Inflammation is the root of most chronic diseases. Chronic, systemic low-grade inflammation often goes undetected in the body for years, silently damaging tissues in the body until disease takes hold. It's often only when signs and symptoms of disease appear that we become aware of this chronic inflammation. Inflammation plays a major role in the development of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, asthma, obesity, inflammatory bowel conditions, auto-immune diseases, leaky gut and metabolic syndrome. What you eat can either trigger or dampen inflammation in the body. Eating a wholesome diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and herbs is of upmost importance for preventing inflammation in the body, to reduce the risk of chronic disease and to promote longevity. A recent study has shown how important inflammation levels are for predicting longevity. The study showed that low levels of inflammation in the body is a powerful predictor of longevity in people who live over 100 years old, even more so than telomere length (the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes).
Inflammation in a healthy person is a normal response when we injure ourselves to help accelerate healing. The immune system sends a flood of white blood cells to the injured area by increasing blood flow to the site which can cause swelling, heat, redness and pain. A problem occurs when inflammation continues and becomes chronic. This can happen when the immune system overreacts and starts attacking healthy tissue in the body (auto-immunity), or if there is an underlying infection the body is trying to fight, or a repetitive physical stress on joints or a particular part of the body.
Here are some of the top ways to keep inflammation at bay and promote optimal health.
KEEP INSULIN LEVELS LOW:
Keeping your insulin levels low is important for preventing chronic inflammation. Eating refined sugary foods regularly will elevate your glucose and insulin levels and will increase inflammation in the body. You can actually test for inflammation by testing your fasting blood insulin level. The higher your fasting insulin levels are the higher your levels of inflammation will be. Some of the best ways to maintain low insulin levels is to exercise regularly and limit refined junk foods. Exercise is one of the best ways to normalise insulin levels and to prevent insulin resistance. If you are insulin resistant your cells are unable to use insulin effectively to absorb glucose, which leads to glucose building up in the blood. Other important dietary ways to maintain healthy insulin levels is to avoid refined grains like white breads and crackers, along with steering clear of processed foods rich in refined sugars such as breakfast cereals, biscuits, cakes and muesli bars and soft drinks. Go for nutritious unprocessed foods that have a low GI. These foods are rich in fibre and good quality protein, and contain healthy fats e.g. legumes, wholegrains (brown rice, whole oats), raw nuts and seeds (quinoa), vegetables, and oily fish.
AVOID PROCESSED REFINED FOODS AND ENJOY NATURAL FOODS:
Processed foods contain highly inflammatory ingredients like refined oils (vegetable oils) and sugars (including high-fructose corn syrup) that will produce inflammatory cytokines in the body. Vegetable oils including corn, soy and peanut oils oxidise quickly when heated and form trans-fats and aldehydes which are highly inflammatory. One of the best ways to make the change to an anti-inflammatory diet is to stop eating processed, refined foods and instead enjoy a diet rich in wholesome, natural, unprocessed, preferably organic foods that are rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals and nutrients that are anti-inflammatory. Stock up on fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, avocadoes, raw nuts and seeds (tahini and nut butters), quinoa, oily fish and healthy oils (olive, avocado, flaxseed, macadamia nut). Store your oils properly in a cool dark place. Olive oil is a great choice for cooking at moderate temperatures, and avocado, flax, olive and macadamia nut oils are all excellent oils to drizzle over salads and veggies. Moderate amounts of fructose from whole fruits and vegetables is fine it's just when you get large amounts of refined fructose that it can lead to increased inflammation and an increased risk of diseases such as obesity, cancer, fatty liver, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.
Regular exercise is an excellent way to lower chronic inflammation in the body. Unfortunately, the average person spends around 10 hours a day sitting at their desk. Sitting for long periods of time can have a detrimental impact on your health increasing your risk of insulin resistance. Research has shown that sitting for more than 8 hours a day can increase your risk of type-2 diabetes by a whooping 90%.
To help keep you moving throughout the day set a reminder every hour to get up and move about. Aim to do around 10,000 steps each day. Ways you can do this is by walking to work, to the grocery store or to pick up your kids. Working at a stand up desk can also help. Try doing some squats or leg raises while working. Schedule in some high intensity training or weight training during the week too. This will help stimulate your muscles to release myokines, which are anti-inflammatory chemical messengers that inhibit the release of inflammatory cytokines. Be mindful though that overtraining can increase inflammation.
EAT MORE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES:
Fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-inflammatory flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C. Berries (blueberries, raspberries, acai, strawberries, black berries), dark green leafies (kale, Swiss chard, spinach), beetroot, cherries, pomegranates, oranges, tomatoes, lemons, carrots, pineapple, kiwi, papaya, broccoli and mangoes all have a strong anti-inflammatory action. If you find it difficult to get your daily dose of anti-inflammatory green leafies and vegetables try having a veggie juice or green smoothie to up your intake. Some good veggie juice combinations include carrot, beetroot, celery, apple, ginger and lemon; and pineapple, kale, cucumber, celery and mint. Or try our Kale Green Tea Super Smoothie. Pineapple contains bromelain which is an enzyme that has been found to help reduce inflammation and aids digestion. Guacamole makes a particularly nutritious anti-inflammatory snack with some veggie sticks or dehydrated veggie crackers.
TOP ANTI-INFLAMMATORY HERBAL TEAS:
Swap your morning coffee for a delicious cup of licorice (Bodhi TranquiliTEA), ginger and turmeric (Bodhi ZesTEA) or chamomile (Bodhi SereniTEA) tea. These fabulous herbs have been used by herbalists for centuries for their anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon is another wonderful anti-inflammatory spice that can be enjoyed in chai (Bodhi Masala Chai), or added to hot almond or coconut milk for a delicious anti-inflammatory latte. Studies have found that green tea is another good choice as it helps to dampen inflammation in the body. Rose hip tea has also been found to be an effective anti-inflammatory drink (Bodhi LongeviTEA)
NUTS AND SEEDS:
Turn your snacks, smoothies, breakfast cereals and salads into super anti-inflammatory meals by adding a handful of raw nuts and seeds eg. walnuts, Brazil, cashew, almonds, hazelnut, chia, hemp, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and pepitas. Nuts and seeds provide unsaturated fats, including essential omega 3 fats (found in chia, flax, walnuts) and vitamin E and zinc which have anti-inflammatory actions. Nut butters and tahini (sesame seeds) are also delicious ways to enjoy these anti-inflammatory foods.
OPTIMISE YOUR GUT HEALTH:
Making sure your gut is healthy with a good balance of gut microbiome (bacteria) is important for supporting the immune system and warding off inflammation. Including fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented veggies with meals is a great way to boost your beneficial bacteria in your gut and reduce the risk of gut inflammation. Taking a good quality multi-strain probiotic supplement daily is also recommended to help maintain a healthy gut microbiome balance.
SPICE UP MEALS:
Spice up your meals by adding ginger, turmeric, garlic and chilli. These fantastic anti-inflammatory herbs will not only add flavour to your meals but will also help fight inflammation.
REDUCE RED MEAT:
Eating too much red meat will promote inflammation. Red meat and processed deli meats are pro-inflammatory foods. If you do eat some red meat make sure it is organic and grass-fed, as commercially grown meats are higher in inflammatory compounds. Marinade your meat in olive oil and garlic as this will form a protective coating on the meat which will help reduce the formation of inflammatory compounds when its cooked. Cook your meat on low-medium temperature and don’t burn it.
INCLUDE OILY FISH:
Oily fish like salmon are great sources of omega-3 fats, so they're a wonderful anti-inflammatory food. Aim to have fish 3 x week. Alaskan wild salmon, trout, cod, mackerel and sardines are all good choices. Tuna, especially tinned tuna made from large tuna are notoriously high in heavy metals like mercury, so this should be an occasional food. If you do buy tinned tuna go for skipjack ‘Light’ tuna, not the ‘chunk’ variety as skipjack are smaller tuna. Salmon (fresh or tinned) is lower in heavy metals, so a great choice. Taking a good quality fish oil or krill oil supplement is also a great way to increase your anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.
BEST ANTI-INFLAMMATORY NUTRIENTS:
There are a number of important vitamins and minerals that help dampen inflammation. Vitamin A is an immune enhancer and anti-inflammatory nutrient which is found in cod liver oil, and as beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body, in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables and green leafy veggies. Zinc is another essential nutrient for healthy immune function and for its anti-inflammatory action found in fish, legumes, nuts and seeds. Quercetin is a flavonoid known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Good sources of quercetin include black grapes, raspberries, broccoli, kale, onions and apples. Beneficial anti-inflammatory unsaturated fats found in oily fish, avocado, raw nuts and seeds (including their oils, tahini and nut butters), and extra virgin olive oil are all anti-inflammatory foods that can help soothe inflammation. Vitamin E is another nutrient that has been found to have potent anti-inflammatory action. You will find vitamin E in foods such as avocado, olive oil, raw nuts and seeds.
Making positive changes now towards an anti-inflammatory diet and a more active lifestyle will be one of the best things you can do to live longer and prevent chronic disease. Make a couple of dietary changes each week. Start by clearing out your cupboards of any processed sugary foods and replace them with healthy unprocessed natural foods. Visit your local growers market and stock up on lots of lovely fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables. Buy a new whole foods cook book and experiment with new anti-inflammatory vegetarian recipes. Your body and taste buds will love you for it!
Written by Lisa Guy, naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.