Inflammation is our body’s way of protecting us from infections or injury. There is lots of buzz about certain foods being pro- or anti-inflammatory. However, the reality is less straight forward than certain individual foods creating an inflammatory effect. Instead it is the combination of nutrients and our overall diet that can help.
Inflammation is actually a healthy response by our immune system. When we have a foreign attack by bacteria, viruses, or allergens enter out system, our immune cells act quickly. This could be sneeze or cough, pain and swelling at the site of injury, warmth or redness. None of this is negative. As healing takes place, inflammation gradually subsides.
Inflammation can become harmful when it is prolonged and begins to damage healthy cells, creating a pro-inflammatory state. Or when the body suffers from an autoimmune condition and starts to attach itself, for example rheumatoid arthrisit, lupus and coeliac disease. Or the body can undergo low level inflammation that over time can wear it down and lead to health issues.
Do single foods have an impact?
No single food will directly impact inflammation. Adding a “superfood” can feel like a good idea, for example adding a superfood powder to a glass of water. However this will have limited impact on inflammation compared to eating a more well-balanced diet. It is always important to remember there can be a marketing edge to promoting certain products and foods. There is no need to be splashing out on expensive products, instead a focus on more fruits, veggies, oily fish and wholegrains can be the answer. Adding in a sprinkle of turmeric or a cup of green tea isn’t going to result in an anti inflammatory state, often the evidence for these specific foods is either weak or you need large amounts for the impact (for tumeric this is 1 tsp a day).
Inflammation and food patterns
What has a greater impact is choosing more of an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern. One of the main examples that we have of this is the Mediterranean dietary pattern. Including a variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, unsaturated fats, oily fish, dark chocolate, and herbs and spices can all contribute towards this anti-inflammatory Mediterranean dietary approach.
These foods provide phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fibre that can help the body fight infection, inflammation and promote a healthy gut microbiome that also has an impact on inflammation.
Foods often listen as pro-inflammatory include processed red meat, more “refined” carbohydrates, fried foods, sugard drinks, excess alcohol and caffeine. Whilst we wouldn’t necessarily suggest having a diet based off of these foods, including a few of these in your day isn’t going to switch your body into a state of inflammation.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
Meal patterns such as the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet are often used as an example of an anti inflammatory diet. However, this doesn’t mean other cuisines can’t have the same benefit. Anti inflammatory meal patterns include a variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, oily fish and other unsaturated fats. Include these types of foods where you can, but don’t fear also including foods outside of this category. It is the bigger picture that makes the most difference. And as always, make sure that you enjoy your foods as well!