With so many anti-inflammatory medications, supplements and dietary protocols out there, most of us are led to think that inflammation is all bad news. However, it’s important to remember that inflammation in the body is actually a completely healthy and normal immune response to things like infection, physical trauma, stress or harmful toxins or pathogens. For example, the heat, redness and swelling you might see around a cut or a graze, is a sign that the body is sending helpers like white blood cells and nutrients to the site to help protect the body from infection and assist with the healing process. In acute instances like these, inflammation is a friend to the body and is very much needed.
However, when the inflammation is chronic (long standing and continuous), this is when it starts to become harmful to the body. Chronic inflammation can occur externally as skin conditions or internally in our joints, organs, nerves or arteries.
Chronic inflammation can impact greatly on your health and wellbeing, and left untreated can cause long term and sometimes even irreversible damage. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to anti-inflammatory medications and supplements, but it’s also good to know that diet plays a large role in reducing inflammation too.
Below I share some of my favourite anti-inflammatory foods and how they work to help protect and repair your body, and the foods to avoid that can cause further inflammation.
Essential Fatty Acids / Omega 3
The human body can make a lot of it’s own nutrients, including some fats. however, Omega 3 is called an Essential Fatty Acid as it cannot be made in the body, and needs to be sourced from the foods we eat. Omega 3 is required for so many different roles in the body, ranging from hormone production, to contraction and relaxation of blood vessels, to healthy cognitive and mental function and has been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body.
Sources of EFA Omega 3: Salmon (choose wild caught fish, never farmed), flaxseed and flaxseed oil, nuts (in particular walnuts), chia seeds, hemp seeds and hemp oil and animal fats (choose organic and grassfed).
Antioxidants as Anti-Inflammatories
When there is an abundance of free radicals in the body, this causes oxidative stress, which in turn can be the start of many health problems, one of them being chronic inflammation. Luckily, the antioxidants found occurring in the following various fruits and vegetables can help to fight these harmful free radicals and reduce inflammation.
- Dark, leafy green veg: spinach, kale, silverbeet, collards, rocket
- Berries: blueberries, blackberries, acai berry
- Spices: ginger, garlic, onion and turmeric
With fruits and vegetables, it’s always best to go organic and seasonal when possible, this ensures the nutrient content of the produce is at it’s highest and there’s no pesticides or harmful farming chemicals that can cause further health problems. Farmers Markets are great places to get cheap, in season organic produce, otherwise there are also great organic delivery companies too that can send out a box of fresh produce to you each week if you can’t get to the market.
I touched briefly on Turmeric in the previous segment, but this powerful spice deserves it’s own section. It looks like a smaller version of ginger, and instead of being yellow inside, it’s a beautiful, bright orange.
Turmeric has been used in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for hundreds of years to support the immune system, and help various health issues from digestion through to skin conditions. What makes it so powerful is a compound in it called Curcumin, that has been to help reduce inflammation.
Fresh turmeric can be bought at most Farmer’s Markets and good supermarkets, and can be used in the same way you would fresh ginger. Add it your soups, stir fries, curries and even add fresh slices of it to some hot water for a therapeutic tea.
For a more convenient option, you can also get powdered Turmeric, and this can be added to smoothies, bliss balls, oats, savoury muffins/bread mixes or stirred into hot almond or coconut milk, with cinnamon, ginger and a little honey for a warming Turmeric latte.
Olive Oil / Oleocanthal
Saving the best for last, Olive Oil is full of beneficial compounds, but the most important one here is Oleocanthal. Oleocanthal has been shown in various studies to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The most incredible part of this is, it mimics the same actions as the popular NSAID (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) Ibuprofen by using the same pathways and mechanisms to inhibit the inflammatory response. Although the potency is less than Ibuprofen, it also doesn’t come with the same long list of side effects!
When choosing an oil, ensure that it’s a good quality cold pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil from a reputable brand, stored in a glass jar that hasn’t been exposed to a lot of heat/sunlight. To get the most from your Extra Virgin Olive Oil, have it either cold, drizzled over your salads or vegetables, or warmed slightly. No high heat for this oil!
When trying to reduce long-term, chronic inflammatory conditions, it’s important to reduce any dietary triggers that are known to cause inflammation in many people. These are:
- Refined sugar and processed junk food (see our Sugar Detox meal plan HERE!)
Other things to consider are wheat, gluten and dairy. Though these can be tolerated well by many healthy people, for those with chronic inflammation these can exacerbate the condition. When I’m treating clients for various inflammatory conditions, usually I will ask that they remove these temporarily to see how their body responds and more often than not, this not only helps reduce the inflammation, it also assists with overall health (digestive, skin, energy etc). Then we would slowly reintroduce these foods again once I feel they are ready. It’s also important to note that when it come to eliminating anything from your diet, it’s crucial to replace it with other nourishing foods to ensure you are still getting all the right nutrients. The best way to find out what is best for you nutritionally, speak to your health care practitioner or book in with a qualified Nutritionist so you can get a tailor made plan for yourself based on your specific needs.
By Laura Phongsavath
Holistic Nutritionist / pH Clinic Manager
Adv Dip. Nutritional Medicine