If you’re looking for ways to live a longer, healthier life, then following an anti-inflammatory diet is a great place to start.
What we eat can have a big impact on how much inflammation is produced in our bodies, as certain foods can either trigger or dampen inflammation. Eating a wholesome diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, spices, and herbs, and avoiding processed refined foods, is important for preventing inflammation, reducing the risk of chronic disease, and for promoting longevity.
This Face the Current Health Feature is published in Issue 29. Order PRINT here, SUBSCRIBE to digital membership for unlimited access, or continue reading this article below.
Inflammation The Root of Chronic Disease
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, infections, and illness. It plays a vital role in healing the body and protecting us from viruses and bacteria. Without an inflammatory response, wounds and damaged tissues wouldn’t heal.
Inflammation should only be a temporary response that dissipates after the healing process is over. Sometimes, however, inflammation persists and becomes chronic and this is when it can do more harm than good. When inflammation becomes chronic it increases the risk of chronic disease.
Inflammation is said to be the root of almost all diseases including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, asthma, obesity, inflammatory bowel conditions, autoimmune diseases, and leaky gut. Scientists have found a strong correlation between inflammation levels and a person’s lifespan. According to a study published in the journal Lancet, low levels of inflammation in the body is a powerful predictor of longevity in people who live over 100 years old. (1)
Chronic, systemic low-grade inflammation often goes undetected for years as it silently damages tissues in the body until disease sets in. It’s often only when signs and symptoms of disease appear that we become aware of it.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by a number of different factors including an overactive immune system (autoimmunity), an underlying infection that the body’s trying to fight, or some repetitive physical stress on a certain part of the body. Poor diet, long-term stress, food allergies (e.g. Crohn’s disease), and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to chronic inflammation in the body.
Eating For Longevity
Here are some top dietary and lifestyle tips for preventing inflammation to promote a long and healthy life:
Lower Inflammation With Low GI (Glycemic Index) Foods
Keeping your insulin levels low will help prevent the build-up of inflammation. Eating refined sugary foods regularly elevates glucose and insulin levels and will increase inflammation throughout the body.
Some of the best ways to maintain low insulin levels is to regularly exercise and limit refined junk foods. Exercise is one of the best ways to normalise insulin levels and prevent insulin resistance. When insulin resistance occurs, the cells are unable to effectively use insulin to absorb glucose, so glucose starts to build up in the blood.
Other important ways to maintain healthy insulin levels are to avoid refined grains like white breads, rice, and crackers, and to steer clear of processed foods that are rich in refined sugars like breakfast cereals, biscuits, cakes, muesli bars, and soft drinks. To help keep insulin levels in check, you should be choosing nutritious unprocessed foods that have a low GI including unprocessed whole grains (whole oats, grainy bread, brown basmati, wild rice, buckwheat), most fruits (not fruit juice), vegetables, legumes, raw nuts and seeds (nut butters, tahini, quinoa), and wild fish.
Avoid Processed Foods
New research suggests that people who eat wholesome diets rich in fruits and vegetables and who avoid processed foods have a lower risk of death at an early age. (2)
Processed foods contain highly inflammatory ingredients like refined oils (vegetable oils) and sugars (including high-fructose corn syrup) that can produce inflammatory compounds called cytokines in the body. Vegetable oils including corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, and peanut oils quickly oxidise when heated and form trans-fats and aldehydes, which are highly inflammatory. These oils are also high in omega-6 fats which are important in moderation but become inflammatory when eaten in excess.
One of the best ways to make the change to an anti-inflammatory diet is to avoid eating processed foods. Choosing to eat a diet rich in wholesome, natural, unprocessed foods that are full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and nutrients that are anti-inflammatory will help fight against inflammation and promote a longer life. Stock your kitchen with fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, avocados, raw nuts and seeds and nut butters, tahini, quinoa, oily wild fish, and healthy oils like olive, avocado, flaxseed, and macadamia nut.
Make sure to properly store your oils in a cool, dark place. Olive oil is a great choice for baking and cooking at a moderate temperature. Avocado, flax, extra virgin olive, and macadamia nut oils are all excellent oils to drizzle over salads and veggies and are also great for dressings and dips.
Moderate amounts of fructose from whole fruit is healthy, however it’s when people consume large amounts of refined fructose from processed foods that it can contribute to inflammation in the body and an increased risk of diseases like obesity, cancer, fatty liver, insulin resistance, and type-2 diabetes.
Large epidemiological studies have shown strong health benefits of following a Mediterranean diet for reducing the risk of a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, and for increasing life expectancy (3). The Mediterranean diet’s health and longevity benefits are said to be due to its combination of mainly plant-based antioxidant and anti-inflammatory rich foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, unprocessed grains, and olive oil, along with oily fish and a low consumption of meats.
Regular exercise is an excellent way to lower chronic inflammation in the body. Unfortunately, the average person spends around ten hours a day sitting at their desk. Sitting for long periods of time can have a negative impact on your health and is a risk factor for insulin resistance. Research has shown that sitting for more than eight hours a day can increase your risk of type-2 diabetes by a whopping 90%. (4)
To help keep you moving throughout the day when you’re working, set a reminder every hour to get up and move around. Aim to do around 10,000 steps each day by choosing to walk to walk or the grocery store, or to pick up your kids instead of taking a car. Working at a stand-up desk can also help. Try doing some squats or leg raises while working. Schedule in some high intensity training or weight training during the week, too. This will help stimulate your muscles to release myokines, anti-inflammatory chemical messengers that inhibit the release of inflammatory molecules (cytokines).
Eat The Rainbow
Fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-inflammatory flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C. Berries (blueberries, raspberries, acai, strawberries, black berries), dark green leafy vegetables (kale, Swiss chard, spinach), beetroot, cherries, pomegranates, oranges, tomatoes, lemons, carrots, kiwi, papaya, broccoli, avocado, and mangoes are all loaded with these important anti-inflammatory compounds. Pineapple contains bromelain which is an enzyme that helps reduce inflammation and aids digestion. (5)
If you find it difficult to get your daily dose of vegetables, try having a veggie juice or a green smoothie to up your intake of green leaves. Some excellent inflammation-busting veggie juice combinations are carrot, beetroot, celery, apple and ginger; and pineapple, spinach, mint, lemon, celery and cucumber.
Teas For Longevity
Swap your morning coffee for a delicious cup of liquorice, ginger, or chamomile tea. These fabulous herbs have been used by herbalists for centuries for their anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon and turmeric are also excellent anti-inflammatory botanicals that can be enjoyed in chai or added to hot almond or coconut milk for a delicious anti-inflammatory latte. Studies have found that green and rose hip teas are also great choices as they help dampen inflammation throughout the body. (6,7) Green tea’s anti-inflammatory action is due to its high levels of polyphenols called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
Raw Nuts and Seeds
Turn your snacks, smoothies, breakfast cereals, and salads into super anti-inflammatory meals by adding a handful of raw nuts and seeds like walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, chia, hemp and flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and pepitas. These nutritional powerhouses provide beneficial unsaturated fats including essential omega-3 fats (found in chia and flax seeds, and walnuts), vitamin E, and zinc, which have anti-inflammatory actions. Nut butters and tahini (sesame seeds) are also delicious ways to enjoy these anti-inflammatory foods. A study found that people who eat at least three servings of nuts per week had a 39% lower risk of premature death. (8)
Optimize Your Gut Health
A healthy balance of beneficial gut microbiome (bacteria) is important for supporting good gut health and for warding off gut inflammation. Problems with microbiome can contribute to digestive system conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut, and even depression, arthritis, and poor immunity. Including fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso with meals is a great way to boost your beneficial gut bacteria. Taking a good quality multi-strain daily probiotic supplement is also recommended to help maintain a healthy and balanced gut microbiome and to protect against inflammation.
Spice Up Your Meals
Spice up your meals by adding fresh or ground ginger, turmeric, garlic, curry powder, cinnamon, and chilli. These well-known anti-inflammatory herbs will not only add plenty of flavour to meals, but they will also help fight inflammation.
Limit Red Meat
There have been several studies that show health benefits associated with eating a diet low in meat. (9) Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality compared to diets including meat. (10) Low meat consumption is associated with longevity. (11)
Excessive red meat consumption can promote inflammation in the body. Red meat and processed deli meats are pro-inflammatory foods.
If you like to include some red meat in your diet, buy organic and grass-fed as commercially grown meats are higher in inflammatory compounds. Try marinating your meat in olive oil and garlic as this will form a protective coating on the meat that will help to reduce the formation of inflammatory compounds when cooked. Always cook your meat on low-to-medium temperature and try not to burn your meat.
Important Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients
There are a number of vitamins and minerals that have anti-inflammatory properties, which are essential to good health and longevity.
Vitamin A is an immune enhancer and anti-inflammatory nutrient that’s found in cod liver oil, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, and green leafy veggies in the form of beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A in the body).
Zinc is another essential mineral required for healthy immune function and for its anti-inflammatory action. Zinc is found in fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Quercetin is a flavonoid known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Good sources of quercetin include black grapes, raspberries, broccoli, kale, onions, and apples.
Vitamin E is another nutrient that has been found to have potent anti-inflammatory action. You will find vitamin E in foods such as avocados, olive oil, raw nuts and seeds, and wild oily fish.
Oily fish are rich in beneficial omega-3 fats, so they make a fantastic addition to an anti-inflammatory diet. Alaskan wild salmon, trout, cod, mackerel, and sardines are all good choices. Tuna, especially tinned “chunk” tuna made from large tuna, are notoriously high in mercury so this should be an occasional fish. If you do buy tinned tuna, go for Skipjack “light” tuna that’s made from smaller fish. Taking a good quality fish oil or krill oil supplement is also a great way to increase your anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Beneficial unsaturated fats found in avocado, raw nuts and seeds (including their oils, tahini, and nut butters), and extra virgin olive oil also have a potent anti-inflammatory action.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet rich in plant-based foods, spices, and herbs is an important way to stave off chronic disease and to help you live a longer and healthier life. Aim to make small positive changes to your diet each week. Clear out your cupboards of unhealthy processed foods and replace them with wholesome alternatives. Go to your local farmers’ market and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Make eating for longevity fun and delicious. Buy yourself some plant-based cookbooks and start experimenting in your kitchen with new recipes. Your body will love you for it.
- Yasumichi Arai et al. Inflammation, But Not Telomere Length, Predicts Successful Ageing at Extreme Old Age: A Longitudinal Study of Semi-supercentenarians. The Lancet, Vol 2, Issue 10, 2015, pg 1549-1558.
- J. Kaluza et al. Influence of anti-inflamatory diet and smoking on mortality and survival in men and women: two prospective cohort studies. Journal of Internal Medicine, 2019, 285;75-91
- Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez. Mediterranean diet and life expectancy; beyond olive oil, fruits and vegetables. Curr Opin Clin Nutri Metab Care. 2016 Nov; 19(6): 401-407.
- Aviroop Biswas et al. Sedentary Time and Its Association with Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine.
- Muller S et al. Placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial on the immunomodulating activities of low- and high-dose bromelain after oral administration – new evidence on the anti-inflammatory mode of action of bromelain. Phytotherapy Res. 2013 Feb;27(2):199-204.
- Priyanka Chatterjee. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory effects of green tea and black tea: A comparative in vitro study. J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2012 Apr-Jun; 3(2): 136–138.
- Winther K1, Rein E, Kharazmi A. The anti-inflammatory properties of rose-hip. Inflammopharmacology, 1999.
- Guasch-Ferre M. et al. Frequency of nut comsumption and mortality risk in the PREDIMED nutrition intervention trial. BMC Med. 2013 Jul 16;11:164.
- Campbell TC, Campbell TM., II . The China study: the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss and long-term health. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books; 2006. May 11
- Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010: to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC: Agriculture Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2010. May,
- Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Mar 23;169(6):562–71.