Why an anti-inflammatory approach is the best diet for all of us
Another day, another diet and yet many of us getting fatter and experience the daily impact of our frames carrying too much weight via chronic pain, high blood pressure and cholesterol, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes just to name a few. Yet so many of us remain uncommitted when it comes to long term lifestyle change. While any amount of weight loss will generally impact inflammatory conditions favourably, few if any strict weight loss regimes are sustainable. It is for this reason that a general anti-inflammatory dietary approach is a good diet for all of us to follow. Not only is it easy, but long term the nutrient profile of this approach is favourable for both weight control and managing the cellular impact that a Western diet imposes on our cells as we age.
So here is everything you need to know about an anti-inflammatory diet and the easy steps you can take to applying it in your own diet, every day.
The term inflammation refers to a natural response by the body that occurs when there is injury or damage to the body’s cells. When this damage is detected, there is increased blood flow to the area or organ that is damaged at a cellular level and the production of various molecules that have the job of repairing tissue an eliminate toxins causing the damage. Inflammation can be experienced as a result of general immune responses repairing cells on a daily basis as well as a result of chronic disease conditions including heart disease, fatty liver and Type 2 diabetes, in which the body is constantly trying to mediate the damage often caused by the hormonal response to an excessive calorie consumption and the overweight and obesity that eventually results.
There are a number of blood markers of inflammation including elevated cytokines, chemokines and leucocytes which medical experts may use to identify and help diagnose both low grade and symmetric inflammation in the body. While used diagnostically, the ideal goal for patients is to ultimately reduce the causes of inflammation in an attempt to stop the body from attacking itself and ultimately causing further disease and long term organ failure.
It has been known for some time that our diet, or specifically the balance of key nutrients in our diets can play a key role in preventing and managing the levels of inflammation in the body. Specifically it is the general shift towards more processed foods, and a greater intake of the types of fat that can promote inflammatory pathways that is hypothesised as one of the key reasons inflammatory conditions such as fatty liver and Type 2 diabetes has risen so dramatically in recent years.
So while there are few clinical trials that have specifically investigated an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diets and its effects on chronic disease conditions, here are the core aspects of a diet that will support the body’s natural immune function and help it to flight inflammation on a daily basis.
1. Get your fat balance right
Some types of fat increase inflammation in the body, while others actively reduce it and the key to getting the right balance of fat in modern diets is to choose the right mix of foods rich in fat every single day. From a numbers perspective this means getting your balance of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats into a 1:1:1 ratio or between 20-30g of each of these fats each day. To achieve this ratio in food terms an adult will need 3-4 serves of omega 3 rich food such as oily fish, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed and chia every single day. In addition, 2-3 serves of monounsaturated fat via avocado, almonds and olive oil will help to balance out these ratios. And most importantly we need to keep our intake of saturated fat from meat, dairy and coconut products relatively low with just 2-3 serves at most in addition to eliminating as much processed vegetable oils as is possible. Many of us fail to get this balance right as we do not eat enough oily fish and by overdoing the coconut products and fatty meat. As such supplementing your diet with fish oil does have merit. Most importantly, it is the elimination of processed fast and baked foods such as fried meal deals, cakes, pastries and snack foods that will get your own fat balance in the right ratios on a daily basis.
2. Load up on fruits and vegetables
The brighter the colour of the fresh fruit or vegetable, the higher the antioxidant content and the more antioxidants we consume naturally as part of our daily diet, the better it is for the health of our cells long term. Countries with the longest lifespan and the lowest prevalence of chronic disease are known to consume 7-10 serves of antioxidant rich fresh fruits and vegetables every single day. Carotenoids found in brightly colored orange and red vegetables and lutein and zeaxanthin found again in carrots and capsicums as well as in salmon and egg yolks are two specific antioxidant rich compounds linked to lower inflammatory markers in the blood. To up your intake of all of these molecules we are talking much more fresh fruit and vegetables than you are most likely consuming for example, a vegetable juice with your breakfast; a large salad or serve of vegetables at lunchtime as well as ½ a plate or bowl of vegetables at night as well as a couple of pieces of fruit every single day. And don’t forget the nutrition in your salad and vegetables will be better absorbed if enjoyed with extra virgin olive oil, another food that is exceptionally high in natural antioxidants.
3. Don’t forget the leafy greens
Independent studies which have started to examine the dietary links to lower levels of inflammation have identified that magnesium intake, the element found naturally in least green vegetables, nuts and legumes such as kidney beans and chic peas. This finding again supports the intake of more brightly coloured fresh fruit and vegetables each day but also the intake of nuts on a regular basis.
4. Cut the sugars and refined carbs
Of all the evidence out there about carbohydrate intake, the primary finding is a link between the glycaemic load of the diet and chronic inflammatory conditions including Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Thanks to a relatively high intake of refined flour and white rice as well as sugar rich foods such as juices, soft drinks, fruit yoghurts and snack bars, most of us will have a daily diet with a higher glycaemic load than is ideal to reduce inflammation. One of the easiest ways to reduce glycaemic load is to focus your diet less on heavy carb foods such as white bread, rice, pasta and sweet snacks and instead shift your focus to lean proteins such as fish, eggs, lean meat and chicken and plenty of vegetables. Then add small portions of good quality carbs such as legumes, grain bread and starchy vegetables to your meals. The other key part of getting the right mix of carbs in your diet is to get serious about sugar. Liquid sources of concentrated sugars including juices and soft drinks should be eliminated entirely as liquid sugars store fat in the liver more readily than other types of carbohydrate and are closely linked to increased inflammation in the body. Sugary treats such as cakes, muffins, chocolates and confectionery should also be consumed as infrequently as possible.
5. Drink more tea
While dark chocolate and red wine are often linked to anti-inflammatory diets thanks to their relatively high flavonoid content, the truth is that there is limited evidence to show an overall benefit to inflammatory markets at this stage. On the other hand, tea, both and black and green tea is linked to reduced inflammatory markets in several studies. For this reason, swapping some of your hot drinks for plain black or green tea is likely to support a specific anti-inflammatory approach to diet.