The healthy eating food pyramid is nothing new, but what about an anti-inflammatory version? Given the fact inflammation has been linked to all manner of unpleasant and even life-threatening ailments we enlisted the help of nutritionalist Shona Wilkinson to tell us what we should be eating to avoid or fight inflammation, starting from the bottom up.
What have sleep issues, acne, arthritis, gut problems and even heart disease all got in common? They’ve all been tied to inflammation of the body. But if you want to ward off the uncomfortable side affects and chronic illnesses that can come hand in hand with inflammation, then you might want to take a look at your diet.
We asked nutritionalist Shona Wilkinson to build an anti-inflammatory pyramid with the most beneficial foods at the bottom and the ones you should limit at the top. Here she explains what’s where and why!
At the base of the pyramid
- Broccoli – Broccoli is a great food to include in your diet as much as possible. Try to have some every day. The health benefits are partly due to its content of the antioxidant sulforaphane. Sulphoraphane reduces levels of cytokines which drive inflammation.
- Oily fish – Oily fish include fish such as mackerel, sardines, anchovies and salmon. Oily fish are a great source of the long chain Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Your body metabolises these fatty acids into compounds that help fight inflammation. Try to include oily fish in your diet 2-3 days a week.
- Turmeric – Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which shows anti-inflammatory properties. The curcumin is very difficult to absorb from turmeric though so supplementation is often recommended instead. Turmeric is fat soluble so if you are adding the spice to your diet, try eating it with some form of fat to help the absorption. Adding black pepper is also thought to help you get the best benefits.
- Berries – Berries contain anthocyanins. This is what gives berries their amazing red/purple colouring. As well as giving berries their beautiful colour, anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties.
- Dark Chocolate – dark chocolate contains flavanols. These flavanols help reduce inflammation. You must go for the dark chocolate though – look for at least 70% cocoa (the higher the better).
In the middle – eat in moderation
- Margarine – (transfer to butter instead) Omega 6 is an essential fatty acid. This means that our body doesn’t make it and we can only get it through our diet. Omega 6 containing foods are known to increase our body’s production of inflammatory chemicals. BUT we also need them to help with bone health and brain function as well as help regulate our metabolism. The problem is that we have too many of them. We should therefore reduce our intake of margarine and vegetable oils.
- Vegetable Oils – Avoid using these. Instead opt for oils such as extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil
- Nightshade vegetables – Nightshade vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and potatoes. Most people are absolutely fine with them but for some people they cause a problem with their immune system and cause inflammation. Consider cutting them out if you think they may be a problem.
- Dairy products – Dairy product can sometime lead to inflammation due to the fact that we aren’t very good at digesting it. Lactose and casein content in dairy products can cause inflammation for some people.
At the top – inflammatory foods to avoid
- Sugar – This is certainly the number one food to avoid as much as possible as far as inflammation is concerned. Ditch those biscuits, cakes and sweet drinks. Sugar increases levels of cytokines (which causes inflammation). It also suppresses our white blood cells effectiveness which weakens our immune system. This leaves us even more prone to inflammation. (And, it also causes wrinkles).
- Refined carbs – Refined carbs have bene heavily processed and stripped of many nutrients as well as their fibre content. This can lead to inflammation if eaten in excess. You will find refined grains in food such as white pasta. White bread, some cereals and pizza. Instead, always opt for the whole-wheat versions which still contain the nutrients and fibre.
- Alcohol – Drinking heavily can often lead to a condition known as leaky gut. This is when bacteria moves out of the colon and into the body. This leads to inflammation.
- Artificial sweeteners – don’t think that transferring to artificial sweeteners from sugar is a good choice – it isn’t. You are much more better off weaning yourself off your sweet tooth. Artificial sweeteners disrupt our gut flora and decreases levels of the good bacteria needed to release anti-inflammatory compounds.
If you enjoyed this take a look at whether we really need superfoods and find out if raw or cooked food is best for you.