Inflammation occurs when the body finds itself under attack. If you stub your toe, for example, messages signifying pain are sent to the brain. The immune system is then alerted to the problem, and the body sets about repairing itself.
The same applies when bacterial or viral infections invade the body. Healthy white blood cells flood the area, killing off anything unwelcome. Inflammation becomes an issue when there is no invader to attack, and no injury to repair.
The white blood cells will gather and prepare, only to find they have nothing to do. This means they’ll start to attack healthy tissue and organs within the body. This results in chronic inflammation, which can become an ongoing concern.
What are the Symptoms of Inflammation?
There are six classic warning signs of inflammation to watch out for. These are:
- Heartburn and other pains related to the chest.
- Abdominal cramps and pains.
- Energy crashes and general fatigue.
- Fever and ‘flu-like symptoms.
- Sores and rashes, especially around the mouth.
- Aches and pains throughout the body, especially the joints and back.
If you notice these symptoms, discuss them with your GP. You may need to make some dietary and lifestyle changes. Oftentimes, chronic inflammation is related to diet.
What Foods Cause Inflammation?
If you’re looking to cut inflammation out of your diet, there are certain foods you’ll need to avoid. The biggest no-no foods in an anti-inflammatory diet include:
- Sugar. Whether artificial or naturally occurring, sugar needs to be managed very carefully. Excessive intake of sweets, fruit, cakes or fizzy drinks can wreak havoc on the body. Don’t assume that artificial sweeteners are any better, though. The body struggles to process artificial substances.
- Simple (aka Refined) Carbohydrates. Refined carbs have a similar impact on the body to sugar; they can provoke a surge in blood sugar. White bread, rice and pasta are popular examples of refined carbs. white cereal and flour are also common culprits.
- Trans Fats. It’s a myth that all fat is bad – a small amount is essential. Avoid trans fats wherever possible, however, especially artificial trans fats. Fast food, pre-packaged cakes, margarine and processed ready meals are always high in artificial trans fats. Dairy is also a common culprit, so go easy on the cheese.
- Red Meat. Pre-cooked meat can make a helpful sandwich filler, but it’s a disaster for your health. They are packed with Advanced Glycation End products, aka AGEs. These are linked to inflammation, and a range of increasingly serious concerns. Red meat in general can be concerning, too. Try to limit your intake of such foods.
- Alcohol. Drinking to excess can cause a range of problems in the gut, including inflammation. You don’t need to live teetotal, but you should certainly moderate your alcohol intake.
If it sounds like we’re the fun police, that’s not our intention. We’re not saying that these foods must be completely eliminated. However, do not make them a cornerstone of your diet. There are a range of alternative foods that can act as more health-conscious substitutes.
What Can Be Used as a Substitute for Inflammatory Foods?
Obviously, the first step will be to minimise your intake of the key inflammatory foods that we previously discussed. A more wholesale change in diet can be beneficial though, especially if you’re prone to chronic inflammation.
Firstly, consider your snacking options. Instead of snacks that are packed with trans fats, look into more inflammation-friendly hunger-busters. Flaxseeds, walnuts and almonds are great ways to keep on top of your inflammation. Nibble on these throughout the day. They’ll keep your mind sharp too.
If you’re looking for something sweet, tuck into berries on a more consistent basis. Blueberries, blackberries and strawberries are particularly impactful. You can use these as snacks or desserts, or even as the base ingredient of a smoothie.
Natural fats are also great ways to combat inflammation. The Omega-3 and Omega-6 found in fatty fish can have a significant impact, so consider switching red meat for fresh fish. In fact, the Mediterranean diet is a good way to keep healthy and avoid many of those niggling aches and pains. Swopping French fries and similar side dishes for leafy greens will make a huge difference. If you must use oil, replace vegetable oil with extra virgin olive oil.
Finally, think about what you’re drinking. Keep your alcohol consumption down to a safe level of roughly two or three units per day. if you have a weakness for soda, try swopping this out for Green Tea – or just room temperature water. Be mindful of your sugar intake in your tea and coffee too.
What are the Health Benefits to a Non-Inflammatory Diet?
If you cut inflammatory foods out of your diet, you’ll experience a wide range of benefits.
The primary advantage will be a reduction in the risk of musculoskeletal issues, both large and small. Inflammation is linked to a range of muscular aches and pains, which can become increasingly tender and restrictive. If left untended, this can result in rheumatoid arthritis.
By reducing inflammation, you’ll also enjoy considerably better heart health. Inflammation has been linked to stroke and cardiac arrest, due to blood clots forming within the body.
Inflammation has also been linked to cancer, and a wide range of autoimmune diseases. We have already discussed rheumatoid arthritis, but lupus also becomes a very real risk.
If you are concerned about inflammation, make an appointment with your GP. They will run some tests and advise on how you should proceed. There is no prescription medication for the condition, but a range of over-the-counter remedies are available from a supermarket or pharmacy.
Do not ignore inflammation – it always merits investigation. By making appropriate changes to your diet, it becomes considerably less concerning. By managing inflammation risk, you’ll likely enjoy a healthier, more active lifestyle.
Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science
I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.