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What is an anti-inflammatory diet?

An anti-inflammatory diet is basically a super healthy diet which focuses on reducing inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation can be caused by the production of too many free radicals due to  elements of living such as pollution, smoking, drinking alcohol, and consuming too many overly processed foods. As individuals there is not a lot we can do about pollution, but we can stop smoking, drink less alcohol and sodas, and enjoy a healthy diet.  Our healthy diet works for us by including lots of anti-oxidants, these are compounds which effectively dull or nullify the work of free radicals in the body. It’s good to know that the production of free radicals is a perfectly normal process and happens all the time in our bodies. It’s when we emphasise their production through unhealthy living that inflammation can result.  As chronic inflammation sits under many lifestyle related conditions such as heart disease, arthritis and cancer, focusing on an  anti-inflammatory diet is best for health.

So what should you eat?

If you already eat healthily you probably won’t have to change your diet too much. If on the other hand,  you are looking to focus on reducing inflammation, here are some top tips to optimise an anti-inflammatory diet.

Different coloured fruit

Eat plenty of fruit especially cherries, berries and oranges. Enjoy the rainbow of colours as the different colours show different types and concentrations of antioxidants. A good tip is to think of one fruit per meal ie 3 varied and different servings of fruit across the day

Green leafy vegetables

Eat green vegetables daily especially broccoli, spinach, cabbage, kale and collard greens. These vegetables are concentrated in the antioxidant vitamin E, a well recognised anti-inflammatory agent. Pick a meal and always have a serving. This way you make the choice a routine and you don’t even think about it

Legumes and pulses

Try to work towards including more and different pulses and legumes in your diet.  These foods have different types of fibre, feed the bacteria in your large bowel, and nourish the gut lining. When undigested fibre is broken down in the gut it produces fatty acids which reduce inflammation.  If you don’t often eat beans or pulses why not replace one of your meat meals with a chickpea curry or a bean stew,  it’s not a lot but could be a tipping point for your health.

Oily fish

Healthy fats from oily fish – think SMASHT such as

Salmon

Mackerel

Anchovies

Sardines

Herrings and kippers

Tuna and trout

help to reduce inflammation as they contain omega 3 essential fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are known to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Try to consume oily fish 1 – 2 times per week, in line with current guidelines for all things heart healthy

Nuts and seeds

Walnuts,  almonds, pecans and hazelnuts, linseeds, pumpkin and sesame seeds all contain essential omega 3 oils, again the type of fatty acid known to reduce inflammation. Sprinkle nuts and seeds on porridge, mix into yogurt or top  salads. It’s really easy to include these foods, it just takes practice

Wholegrain breads and cereals

Eat wholegrains which are less processed than white breads and pasta. Choosing rye or soya breads, or breads with ‘bits’ will be your best anti-inflammatory options.  Other wholegrain options will be the brown varieties of pasta, rice and noodles. Remember there are so many wholegrain products we might not traditionally use in the UK such as wholegrain couscous, buckwheat and  soba noodles, but they can all be really great additions to our diet, adding variety and lending us a different nutrient profile

Plant oils to cook and drizzle

Saturated fat from animal products tends to be pro-inflammatory, whereas plant oils are more unsaturated. So choose oils such  as sunflower and peanut oil as great choices for cooking. Olive oil is also a good choice but best used on a moderate heat.  Choose  olive, walnut and avocado oil as tasty and healthy choices for dressings or drizzling

And if you like the taste of sesame oil use it towards the end of cooking. Sesame oil very quickly smokes on high heat so a drizzle at the end of cooking adds flavour without fumes.

Don’t be fooled by advice suggesting coconut oil is a good choice for cooking either, it is super saturated and so considered a pro-inflammatory ingredient

Cinnamon, ginger and turmeric

Enjoy your spices? Then particularly look to  these 3 as beneficial. There is nowhere near as much evidence as for the other foods mentioned above, but as with all things healthy, every little helps.

What should I not eat?

An anti-inflammatory diet is not about eating too many overly processed or packet goods.  Reduce your intake or avoid as  much as you can:

Cakes, biscuits and pastries

Deep fried foods such as chips, chicken bites and samosas

Overly processed or fatty red meats such as sausages, hot dogs and burgers

Too much added sugar – think sweets and chocolate bars, as well as  sugar sweetened carbonated and non-carbonated drinks

Spreading and cooking fats such as margarine and lard

Still need help?

I can help you optimise your diet if you are still finding things tricky. Get in touch, I would be delighted to help.

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Felicity Lyons

Hi there! My name is Felicity. I am a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist with a proactive approach to healthy living. My job is to interpret the complexity of nutrition science and translate it into messages and guidance that you can understand. Healthy Living? It's easier than you think!