Anti-inflammatory versus Inflammatory foods

By: Alison Mitchell, Naturopath

Inflammation...What is it?
Well, have you ever seen a cartoon where someone hits their thumb with a hammer and it turns red, swells up and throbs dramatically? That is an exaggerated picture of acute inflammation.

It appears to happen instantly, but inflammation is a complex chemical cascade that is controlled by our immune system in response to irritation, injuries and infections. Inflammation helps to protect us from foreign pathogens and allows us to heal from injuries by sending extra blood and immune cells to the area.

Stiffness, redness, swelling, pain, and heat - these are the symptoms of acute inflammation. In small doses, inflammation is protective and allows the body to heal itself. Unfortunately, this process can be constantly activated by an imbalance in our immune system leading to systemic inflammation. In this case, the inflammation can actually cause us harm. The inflammation isn't usually localised like it was during the acute inflammation, but is actually all throughout the body. It is harder to spot systemic inflammation as there aren't obvious symptoms in this version.

Auto-immune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are examples of inflammation that has gotten out of control, as are allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema. These conditions are seemingly unrelated, however they all have underlying inflammatory elements. Recent research has also shown that inflammation is linked to conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, depression and Alzheimers disease.

And there are even more reasons not to like inflammation!

  • It hurts
  • It wears away joints → osteoarthritis!
  • Increases gut sensitivity → food allergies
  • It speeds up the aging process
  • It predisposes the body to store fat and burns off muscle
  • It increases the stress response
  • It reduces fertility

    Why all the inflammation?
    Inflammation is increasing in today's population due to modern food processing and eating habits that promote inflammation and lack the ability to 'dampen the fire'.

    From a nutritional perspective inflammation may be influenced by:
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Inflammation promoting chemicals i.e. saturated and rancid fats, large amounts of sugars and simple carbohydrates
  • Inadequate intake of anti-inflammatory foods i.e. good fats and antioxidants

    Other factors which may influence chronic inflammation include:
  • High levels of long-term stress
  • An imbalance in the good and bad bacteria in our intestines (dysbiosis)
  • Imbalances in our immune system

    Controlling Inflammation
    Knowing that underlying systemic inflammation is a key factor in most conditions probably explains why the anti-inflammatory diet is one of my most commonly prescribed eating plans. Our diet and lifestyle has the potential to reduce or perpetuate inflammation in our body.

    To reduce inflammation, limit your intake of the following:
  • Wheat
  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Highly processed grains, oils and carbohydrates
  • Deep fried foods
  • Processed meats-e.g. salami, ham, sausages, frankfurts and devon
  • Shellfish
  • In certain people, the Solonaceae family may aggravate influence, these foods include potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums/peppers, aubergines, chillies, tobacco
  • In certain people, citrus fruits
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Salt
  • Sugar

    To counteract inflammation, ensure the following anti-inflammatory foods feature regularly in your diet:
  • Fish (especially the oily ones like salmon and sardines)
  • Fruit and vegetables (except solonaceae and citrus)
  • Culinary herbs eg. Basil, Mint, Parsley
  • Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables eg. Berries, Carrot, Squash, Beetroot
  • Spices, especially Garlic, Ginger and Turmeric
  • Omega-3 fatty acids e.g. Fish, flaxseed, walnut, avocado
  • Drink lots of water!!!

    It is also a good idea to rotate foods, which can help to prevent the development of food allergies. Rotating foods means that you don't have a food more frequently than every 3 days.

    Remember to chew your food properly, as undigested food can be a trigger of inflammation. If you feel that your digestion isn't up to scratch (such as if you get bloating after meals or you can see undigested food in your stools) than try to have bitter tastes 15 minutes before meals, such as apple cider vinegar, olives or chew on some bitter greens like rocket.

    Alison Mitchell is a naturopath who practices at Health Dimensions, a multi-disciplinary clinic located in Windsor and Bella Vista. Alison enjoys working with womens health, chronic pain and digestive health.
    Bella Vista: 02 8824 6792, Windsor: 02 45776215


    Aug 12 2010 11:15AM
    This article was excellent. It provided lots of information which has really made me thinking about my diet.
    Comment by: artemis
    Aug 12 2010 3:20PM
    `Very concise article. Gave me some great tips to control my Dermatitis. Thankyou.
    Comment by: KRISTY
    Aug 13 2010 8:38AM
    For years I have experienced pain that originated in my lower back than moved through my hips, down my legs, upper back, neck, jaw. Never once did doctors/physios/oesteos/chiros/specialists indicate it was stress related. It even affected my fertility. So I strongly suggest all readers of Food Coach take heed of the above article. Re-evaluate your work and personal situation and your diet!
    Comment by: Diane
    Aug 25 2010 12:23PM
    Very important information for me, because I am at present having a "flare-up" of my chronic Ulcerative Colitis, which is so aggrevating. I will try and follow the instructions and report back. Thank you.
    Comment by: Pauline
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    Pauline on Anti-inflammatory versus Inflammatory foods :
    Very important information for me, because I am at pres... »
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    For years I have experienced pain that originated in my... »
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    `Very concise article. Gave me some great tips to cont... »
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    This article was excellent. It provided lots of informa... »
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