The right foods can reduce chronic inflammation

Anti-inflammatory foods – iStock
Anti-inflammatory foods – iStock

Inflammation is a normal and necessary process of self-protection in the body.

A series of destructive reactions

It is the body's response to an infection, injury, or some other stimulus that the body perceives as harmful. The inflammatory response to injury is described as "a fire in your body you cannot see or feel".

There are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic. The former is generally short-lived as a response to infection or injury. Chronic inflammation, however, is a more long-term response, which could last weeks, months or years.

In the case of acute inflammation, the body reacts with swelling, redness, heat and pain in the affected site. This is the result of your immune system sending out an army of white blood cells to surround and protect the area.

In chronic inflammation, a series of destructive reactions occur when the healing response to acute inflammation treatment has failed. This causes damage to cells and ultimately leads to diseases such as type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, heart disease, arthritis, and even mood disorders.

What foods to eat

Many people, especially when overweight; inactive; following a poor diet; and stressed, together with a genetic predisposition for inflammatory conditions can have inflammation in their bodies that builds up over time when the immune system tries unsuccessfully to repair cells and rid itself of harmful toxins.

The right foods can however help reduce the amount of inflammation in the body and improve overall health.

  • Boost consumption of fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which can help protect against inflammation. Try to eat 2–3 fruits per day and include vegetables and salads for lunch and supper. Choose fruits and vegetables that are deep green, orange, yellow, and purple, as these have the greatest nutritional value.
  • Avoid hydrogenated and trans fats. These are found in fast foods and deep fried foods such as spring rolls, “vetkoek”, French fries ("slap chips"), samosas and baked goods such as biscuits and salty crackers. The process of hydrogenation causes the formation of trans fatty acids. Trans fats increase the levels of LDLs (bad cholesterol) while lowering levels of HDLs (good cholesterol) in the body. They have also been found to promote obesity, and insulin resistance. 
  • Avoid sugar and high sugary foods, such as honey, jam, sweets, chocolates, and sugar-based cold drinks and fruit juices. Sugar causes high blood glucose and consequently high insulin levels, which can aggravate weight gain. The abdominal fat cells release inflammatory substances that aggravate inflammation.
  • Consume more unsaturated fats/oils. Try to include small amounts of unsaturated fats in your meals.  Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive and canola oil, avocado pear, peanuts, cashew nuts) and polyunsaturated fats (e.g. sunflower seed oil, soy bean oil, sunflower seeds, soft margarine, sesame seeds, flax seeds, most salad dressings and fish oils). These fats can help reduce inflammation as well as your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Reduce the intake of protein from animal sources, especially red and processed meats and opt for plant-based sources of protein, including beans, lentils, chickpeas and soy beans.
  • Go for whole grain carbohydrate foods. These are a valuable source of fibre and nutrients. High fibre, low GI carbohydrates help to control blood glucose levels, improve energy levels and increase satiety.  Optimal blood glucose control and consequent lower insulin response is important to reduce inflammatory processes in the body. Try to include a wholegrain carbohydrate in most of your meals such as, rye or heavy seed breads, wholegrain crackers, high fibre cereals, brown rice, rolled oats, quinoa, corn, pearled wheat ("stampkoring") and barley.

You need to include the following your diet:

1. Curcumin (turmeric)

Turmeric is one of the main spices added to curry, giving it its distinctive yellow colour. Turmeric contains curcumin that has proven anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in red wine, the skin of red grapes, and blueberries. Resveratrol has both an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effect on the body, and has shown promise in for instance arthritis and gastrointestinal and cardiovascular disease.

3. Omega-3 fatty acids

Diets high in omega-3 reduce the inflammatory response by inhibiting the production of a variety of inflammatory hormone mediators contributing to inflammation. Omega-3-rich food sources include fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards, mackerel and trout. It is important to include omega-3 rich food sources at least 3–5 times weekly in your diet, and those who cannot achieve this should consider taking a supplement. Omega-3 fish oil supplements have a higher availability of the functional metabolites EPA & DHA and are therefore recommended above flax and plant oils. Be sure not to purchase a mix of omega-3 and omega-6 oils, as only omega 3 is required in adequate levels. It is important to ensure at least 1000–2000mg of EPA and DHA daily to reduce inflammation.


Although nutrition is vitally important, quality and duration of sleep, stress and inactivity also impact on inflammation. Therefore, make it your mission to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, a healthy diet, get adequate sleep and engage in regular physical activity.

Read more:

Inflammation tied to cancer

Fish oil fights inflammation

The anti-inflammatory diet


Marisa Moore (2014), Inflammation & Diet, Eat Right  Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Mary Franz. (2014) Nutrition, Inflammation and Disease. Today’s Dietitian Vol .16 No 2 P. 44

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