead to the proliferation and activation of immune cells in major parts of the body. In other words, the longer you are overweight, the higher your risk of remaining in a state of inflammation.

Reducing chronic inflammation is a must. That’s where the anti-inflammatory diet may be of enormous benefit to all of us. 

Dietary inflammatory factors

There has been a major increase in autoimmune diseases in recent decades, particularly in Western societies. Some of the major causes of this increase is believed to be diet – particularly the excessive intake of fat, cholesterol, animal protein, sugar, and salt, as well as regularly eating processed and ‘fast foods’. 

Endometriosis has also been linked to inflammatory factors in the diet.. A study involving 3,800 women suggested that certain food groups – particularly red meat – can play a major role in promoting endometriosis risk

Much of this has to do with gut health. It’s been shown that intestinal microbiota, the gut mucosal immune system, and autoimmune pathology are all linked. We are what we eat, and our gut health is directly connected to your autoimmune system

The gut microbiota may also be involved in the pathogenesis of endometriosis, with research showing that the gut influences signaling molecules that set off inflammatory, immune and proliferative pathways.

Fortunately, these inflammatory factors can be managed through diet – simply by eating foods that mitigate the inflammatory process,  and help to heal a damaged gut.

What is the anti-inflammatory diet?

Many foods and nutrients can help to reduce or modulate chronic inflammation. Adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet has been found to help bring down levels of certain inflammatory markers, including an important substance called C-reactive protein.

One of the most-researched examples of an anti-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet. 

This is primarily a plant-based diet with low amounts of meats and dairy products, apart from oily fish and some poultry. Instead, the diet focuses on green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, brightly-coloured fresh fruits, and some whole grains.

Healthy fats are especially important to reducing inflammation. Numerous studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids harbour powerful anti-inflammatory properties that are useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The Mediterranean region is a major producer of olive oil, and it makes up much of their daily diet.  Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat containing a valuable Omega-3 essential acid called alpha-linoleic acid. This may help protect the cardiovascular system and reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, the reduction of cardiovascular risk factors is believed to explain the lower rates of chronic disease in those who adhere to the Mediterranean diet. 

Even better than olive oil is fish oil, or fatty fish. Fish contains the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) which have the most potent immunomodulatory activities. PUFA from fish is rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are even more powerful than alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In fact, many clinical trials have assessed the benefits of dietary fish oils in treating inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and lupus erythematosus.

Treating and preventing endometriosis should also involve an anti-inflammatory diet. Replacing red meat with fish, shellfish, or eggs has  been shown to lower the risk of developing endometriosis. Women with the highest red meat consumption tend to have a greater risk for endometriosis, and are also more likely to be overweight or obese.

What does the anti-inflammatory diet involve?

Quite simply, the anti-inflammatory diet is high in antioxidants and oily fats, and low in sugar and poor-quality fats. 

A major review of the Mediterranean diet suggested that the quantities of each food group and specific nutrients include:

  • Three to nine servings of vegetables
  • One-half to two servings of fruit
  • One to 13 servings of grains/cereals
  • Up to eight servings of olive oil daily
  • Red wine daily in moderation

These recommendations include 37% as total fat, 18% as monounsaturated with 9% as saturated, and 33g of fibre per day.

Specific anti-inflammatory foods include: 

  • Dark leafy greens: spinach, kale, spinach, collard greens
  • Broccoli
  • Berries: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
  • Cherries
  • Artichokes
  • Avocados
  • Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts
  • Beans
  • Gluten-free whole grains: oats, brown rice
  • Oily fish: sardines, salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies
  • Flaxseed
  • Walnuts
  • Herbs: Ginger, turmeric, garlic 

It’s also essential to avoid foods that CAUSE inflammation. These include:

  • Refined sugar
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Trans-fats
  • Omega 6 fatty acids
  • Processed foods and meat
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Food dyes

 

Want to know more about managing your own health issues through diet? I’m a qualified online nutritionist and naturopath, and one of my main areas is in providing dietary analysis. I’ve worked with many clients who have struggled with autoimmune diseases or other inflammatory conditions, and I’ve helped them achieve better health simply by making some healthy changes to their diet. 

Contact me here if you’re ready to get your own health back on track.