February 14, 2021
We hear a lot about the diseases that threaten our health but one key factor is only just gaining recognition beyond the medical and research community. It’s called inflammation, and it’s the biggest risk factor for serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease and dementia that we are facing right now.
Inflammation is our body’s fire alarm – it tells us there’s a problem and calls on our natural defences to help fix it. An infection or a sprained ankle are signs of inflammation, but after the initial swelling or flare-up that’s part of the healing response, we know our body will recover.
But sometimes the body’s inflammatory response is triggered and won’t turn off; the alarm keeps on ringing. That constant, chronic inflammation is bad news for our health as it causes damage deep within our cells. Worldwide, three out of five people die due to chronic inflammatory diseases such as stroke, respiratory diseases, heart disorders, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
Inflammation is triggered by infections, injuries and toxins. Covid-19 has been shown to cause inflammation, and the fatigue and ongoing health issues associated with Long Covid are due to inflammation at a cellular level. Some foods also trigger inflammation.
The good news is that making simple changes to our daily diet can rapidly reduce inflammation and so reduce our risk of disease. By taking out inflammatory foods and replacing them with nourishing ingredients proven to fight and reduce inflammation, we can make a difference deep inside the body – in our heart and lungs, brain, gut and organs.
Follow my simple 10-step approach to reducing inflammation and you will feel the difference within days – your stomach will be less bloated, you’ll lose weight, your eyes and skin will be clearer, your joints will feel less stiff and achy. And importantly, you will be taking charge of your wellbeing to give you the best chance of fighting disease now and in the future.
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10 rules of an anti-inflammatory diet
1 Ditch ultra-processed foods such as industrial-made bread, ready meals, breakfast cereals, sausages and reconstituted meat products. Biscuits, pastries and cakes, soft drinks, crisps, salted and sugared nuts are also ultra-processed.
2 Drastically reduce the amount of processed foods you eat – this is food that’s been smoked or undergone some other change. It includes products such as bacon, smoked meat and tinned fruit in syrup. These should be a rare addition to a meal, rather than a staple food or frequent snack.
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3 Eat a rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Fresh and frozen produce is packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals – compounds that help to repair damaged cells, but different fruits and veg contain different ones and they give foods their various colours.
4 Swap white pasta, bread, biscuits and cakes for wholegrains. Processed bread and pasta made with refined white flour release sugar quickly into the bloodstream and are linked with insulin resistance and increased risk of developing diabetes. Wholegrain breads and pasta are richer in nutrients with anti-inflammatory benefits. And the fibre they contains means they release sugar more slowly into the body, preventing an insulin surge.
5 Limit your red meat intake to no more than 500g a week – that’s around three portions. Choose unprocessed cuts and mince, rather than sausages and bacon. And cut back on saturated and animal fats, contained in foods such as butter and cheese and red meat. These are linked to great risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and dementia.
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6 Think of meat as the side dish or even as seasoning that adds extra flavour to a meal. The vegetables should be the star of your plate, so benefit from their anti-inflammatory nutrients and fibre.
7 Eat 1 to 2 portions of oily fish a week and snack on unsalted nuts and seeds. This will boost levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, protect the heart and improve mental health.
8 Shy away from sugar as too much is associated with inflammation and risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Combining sugar with protein or eating it in a dessert after a main meal will slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream to dampen the inflammatory response.
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9 Choose red wine over white. Red wine contains polyphenols that reduce inflammatory activity in cells. But you still shouldn’t have more than 14 units a week.
10 Add prebiotics and probiotics to your daily diet. These boost the number of healthy bacteria in the gut, improving symptoms of inflammatory bowel conditions. They can also improve symptoms of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Good sources of prebiotics include onions, asparagus, chickpeas and oats. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickles and live yoghurt, as well as cheeses.
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