Inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods and lifestyle

Inflammation is a key underlying component of pain and a promoter of all chronic disease. Inflammation is a natural process the body initiates when an area or system is under stress (from injury, infection, mental stress, over exercise, poor diet, lack of sleep etc.), however when this inflammation gets out of control, it can wreak havoc on the body. When in pain, many people turn to anti-inflammatory medication such as Nurofen or Voltaren, not aware that these can be dangerous to our bodies in many ways including compromising gut health, stressing the liver and disrupting the balance of the gut flora. By the addition of some common foods and spices, and removal of some offending foods and habits, we can reduce the tendency for the body to flare up and if it does, to put out the spot fires.

The following are foods reduce inflammation in the body:

  • Vitamin D foods - grass fed meats, grass fed eggs, cod liver oil, caviar.
  • Omega 3 foods - oily fish, fish oil, inca inchi oil, flax oil, flax seeds (must be ground for the body to utilise them ie. grind into flax meal in a food processor), cold pressed olive oil, avocado, cod liver oil.
  • Coconut oil - Cold pressed or centrifuged organic is anti inflammatory, anti bacterial and anti microbial (and a healthy fat).
  • Vegetables - Dark green leafy vegetables (kale, silverbeet, spinach, beetroot greens etc.), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy etc.) - organic where possible.
  • Polyphenol (antioxidant) containing fruits - Organic blueberries, cherries, raspberries, acai berry.
  • Fresh herbs & ground spices - Turmeric, ginger, rosemary, clove, pepper, cumin, coriander and milk thistle.
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa) - Use the fresh root grated onto salads, into soups and stews etc. Use the dry powder in curries and stews or in Turmeric Paste (below). To release the medicinal qualities of turmeric it must be combined with a fat (coconut oil for example) and freshly ground black pepper.

Turmeric Paste Recipe: 1-2tsp daily:

  1. Gently heat 1 cup of filtered water and 85g organic turmeric powder on the stove.
  2. Stir while heating. Do not boil, remove stove when bubbles start erupting.
  3. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  4. Add 1-2 tsp freshly ground black pepper and 50ml cold pressed organic coconut oil, stir until blended.
  5. Store in airtight container in the fridge.
  • Quercetin containing foods - capers, radish leaves, dill, coriander, fennel leaves, red onion, watercress, buckwheat, kale, black plums, sweet potato, blueberry.
  • Enzymes & probiotics - fermented foods (kim chi, sauerkraut), raw fruit (especially paw paw and pineapple), raw vegetables.
  • Drinks - Green tea (adults only), freshly squeezed lemon juice and apple cider vinegar in water (or over salads).
  • Choose organic food - (especially these) where possible or the least sprayed, freshest, local and in season you can find.

It’s also important to reduce foods, drinks and habits that promote inflammation, including:

  • Refined sugar & artificial sweeteners - hidden in processed foods, confectionery, and store bought juices. Avoid any products with: glucose, dextrose, malto-dextrin, xylitol, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, brown rice syrup, barley malt, corn sweetener, corn syrup, invert sugar, malt syrup, maltose, oat syrup, rice bran syrup and sorghum syrup.
  • Gluten - wheat, barley, rye, oats and other refined grains, as they all contain less common forms of gluten - rice, buckwheat, corn, amaranth, sorghum flour etc.  Read labels carefully and watch out for “corn” flour made of wheat, soy sauce, thickeners, etc. and other corn products listed as maize.
  • Dairy - includes milk, yoghurt, cheese, margarine, butter, etc. from cow, sheep and goat.  Read labels to exclude foods with hidden milk products - could be called casein, whey etc.
  • Grain fed meat - including grain finished meats.
  • Trans fats - vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils such as canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil like those in margarine, potato chips etc.
  • Caffeine - coffee, tea, guarana products, chocolate.
  • Artificial additives - avoid all colours (number 100 range), flavours (600 range), preservatives (number 200 range) and sweeteners (900 range and 420).  For specifics on codes to avoid see this article.
  • Genetically modified foods, especially be aware of processed foods containing wheat, soy and corn and corn products.
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco-like products - cigarettes, cigars, marijuana
  • Allergies or food sensitivities. This could be soy products (Soy milk, yoghurt, cheese, tofu), eggs (chicken and duck - especially if grain fed), nuts, salicylates, nightshades.
  • Heal and seal the gut - the gut is often the primary driver of inflammation and disease.

For further information on food - see our article "What in the world should I eat".

Lifestyle factors that can reduce inflammation:

  • Sleep - get 7.5-8 hours of quality sleep every night, and be asleep by 10pm. Chronic sleep deprivation or even a single night of poor sleep can contribute to inflammation.
  • Exercise - 3-4 times per week up to a maximum of 40 minutes. For example a walk, bike ride, weight training or cardio.
  • Water - drink 2 litres of filtered water each day.
  • Sunlight - get 20 minutes of sunlight per day, preferably in the morning, without sunglasses on.
  • Relax - participate in a relaxation exercise or meditation for 5+ minutes per day. Meditation done before eating will relax your nervous system and therefore improve digestion.
  • Clean air - take a deep breath...often! Or try some breathing exercises to deliver more oxygen and blood to our tissues to alkalise your body and reduce inflammation.
  • Laugh and share - with someone you love every day.
  • Stress management - use breathing, meditation, visualisation, a walk or swim, mindfulness etc.
  • Boost digestion - Take 7 deep breaths in and out through your nose before eating. Eat your meal sitting down, in a relaxed manner.  1 glass of warm water with the juice of 1 fresh lemon before breakfast every morning. Drink 1tsp-1tbsp Bragg’s apple cider vinegar in water 30mins before meals.
  • Reduce chemical intake from skincare products- especially shampoos with parabens, SLS etc. and gluten components such as tocopherols, fermented grain extract, triticum, vulgare, bran extract, cyclodextrin.

There are foods that we commonly eat that may be contributing to inflammation and therefore the pain and dis-ease we are suffering with. We have a choice whether we choose foods that create inflammation or foods that reduce inflammation and clean up tissue damage. By being empowered and making some adjustments in what we eat, how we eat and other lifestyle aspects we can experience greater health, better immunity, less pain, more mobility and more freedom. As manual therapists, we deal with inflammation every day and we see that the most effective change happens when inflammation is safely reduced. We love to work towards prevention and an anti inflammatory diet is a key component of preventing new symptoms from occurring or a flare up of previous symptoms. 

Written by Dr. Jess Harvey B.Sc. (Anat, Phys), B.Ap.Sci (Comp. Med.), Ma Osteo., Registered Osteopath and Director of Head 2 Toe Health, with multidisciplinary clinics in Brisbane and Gold Coast. We provide Osteopathy, Acupuncture, Massage, Life Coaching and Counselling. We aim to get you as well as possible, as fast as possible, permanently. We believe in a thorough approach to restoring and maintaining health and address many aspects of our lifestyles that can contribute to pain, stiffness, dis-ease and disease. For any further information, please contact us on info@head2toehealth.com.au or 07) 3208 8308.

This information is intended as a general guide only and is not specific for any particular condition or situation.  Please consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting a nutritional program.

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