Inflammation is a normal process that can be incredibly protective as it is a key part of our immune system’s response to infection or injury. The physiological response helps to signal the immune system to heal damaged tissue in the event of a wound. Inflammation enables the immune system to fight foreign invaders such as pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
Inflammation causes an increase in white blood cells to the site of injury and symptoms such as redness, heat, pain and swelling often occur.
It has three distinct stages:
- Vasodilation of blood vessels
- Increased permeability of blood
- Phagocyte immigration and tissue repair
Acutely, inflammation is vital for our health and wellbeing. But it’s when the inflammatory process continues on for too long or the inflammation occurs in areas of the body that isn’t needed, that it becomes a problem and disrupts our body’s ability to function normally.
In fact, chronic inflammation where there is a consistent, low-grade level of inflammation, is considered to be at the root of many health issues. As such, it needs to be considered in many conditions including heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, IBS, IBD, skin conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, infertility, endometriosis…the list goes on.
Chronic, low levels of inflammation can be triggered by your immune system’s response to a perceived internal threat, even when there isn’t an injury to heal or an infection to fight. White blood cells flood the area but don’t have anything to defend against and as a result, they begin to attack healthy tissue or cells or even internal organs.
What causes chronic inflammation?
There is a variety of things that can contribute to chronic inflammation including genetics, excessive stress, smoking, an inflammatory diet, a lack of sleep or pre-existing conditions such as leaky gut. In some cases, it’s hard to determine what came first: the condition or the inflammation.
The good news is, inflammation can be kept under control with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Inflammatory foods to avoid
There are several inflammatory foods that can disrupt your body’s immune system or exacerbate symptoms of a pre-existing condition. These include:
- Refined sugar
- Refined white flour
- Vegetable oil such as corn, sunflower, peanut oil
- Heavily processed foods
- Deep-fried foods
- Processed meats
- Artificial sweeteners
10 Anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet
Anti-inflammatory diets have increased in popularity as the number of health issues and chronic diseases rise. You may have heard of the famous Mediterranean Diet which is well researched for its health benefits relating to the ability to fight inflammation with nutrients.
The foundational foods of anti-inflammatory diet include fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, healthy fats, nuts and seeds and drinking red wine in moderation. By eating a diet of a diverse range of wholefoods including the key anti-inflammatory food components of a Mediterranean diet, omega-3 fatty acids, you can help protect the body against damage caused by uncontrolled inflammation.
Here are 10 of my favourite foods that fight inflammation and help support your immune system response.
- Leafy Green Vegetables
Rich in antioxidants that help fight the damaged caused by oxidative stress and restore cellular health, green leafy vegetables also contain flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory effects. You’ll find nutrients such as fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin C that all help to regulate the body’s inflammatory response in veggies like kale, swiss card, collards and bok choy.
- Oily fish
Oily and fatty fish like salmon and sardines and a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which are vital for reduction of inflammation as well as being important for cognitive and behavioural function. Omega-3s also show an ability to reduce the need for anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. The best source of fatty fish are those that are wild-caught rather than farmed, so be sure to check where your fish comes from.
Blueberries contain the flavonoid, quercetin, which is a phytonutrient that has been found to act as a strong anti-inflammatory substance. Other dark-coloured berries and cherries also contain valuable antioxidants that protect the body from inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies have found berries like blueberries to offer health benefits in inflammatory gastrointestinal issues, like IBD, and in improving cognitive function.
- Extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil is a healthy fat that has been found to help can lower inflammatory signalling in our body. It’s also been found to help improve problems associated with insulin secretion and regulating blood sugar levels. Olive oil’s anti-inflammatory properties are typically seen when it is served raw rather than cooked as the phenols and polyphenols compounds can be damaged during heating.
Broccoli is a valuable source of carotenoids and flavonoids and sulphur compounds that help to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and support detoxification. It’s also high in magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A. Broccoli has been seen to be beneficial in cancer, cardiovascular disease and digestive function.
- Nuts and seeds
Nuts, in particular walnuts, and seeds such as flaxseeds and chia seeds offer ample of health benefits. Collectively they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and a powerhouse of antioxidants making up a key component of an anti-inflammatory diet. Nuts and seeds have been found to be beneficial in heart health, metabolic syndrome including type 2 diabetes.
Beets offer a valuable source of phytonutrients that like broccoli provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support. In the case of inflammation, these phytonutrients reduce inflammation due to their ability to inhibit the activity of COX enzymes. These cells produce messaging molecules that have been found to trigger the inflammatory cascade. The antioxidant betalain content responsible for the deep colour also helps fight inflammation.
Ginger is another immune system modulator that has been used in traditional medicine and helps to reduce inflammation when there is an overactive response. Its anti-inflammatory effect has been largely attributed to its ability to warm the body. This can help to breakdown toxins and cleanse the body’s lymphatic system.
The primary component of turmeric is curcumin, an active anti-inflammatory compound. Turmeric health benefits have been found to be invaluable in the management of rheumatoid arthritis and even believed to be credited with reduced rates of Alzheimer’s disease in populations such as those in India. Curcumin has even been found to be more potent than aspirin and ibuprofen.
- Green tea
Traditionally used in Indian and Chinese medicine, green tea is made of unoxidized leaves that contain beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols. It’s been associated with helping to treat inflammatory conditions such as atherosclerosis, IBD and liver disease as well as reduce risk factors in a range of ailments including cancer.