A – Z of anti-inflammatory eating

Inflammation is a normal immune system function: it’s the body’s response to infections or injuries. But unwarranted inflammation can eventually lead to major health problems.

When things go wrong
When your immune system goes haywire and activates inflammatory reactions where there is no real need to fight infections or injury, these reactions may in fact cause harm. An overzealous immune system may cause inflammation, swelling, joint pain, inflamed membranes, even allergic reactions or auto-immune diseases, and eventually contribute to chronically inflamed blood vessels.

Although it is a well-known fact that inflammatory reactions are associated with arthritis, it is a lesser known fact that chronic inflammation – even low levels of inflammation – is also associated with damage to the blood vessels, and thus with heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and even sexual performance.

Most of us live with low levels of inflammation due to our Westernised lifestyle. These constant low levels of inflammation accelerate all the damage to the joints, blood vessels, heart and other organs. This in turn will speed up the ageing process and limit our quality of life. Yes, chronic inflammation damages our cells, and this could eventually result in heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

New research findings
According to new research findings, it is possible to control and even prevent inflammation by reducing the levels of free radicals in your body. This can be achieved by altering your diet and lifestyle. These minor changes will also increase your energy levels and help you to lose weight.

The anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t require significant changes to your eating habits. It mainly relies on cutting out foods which will stimulate inflammatory reactions, and increasing your intake of foods which will inactivate inflammatory reactions.

Eating anti-inflammatory foods will not leave you with a plate filled with bland food.

Anti-inflammatory eating
The eating plan is based on the elimination of foods that may activate inflammation, and the inclusion of food that can temper inflammation.

For example, omega-3 fatty acids temper inflammation while omega-6 fatty acids trigger inflammation. Although our bodies need a balance of both these fatty acids, anybody on an average Western diet consumes too much omega-6 fatty acids. That’s mainly because we are bombarded with easy-way-out pro-inflammatory fast food options containing large amounts of animal and trans fats. Living off McDonald’s hamburgers and chips will overload you with powerful inflammation triggers.

Small changes to your diet, though, can make a huge difference to your health and life. For example:

  • Choose olive oil instead of margarine

  • whole wheat bread instead of processed white bread

  • all-bran cereal instead of corn flakes

  • skimmed milk instead of full cream milk and
  • fish instead of red meat.

Notes on specific foods

  • Red meat contains arachidonic acid which will make inflammation worse.

  • Snack on a variety brightly coloured (preferably whole) fruit, vegetables and nuts throughout the day – and eat them to your heart’s content. Blueberries and strawberries are packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Apples and red onions also contain strong anti-inflammatory components.

  • Try to steer away from vegetables such as potatoes and eggplant, though. These vegetables contain a chemical alkaloid called solanine that can trigger inflammation. Although tomatoes also contain this chemical, research has shown that tomatoes play a huge role in the prevention of cancer, particularly prostate cancer, and can almost be regarded as nature’s superfood.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in cold water oily fish like sardines and tuna, as well as in walnuts and a variety of seeds.
  • Stay away from sugar and high-glycaemic carbohydrates such as white bread and muffins. Low glycaemic index foods include apples, broccoli, berries and citrus fruit.

  • Make sure to top up on water every now and again – it will ease pain and stiffness caused by inflammation.

  • Remember that lifestyle choices are just as important as your eating habits. Smoking, lack of exercise and not allowing yourself proper rest all aggravate inflammation. Try stretching and weight training at least two times a week.

  • Next time you feel like visiting the drive-through, rather get into your favourite outfit and opt for a fancy seafood restaurant.

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    The bad foods: The good foods:
    French fries Guavas
    White potatoes Cherries
    Flavoured yoghurt Chillies
    Ice Cream Raspberries
    Full cream milk Strawberries
    Salmon (farmed) Carrots
    Chicken giblets Garlic
    Mango Kale
    Chicken Livers Onions
    Turkey (dark meat) Spinach
    Lamb rib chops Sweet Potatoes
    Veal loin Low-fat cottage cheese
    Corn flakes Low-fat yoghurt
    Papaya Part skim mozzarella
    Pancakes Skim milk
    Popcorn Bluefish
    Bananas Halibut
    Fruit Juices Herring
    Rice Krispies Oysters
    Bagels Rainbow trout
    French bread Salmon (wild caught)
    Muffins Sardines
    White rice Duck
    Coconut oil Goose
    Margarine Flank steak
    Potato chips Lamb shanks
    Pretzels Pork tenderloin
    Cola Pot roast
    Cranberry juice Prime rib
    Lemonade Sirloin tip
    White pasta Muesli
    White bread All-bran
    White rice Oats
    Sugar Rye bread
    Mixed grain bread
    Whole wheat bread
    Pumpernickel bread
    Whole wheat pasta
    Rice noodles
    Almond oil
    Avocado oil
    Canola oil
    Hazelnut oil
    Olive oil
    Melba toast
    Brazil nuts
    Curry powder
    Black tea
    Carrot juice
    Green tea
    Herbal tea
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