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Your Nutritionist’s Guide To Diet and Inflammation

2 minute read /
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Your Nutritionist’s Guide To Diet and Inflammation

Inflammation has become the latest buzzword in the health and wellness sphere, but what exactly is it and can we fight inflammation by simply changing our diet? This no-nonsense guide decodes the science of inflammation and how to master the art of dietary management…

What is inflammation?

Whilst ‘inflammation’ has negative connotations, acute inflammation is a normal immune response to infection or injury, and crucial for healing. On the other hand, chronic inflammation is present for months or years and can harm healthy cells in the body! This form of inflammation may play a role in the progression of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some mental health disorders.

How are autoimmune conditions related to inflammation?

Our immune system should be able to detect the difference between our healthy cells and harmful external ones. However in autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, lupus and some thyroid conditions, the immune system mistakes healthy cells as foreign invaders. As a result, immune chemicals called antibodies are released which attack healthy cells, resulting in the often debilitating inflammatory symptoms associated with these conditions.

What foods contribute to inflammation?

Some dietary patterns such as the Western-style diet which is high in ultra-processed foods, calories, fat, sugar, salt and refined carbohydrates have been associated with a greater risk of inflammation (1). Fried foods, processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages are just to name a few of the foods which may be found in abundance. This dietary pattern can also lead to excess weight, which is associated with chronic inflammation as fat cells release inflammatory chemicals. However it’s important to bear in mind that we are all unique, and when it comes to specific foods and meals, the inflammatory response can vary between individuals. A study conducted by Zoe measured inflammation from food in over 1,000 people and it revealed that the inflammatory response differed vastly between individuals when consuming the same meals (2). Despite this individual response, a shift towards a nutrient-dense, wholefood-based diet is good for our health and may help to reduce inflammation.

Is sugar inflammatory?

In recent years sugar has been dubbed as toxic and even a poison by some. But is sugar responsible for lighting that inflammatory fire? Whilst there is evidence linking high sugar intake to inflammation (3), research has been inconsistent. Sugar is rarely consumed in isolation, it’s often present in ultra-processed foods along with saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. This makes it difficult to separate the impact of sugar from the overall inflammatory nature of an energy-dense Western diet. Nevertheless, reducing foods high in added sugar may still benefit inflammation and overall health, especially as these foods are abundant in inflammation dietary patterns.

What can we eat to reduce inflammation?

In the world of science, The Dietary Inflammatory Index has been created to measure the impact of diet on inflammation (4). What results in a lower inflammatory score? Foods rich in omega-3 fats, like salmon and mackerel, as well as a higher intake of dietary flavonoids found in colourful fruits and vegetables. However, a focus on overall diet quality as seen in the Mediterranean diet, appears to have the biggest impact on reducing inflammation (5). This diet is rich in plant-based foods such as wholegrains, pulses, fruit, and vegetables. It includes moderate amounts of fish, low to moderate dairy intake, minimal meat and relies on olive oil as an important fat source. People with autoimmune conditions may benefit from a more specific dietary approach, such as an elimination diet to identify triggers. However, it’s advised to carry out these diets under the guidance of a dietitian or nutritionist.

What is the link between gut health and inflammation?

Did you know that as much as 70% of our immune system lies within our gut and our gut bacteria communicate with immune cells influencing their function? Low-fibre diets, antibiotics, alcohol, stress and ageing can all compromise the health of our gut bacteria. Furthermore, autoimmune conditions may increase gut permeability, leaving room for bacteria and toxins to pass through to the bloodstream. To support overall gut health, enjoy plenty of fibre-rich, plant-based foods, which may comprise of rainbow fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.



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00:42AM April 17, 2024