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What’s the story with anti-inflammatory foods?

Alkaline, anti-inflammatory, free radical – it can be hard to keep up with the vocabulary of natural health. Rude Health magazine demystifies the positive role anti-inflammatory foods can play in your life

“Inflammation occurs in the body in response to illness, infection or injury,” says nutritional therapist Liz O’Byrne who works with health store the Aloe Tree in Ennistymon, Co Clare. “The body increases its production of immune cells, white blood cells and cytokines to fight the infection. Chronic inflammation is more subtle and symptoms can last for a much longer time. Causes of chronic inflammation are things like having an autoimmune disease, exposure to environmental toxins, poor diet, smoking, obesity and stress.”

“Anti-inflammatory foods are really important to the human body because all of us through exercise, injury and the foods we consume can develop inflammation in our body,” says Angela McGlanaghey from health store Simple Simon in Donegal town. “Any way we can reduce this naturally will positively impact our overall health.”

Why eat anti-inflammatory foods?

“Anti-inflammatory foods work by decreasing the amount of inflammation in the body and improving overall health,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “Knowing what foods to include in our diet and what foods to avoid is key to reducing overall inflammation in the body which can lead to serious health problems over a prolonged period of time.”

“From a diet perspective, there are certain foods that are especially anti-inflammatory, so including as many in your diet as possible to counteract the effects of stress, toxins etc is important,” says Liz O’Byrne.

What are everyday anti-inflammatory foods?

“Basic anti-inflammatory foods include oily fish, nuts like walnuts, leafy greens like spinach, tomatoes and fruits such as blueberries and strawberries,” says Angela McGlanaghey.

“At a basic level, increasing consumption of fresh organic fruits and vegetables will help decrease inflammation, and particularly green vegetables such as broccoli and kale,” says Liz O’Byrne. “Fruits such as berries and citrus are particularly helpful. Decreasing animal product consumption and increasing oily fish in the diet is also good, as oily fish contain omega-3 which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Nuts and seeds are also great.”

What about specialised anti-inflammatory foods?

“More specialised foods include things like curcumin which is the active ingredient in turmeric,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “It can be added to soups, stews and curries in powder form or juiced and added to morning smoothies. CBD oil has also been reported to be a great natural inflammatory. Derived from the hemp plant, it can be taken orally or added to juice.”

Liz O’Byrne’s favourite anti-inflammatory speciality foods are:

  • “Green tea is a drink full of antioxidants therefore having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. It is normally taken as a tea but can be bought in capsule form, added to smoothies and even added to ice cream!
  • “Apple cider vinegar is one of the best known anti-inflammatory foods. It’s delicious as a hot drink, can be used in cooking to add acidity, flavour and added to bone broths. Also available in capsule form.
  • “Resveratrol is a polyphenol which can be found in the skin of grapes, blueberries and raspberries and is also found in peanuts, pistachios and cocoa. It protects the plants on which it is found from fungal infections, stress and injury so it is thought that it has similar effects on the human body when consumed.
  • “Black pepper contains antioxidants and has anti-bacterial properties. It is thought to assist in the absorption of curcumin, the anti-inflammatory component in turmeric so it is often added to turmeric/curcumin supplements. Crack whole black peppercorns and add liberally to all food, even strawberries!
  • “Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties due to gingerol. Fresh ginger can be infused in boiling water to make tea, added to juices and smoothies and to curries and stir-fries. Also available dried, in tea bags or in capsules.
  • “Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish are an excellent anti-inflammatory food. If high doses of omega-3 are required, it’s a good idea to supplement with oils and capsules.
  • “Spirulina is a type of algae that is also an antioxidant and a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Add the powder to green smoothies or juice.”

What about montmorency cherries?

Many people suffer pain and stiffness from arthritis caused by inflammation of their joints. Montmorency cherries are grown in Canada and the USA and research studies have shown that the anthocyanins found in them possess anti-inflammatory properties and can help to alleviate inflammation and pain associated with painful joint conditions, including osteo and rheumatoid arthritis. Try in juice, dried or powdered form.

What’s the difference between anti-inflammatory and alkaline foods?

“An alkaline diet in the body can have similar positive effects on inflammation as eating anti-inflammatory foods,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “Cutting out acidic foods essentially means cutting out most foods that cause inflammation in the body, so this in turn will reduce the risk of inflammation.”

“Alkaline foods are generally anti-inflammatory,” says Liz O’Byrne. “The alkaline diet was devised to prevent disease by reducing acid in the body. Acid is another way of describing inflammation.”

What about turmeric?

“Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow colour,” says nutritional therapist Olive Curran. “It has been used medicinally and as a culinary ingredient in India for over 5,000 years. Over the past 10 years, turmeric has been researched extensively for its medicinal benefits. The compounds responsible for its myriad of benefits are called curcuminoids, the most important of which is curcumin which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant.

“Chronic inflammation contributes to many common Western diseases. Curcumin can suppress many molecules known to play major roles in inflammation and offers real benefits for joint health.”

“Turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory,” agrees Liz O’Byrne. “It can be eaten fresh, dried and can also be bought in capsule form. Fresh and dried turmeric can be added to curries, stews, soups and rice.”

“Curcumin is fat soluble, so it may be a good idea to take it with an oil or coconut milk,” says Olive Curran. “If you’re not a fan of spicy foods, try a curcumin and ginger supplement.”

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