If you’ve heard buzz about inflammation, anti-inflammatory foods, and wondered what that actually means, you’re not alone. To help us find out more, we got in touch with registered dietitian, Suzie Cromwell from the Elaho Medical Clinic in Squamish. Here’s her scoop on the causes of inflammation, and the importance of anti-inflammatory foods for a healthy diet:
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to foreign invaders. It’s a protective mechanism, a natural defence where the immune system reacts to fight off an invading infection, irritant, or toxin. There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation is short-term, and a healthy response when fending off bacteria, viruses, parasites, or injury. Some typical symptoms are localized heat, redness, swelling, pain, and loss of function. This is short-term, typically lasts from a few days to weeks.
Chronic inflammation is a constant low-grade level of inflammation. It’s a result of exposure to environmental chemicals/toxins, high stress, a sedentary lifestyle, sleep deprivation, genetic factors, or a diet high in processed foods. Instead of the short-term, localized, site-specific area that the body fights in acute inflammation, chronic inflammation is a long, mild, whole-body grind. Chronic inflammation can play a role in multiple diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease (1,2,3).
Why are anti-inflammatory foods important?
Making adjustments to some basic lifestyle behaviours, such as sleep hygiene, stress management, reducing environmental contaminants, and consuming anti-inflammatory foods, help to reduce inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that following an anti-inflammatory diet that is high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, healthy oils, and fish, appears to reduce inflammation and the risk of inflammation-related diseases. It also supports a health body composition and promotes healthy intestinal flora.
These types of foods are high in fibre, provide a variety of antioxidants and phytonutrients from plant-based sources, are low in trans and saturated fats, have no added sugar – they are minimally processed foods. Managing and optimizing modifiable risk factors can reduce inflammation and cellular damage.
A diet that may suppress inflammation can include:
1. Whole grains and high fibre foods
Whole, high fibre grains breakdown slowly causing a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream, reducing the frequency of blood sugar spikes that promote inflammation. Fibre promotes gut bacteria diversity and a healthy intestinal environment which helps prevent inflammation. Choose 100% whole grain fibre rich foods such as: steel cut oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, and whole wheat (including pastas and breads). Include pulses like chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black and pinto beans to replace meat in pastas, tacos, soups and salads (4,5,6).
|SHOP BEANS + GRAINS|
2. Fruits and vegetables
Colourful fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, protective compounds that inhibit inflammation, and are found naturally in plants. Go for a wide range of colours and aim to include a serving with every meal and snack (7).
3. Healthy fats
Replace saturated and trans fats for healthier fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, salmon and olive oil. Choose foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids to help regulate inflammation in the body – low mercury fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and trout. If you can’t stand the taste of fish, consider fish-oil or microalgae supplements, which pack in a healthy dose of the good stuff without you having to endure that fishy taste. Consume plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids daily such as soy based foods, ground flax seed, flax oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and walnut oil (8,9).
4. Herbs and spices
Ginger and turmeric are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols and have been shown to fight inflammation. Many other herbs such as garlic, cayenne, parsley, mint, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, and cinnamon also contain anti-inflammatory properties (10).
What foods cause inflammation?
While the foods above may help inflammation, there are also foods that can encourage inflammation:
- Simple sugars like those found in soda, candy, and high fructose corn syrup;
- Processed foods/refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, and white flour products;
- Red meat including beef, pork and lamb and processed meat such as hot dogs, sausages and bacon. (11)
Diet is only one tool that can be used to manage inflammation – through lifestyle choices a combination of maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, stress management and good, high-quality sleep are the best ways to address chronic inflammation.
Suzie Cromwell is a Registered Dietitian now working part-time at Elaho Medical Clinic. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Health at UBC, and following her graduation she completed an extensive integrated internship with Fraser Health Authority at both Royal Columbian and Burnaby Hospitals. Suzie is registered with the College of Dietitians of British Columbia and is a member of Dietitians of Canada.
Her scope of expertise includes: healthy weight loss and maintenance, the prevention and management of various chronic diseases (including Diabetes, Kidney, and Cardiovascular disease), and the effective management of digestive issues (including IBS, IBD, and Celiac Disease); as well, she has a special interest in Sports Nutrition.
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