Inflammation is a localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes swollen, hot and sometimes painful. It can be caused by an injury or infection.
But similar inflammations can happen inside our bodies, in places we can’t see—so even though we may feel pain or discomfort, or suffer from the many health problems internal inflammation can cause, it might remain a mystery to us.
There is a way, however, of preventing or keeping internal inflammation under check. Eat foods with anti-inflammatory properties.
This is not really a structured diet with a chart—there is no portion control, or counting calories; it’s just about loading up on wholesome foods, a lifestyle change towards healthy eating.
This eating plan is supported by the renowned Dr Andrew Weil, a preventive medicine physician, Dr Barry Sears, of the famous Zone Diet (a diet based on the hormonal effects of food and geared to reduce cellular inflammation), and Dr Oz, America’s favourite talk show doctor—they’re all based in the US.
Diets with components high on glycaemic index such as carbohydrates (like simple refined sugars), hydrogenated saturated fats, trans-fatty acids and red meat have been associated with inflammation, according to a study published in June 2012 in the Public Library of Science One. A diet plan that does not have these components can reduce chances of dealing with heart-related problems, reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure, and even soothe arthritic joints.
Diets poor in natural antioxidants, phytochemicals, fibre and omega-3 fats found in fish and mustard seeds have also been shown to be pro-inflammatory. So it follows that the best way to eat is to load up on foods high in antioxidants, fibre, omega 3 and phytochemicals, and low in simple carbs, saturated fats and red meat. The backbone of such a diet is fruits and vegetables of all kinds.
Berries are nature’s superfoods, especially blueberries, which not only reduce inflammation, but can protect the brain from ageing and can help prevent diseases such as cancer and dementia.
Green vegetables are a must too. Broccoli contains anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer phytonutrients such as sulforaphane, dark leafy greens like spinach or mustard greens are loaded with antioxidants and are also high in inflammation-fighting carotenoids, vitamin K and vitamin E.
Keep your diet low in saturated fat and trans fats. Don’t touch margarine; it is full of trans fats which clog your arteries. Make sure you get enough omega-3 fatty acids—good sources include fish like salmon, sardine and mackarel, flaxseeds, hempseeds, avocados and walnuts.
You can also take omega 3 as a capsule, in a dose of 3g of both epa and dha (both essential fatty acids) per day. This is especially effective for those with rheumatoid arthritis, according to research published in the journal American Family Physician.
Extra virgin olive oil is full of healthy fats which fight inflammation as well. It can also help lower the risks of asthma and arthritis, as well as protect the heart.
Choose wholegrains like brown rice and bulgur wheat over white rice or maida (refined flour) .
Lean proteins like chicken, turkey or fish are better than red meat.
Indians have an advantage in terms of an anti-inflammatory diet since turmeric, which contains a natural anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin, is an integral part of our diet. The other spices that can help with inflammation include oregano, garlic and ginger, which also help control blood sugar.
Ensure that you get enough fibre every day; it can be obtained from wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, and cereals like wheat bran.
Additives like aspartame and MSG (monosodium glutamate, the main component in ajinomoto that adds taste to Chinese food) can also trigger inflammation responses. And all those who think switching to “diet” colas is good, think again.
Vishakha Shivdasani is a Mumbai-based medical doctor with a fellowship in nutrition. She specializes in controlling diabetes, cholesterol and obesity.