Diet & Inflammation

This is a guest blog written by registered dietitian Shani Cohen, in which she explores the concept of an anti-inflammatory diet. If you’d like to read more about Shani, you can do so here

Anybody who has experienced painful knees or a sore neck knows that inflammation can be painful. Inflammation is a hot topic in medicine and science. In broad terms, inflammation is the body’s immune system’s response to a stimulus. It can present itself in two ways – acute and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is the body’s natural response to an injury (eg falling off a bicycle), and is often short lived. Chronic inflammation persists for a longer period of time (days, months and even years). It fuels many major chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological diseases and heart disease.

This kind of inflammation may go unnoticed for a long period of time, which makes the immune system go in to overdrive, and becomes very damaging on our health. Reducing inflammation and stress on the body can significantly improve one’s health outcomes. Good nutrition is important for everyone. Interestingly, there are certain foods that may help combat or promote inflammation.

There is compelling research that suggests that a diet with appropriate calories, which is low in refined carbohydrates, high in soluble fibre, has a higher omega to omega 6 ratio and is high in polyphenols all have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. This is very consistent with the Mediterranean diet pattern, which gets high marks for nutritional value and may help to ease inflammation.

A diet high in fruits and vegetables may provide the body with the best nutrients to defend itself against inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals, fibre and polyphenols. These nutrients can prevent, delay or repair specific kinds of cell and tissue damage. Add a pop of colour to your plate by including a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Four to five servings of fruits and vegetables daily are recommended to keep inflammation and chronic diseases at bay.

Besides for fibre from fruits and vegetables, it is also important to boost your fibre intake by choosing whole grains more often to minimize inflammation. Choose whole grains like oats, quinoa, brown rice and whole wheat bread over refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and sugar. Beans and lentils are a great plant based lean protein to include in your diet which also provides a great amount of fibre. They are also packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Omega-3 fats are found in foods like salmon, tuna, mackerel, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts. We should opt for plant based oils like olive oil or canola oil. We should also reduce our intake of foods high in saturated fats (fats that come from animals), like red meat and high fat dairy products. Rather, choose leaner protein foods such as skinless chicken, or lean cuts of meat, and include low fat or fat free dairy products like skim milk and yoghurt. It is also crucial to avoid eating too many fried foods, especially those that have been cooked in reheated oil. Reheating oil can create harmful inflammatory compounds.

Resveratrol is a type of anti-oxidant that is found in the skin of red grapes, which may have health benefits.  It appears to have anti-inflammatory properties by protecting the lining of our blood vessels and making sure they don’t constrict. While red wine may have some health benefits, drinking multiple glasses every night is not recommended. The recommended intake of alcohol is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Because this ‘anti-inflammatory diet’ focuses on eating more whole foods and avoiding processed sugary foods that cause inflammation, it is a good way for anyone to improve their health! And, the great news is that by improving the quality of your diet you will naturally help your body to maintain a healthy weight too!

To find out more about the Mediterranean diet, check out this link: https://shanicohen.co.za/the-med-way/

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