The common culprit behind modern diseases
The most common 21st century diseases of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression and Alzheimers all share a common cause that links them – low level inflammation. The big question is whether by eating anti inflammatory foods we can lower our risk factor for these diseases.
Inflammation acts as both a ‘friend and foe’: it is an essential to the warning and defence of the immune system; yet a chronic low-grade inflammatory state has been shown to be a feature of a wide range of chronic conditions.
Since being called ‘the secret killer’ by a Time magazine article in 2004, researchers have been looking for a single inflammation reducing remedy that could prevent all of these diseases. It is well documented that certain lifestyles and diets such as the Mediterranean diet are linked to good heart health, protection against diseases such as cancer and prevention of diabetes.
New research from Spain examined a diet inflammatory index that ranked foods on their inflammatory effect on the body.1 Their strong and consistent results showed that people with a high inflammatory diet had a 23% higher risk of premature death than people with lower scores.
What are inflammatory vs anti inflammatory foods?
Foods that promote inflammation include red meat and processed foods high in sugar, unhealthy fats and food additives.
– Red meat, for example, contains several pro-inflammatory compounds. But if you look at studies that have investigated the link between red meat intake and markers of chronic inflammation you will find that not all types of red meat have been linked to high levels of inflammation. In fact, early research suggests that as long as you stick to lean cuts of red meat (or poultry) and avoid processed meats which may be loaded with inflammatory chemicals, eating meat in moderation should not be a problem.
– most processed foods contain gluten. In a study published in the journal Gut, researchers led by Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in New York, NY, suggest gluten sensitivity may arise as a result of a weakened intestinal barrier, which triggers an inflammatory immune response when gluten is consumed. Gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale are present in a variety of foods, primarily breads, cereals, and pasta.
– Processed foods which are high in sugar also contribute to weight gain which is itself a risk factor for inflammation.
Anti inflammatory foods
Foods that are anti-inflammatory include many plant foods which are high in anti oxidants and polyphenols
– extra virgin olive oil,
– fruits especially berries, cherries and citrus
– green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and tomatoes
– nuts like almonds and walnuts
– fatty fish – salmon, tuna, sardines
– seeds – sunflower, hemp, pumpkin, chia, flax. Why not make up your own mix?
– herbs and spices,
– whole grains
– red wine in moderation
The science behind anti-inflammatory diets is a simple proposition: by eating fewer foods with inflammatory properties and more foods with anti-inflammatory properties you can reduce chronic inflammation throughout your body.
Anti inflammatory eating
To reduce your risks of a chronic disease, the best anti inflammatory eating plan has been linked to the Mediterranean diet – heavy on vegetables, whole grains and fish and light on red meat and processed foods.
That diet, long endorsed by cardiologists, has been shown in well-designed studies to reduce key markers of inflammation and the risk of heart disease.
There is an added bonus too. A more natural less processed diet has also been linked to improvement in mood and overall quality of life.
A quick summary
Although the impact of chronic inflammation is not immediate nor obvious, the research suggests that food is inflaming people.
A diet with a higher anti-inflammatory potential is likely to reduce many potential causes of premature death.
So treat your body. Tuck into some grilled salmon with succulent vegetables infused with extra virgin olive oil, a spicy vegetable curry with dal or a warm Mediterranean roast vegetable salad with quinoa and parsley, topped with mint yoghurt. Go gluten free – you can do it easily in 14 days. See our 14 days gluten free guide with recipes.
The benefits appear to be greater than previously thought.
1 Epidemiologists James Hébert and Nitin Shivappa surveyed 1,943 studies and published in 2014 a Dietary Inflammatory Index, with 45 food elements.