In recent years, increasing evidence has shown that chronic inflammation underlies many ailments that experts call the “diseases of civilisation”—a.k.a. lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. It’s also now apparent that a specific and significant factor likely either ramps up or alleviates that inflammation: a person’s diet. That means that the foods you eat can promote inflammation if you’re not careful or reduce it if you decide to follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
The role of inflammation
Inflammation is vital, even lifesaving, when it happens in response to injury or infection. It shows up as pain, redness, swelling, and heat, which signify that the body is mobilising defences to restore equilibrium.
However, eating a diet of highly processed foods—especially those based on sugar, refined carbohydrates, and cheap, unstable seed oils such as soybean oil—is a big reason many people in the developed world now live in a chronic state of elevated whole-body inflammation. Sugar, for example, boosts inflammatory agents in fatty tissue called adipokines, and wheat flour increases inflammatory microorganisms in the GI tract.
How to choose anti-inflammatory foods
Avoiding processed foods is only part of the solution. To further lower your disease risk, I recommend a diet that emphasises fresh, whole foods, drinks, and herb/spice combinations that tamp down the inflammatory response.
Some things—such as turmeric, a spice used in Indian curry that's also great in smoothies—appear to lower inflammation directly, while others, such as omega-3 fatty acids in wild-caught salmon, supply protective nutrients the body requires to modulate its own inflammatory process. Most of the foods I advocate also keep blood sugar low and stable, which recent research indicates is an important aspect of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
I use the Mediterranean diet as a template for my anti-inflammatory eating plan. Based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish, it’s associated with long, healthy life and heart health. I also include standout anti-inflammatory foods like green tea, which contains potent polyphenols. Here are a few all-star anti-inflammatory foods you should include on your menu:
Rich in vitamin K and offering powerful anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects, greens such as kale, collards, bok choy, and broccoli should be mainstays of your diet.
All varieties are healthful, but one study found that black raspberries reduced the incidence of certain cancers in animals by 50 per cent.
Salmon and black cod
Salmon is excellent, but if you can find it, black cod has even more inflammation-taming omega-3 fatty acids.
Along with having potent anti-inflammatory action, ginger helps reduce intestinal gas and nausea.
The bottom line
Most important, food must taste good. No one, and that includes me, will stick to an eating plan based on tasteless, monotonous cuisine. Fortunately, the anti-inflammatory foods above are delicious and can be combined to make some of the world’s tastiest dishes.
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