Inflammation diet
Following a sensible diet is advised regardless of whether an anti-inflammatory diet is actually scientifically-proven Image Credit: iStock

Nutrition is a young and emerging science. In fact, it is the study of a whole lot of biological sciences happening in the body that rely on the building blocks from the foods you eat and are highly influenced by the dynamics of your lifestyle. For every patient I see, I feel I am a cross-cultural intern in the area of personalised nutrition to assessing my client’s best dietary choices and build it up to complement their dietary choices and lifestyle.

Weight loss is the primary goal of most dietary patterns, where the focus of an anti-inflammatory diet is on controlling health conditions. Anti-inflammatory diets have gained much attention in the wellness community, and like other diets, tend to leave us confused. This is mainly due to lack of consensus over what foods to choose and which to avoid in order to reduce inflammation in the body.

Silent inflammation is what we are usually referring to in an anti-inflammatory diet that is based on including foods that have shown to boost immunity and reduce detectable inflammatory markers.

- Stephanie Karl, Clinical and Sports Nutritionist, Up and Running

Acute inflammation is a normal response in our body that occurs after an injury or illness and identifiable by redness, pain, swelling and heat. While it performs a useful function by defending the body, the response can be harmful if it occurs over a prolonged period or is continuously caused by a number of silent drivers such as infection, obesity, insulin resistance, stress, smoking, food intolerance and lifestyle or environmental issues. This is known as chronic inflammation and often goes undetected. Research suggests chronic inflammation may contribute to the development of diseases such as autoimmune, cancer and stroke. We often wonder how some of our acquaintances’ can get away with eating whatever they like with little regard for health, but the long-term effects of future chronic health issues may well be brewing.

Silent inflammation

Silent inflammation is what we are usually referring to in an anti-inflammatory diet that is based on including foods that have shown to boost immunity and reduce detectable inflammatory markers. As with all nutrition guidelines, an abundance of fruits and vegetables are encouraged as part of this diet. In particular, including more green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and oranges. Instead of meat, opt for fish twice a week to get your required dose of omega-3 fats.

Science doesn’t support popular claims that an anti-inflammatory diet exists, especially where entire food categories are eliminated such as dairy, legumes, nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants) and grains under the premise they are inflammatory as there is no exponent to measure inflammation.

Dietary inflammatory index

A dietary inflammatory index (DII) is an evidence-based tool developed to investigate the effects of certain food components to one of six markers of systemic inflammation in the body. This is usually in response to silent inflammation that we do not get pain, swelling, redness or heat. A list of 45 nutrients and whole foods that have shown to be potentially hazardous are measured for their pro-inflammatory effect.

The DII not only enables us to look at specific foods’ inflammatory properties but can also evaluate any dietary pattern. Patterns that would probably score well on the DII in terms of being anti-inflammatory include the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, pescatarian diets (or a vegetarian diet that includes fish), vegetarian diet or fully plant-based (vegan) diets. It is difficult to now say that an anti-inflammatory diet exists or see the similarities of the diets mentioned, although none of them include highly processed, high sugar and seed oils.

There can be positive health results from eliminating some food groups, but this should be linked to a validated reason rather than a quick fix idea with no actual science behind it.

Finding the diet that best suits you is very appealing, especially if you are starting to become more aware of the link between your diet and your wellness. Studies have indicated that there is an environmental influence to disease and particularly cancer development and that overall diet or specific dietary components can increase or decrease cancer risk. Multiple components found in the fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and nuts have shown to be beneficial for many aspects of health, as well as omega-3 fish oils. It appears the health benefits are increased when people eat a varied, plant-based diet and include omega-3 fats, which can also come from flaxseeds and walnuts. Since chronic inflammation contributes to the development of chronic disease and slower recovery from injury and surgery, diet consumption of a varied plant-based diet, as recommended by multiple public health agencies, could effectively reduce the incidence of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Anti-inflammatory foods

• Flavones found in red-purple vegetables including nightshades — aubergines, peppers and tomatoes

• Isoflavones, found in soy and legumes that every elimination diet loves to hate

• Beta carotene, found in orange vegetables — carrots, winter squash and pumpkins

• Flavonols, compounds found in onions, kale, broccoli and fruits such as apples and berries

• Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds

• Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries and papaya, as well as nightshades — tomatoes, coloured peppers and potatoes.

• Other foods such as turmeric, ginger, green and black tea score favourably and magnesium holds strong as being anti-inflammatory (tofu, beans, all nuts, seeds, wholegrains and chocolate). Fibre is also ranked strongly as anti-inflammatory.