WE have been encouraged to eat right and exercise as a way of keeping our bodies healthy and fit, and of course, to best manage existing health conditions. But quite often we ignore these recommendations, consistently chugging down meals packed with saturated fats, sugars and sodium while simultaneously neglecting to engage in any form of exercise. And while the signs that damage is being done to our bodies are not always obvious at first, nutritionist Donovan Grant said that we could be setting ourselves up for major health crises, and these can start with inflammation.
Our immune systems become activated when the body recognises anything that is foreign, and this often triggers a process called inflammation.
“Inflammation really describes the process by which the body's white blood cells and the substances they produce protect us from infection with foreign organisms such as bacteria and viruses. But in the case of many autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system, which acts as the body's natural defence, triggers an inflammatory response even when there are no foreign invaders to fight off, which then launches an attack on the body causing damage to it,” Grant explained.
He said that the inflammation may manifest as mucous, joint pain and stiffness, redness, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, acne, diarrhoea or constipation, ulcers, flushing and water retention.
And while you may seek prescription drugs as treatment for various forms of inflammation, Grant said that the best remedies are found at the grocery store. Below, he shares some of the best anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet.
Fruits, lots of it
Fruits such as cherries, strawberries, tomatoes, blueberries and oranges are packed with natural antioxidants and polyphenols — protective compounds found in plants. “So the general recommendation is that you aim to have at least one to two servings of fruits daily and that will help to fight inflammation,” Grant said.
Leafy green and other vegetables
Green veggies such as spinach, kale and callaloo and other calciferous foods such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are rich in phytochemicals, enzymes and nutrients. If these foods are eaten especially when the stomach is empty, these nutrients aid in a speedy repair of your cells. “Also, very importantly, these vegetables contain sulforaphane, which is associated with blocking enzymes that are linked to joint deterioration and, consequently, chronic inflammation,” Grant advised.
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids which are crucial in the fight against inflammation. Grant explains the omega-3 fatty acids help significantly in the reduction of serum concentrations of inflammatory markers.
Olive oil is rich in healthy fatty acids, and in addition to this heart friendly property, it is rich in free-radical fighting antioxidants called polyphenols, which contribute to taming inflammation.
Nuts and seeds
Whether it is walnuts, almonds, chia seeds or sunflower seeds, they are all very rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants play a crucial role in the fight against inflammation, as they repair the self-inflicted cell damage which occurs as a result of the healthy cells in the body attacking themselves.
Sorrel is touted for its potential benefits in the fight against cancer, at least one disease which has been linked to inflammation. Sorrel contains a high concentration of free radicals which are also essential in the fight against inflammation. The leaves have even been used in the treatment of ulcers, boils, swelling and scorbutic diseases (pertaining to scurvy).
This is said to contain proteins which inhibit the production and release of histamine. This chemical, if unblocked, is said to ignite an inflammatory response in the body.
Herbs such as ginger and turmeric are very useful in the treatment of inflammation in the body. They contain antioxidants, and are anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-disease. Studies have shown that these properties are important to blocking several genes and enzymes in the body that promote inflammation. Other good herbs and plants include aloe vera, which is great in soothing inflammation of the stomach, digestive tract and skin; and neem, which has been used in medicines to treat many skin inflammations such as acne.