Eating calmly

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Post by Adrian Ogier27 Aug 2010

With all this talk about inflammation, Adrian Ogier thought it was worth investigating the anti-inflammatory diet.

The theory of the anti-inflammatory diet is pretty simple. It goes that some foods have a ‘calming’ or anti-inflammatory affect on your body while others don’t. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in a grilled piece of salmon, for example, tend to decrease inflammation, while omega-6 fats and trans-fats, such as those found in a deep-fried Mars bar, will increase it.

Makes sense so far.

So, loading up on processed, fast and junk foods, sugar, dairy and fatty red meat will exacerbate inflammation. While a diet made up of fish, nuts, seeds, oils, lean meat and plenty of fruit and vegetables can help lessen or prevent inflammation and can also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is not dissimilar to the Mediterranean diet which is rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, fish, cereals and legumes (beans) with a moderate amount of meat and dairy products. The main difference between the two diets seems to be that promoters of the anti-inflammatory diet have a passion for highlighting certain foods as having particularly good anti-inflammatory properties.

Salmon is one of these foods. It is regarded as an excellent source of eicosapentaenoic acids and docosahexaenoic acids, the two potent omega-3 fatty acids that can douse inflammation. Other types of cold water oily fish include herring, sardines and tuna.

If you don’t like fish then walnuts, flax seeds, canola oil and pumpkin seeds are other good sources of omega-3.

Virgin olive oil is another anti-inflammatory favourite. It contains polyphenols that can protect the heart and blood vessels from inflammation. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are also turned into anti-inflammatory agents by the body.

Your body needs protein to build healthy body tissues; good sources include lean poultry, fish and seafood, nuts, legumes and seeds.

If you eat red meat, proponents of the anti-inflammatory diet recommend you choose lean cuts of kangaroo, venison or other game meats, or the lowest-fat cuts of preferably grass-fed beef.

Limit eggs and make sure they’re organic. In fact, they suggest all food where possible be organic so you get the most out of it and also avoid any inflaming additives.

They also recommend you limit dairy products and choose only high-quality natural cheeses and yoghurt.

The diet recommends soybeans, tofu, and soy milk as good alternative sources of protein.

They suggest that the bread, cereal and pasta products you eat be 100% whole grain. This should satisfy your body’s need for fibre as well as carbohydrate, two things which you’ll also get from the plentiful amounts of fruit and vegetables they recommend.

To fulfil your daily requirements (five servings of vegetables and two of fruit) choose from a variety of leafy green and brightly coloured vegetables and fresh whole fruits.

But be warned, some vegetables are considered better than others.

Potatoes, for example, are thought to be pro-inflammatory. Like the other members of the nightshade family of plants – tomatoes and eggplants – they contain a chemical alkaloid called solanine, considered a poison and therefore avoided by purists.

Sweet potato, on the other hand, is often overshadowed by other exotic vegetables. But it is a good source of complex carbohydrate ,betacarotene, manganese, vitamin B6 and C as well as dietary fibre. Working in concert, these nutrients are powerful antioxidants that can help to heal inflammation in the body.

The research isn’t consistent, but garlic is considered to have some anti-inflammatory and glucose-regulating benefits and it may also help your body fight infections. At the very least, it won’t hurt and makes for a tasty addition to food.

Cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, are also loaded with antioxidants. But they also provide sulphur, an ingredient the body needs to make its own high-powered antioxidants, such as one called glutathione.

Berries are also a good food choice (fresh or frozen), especially blueberries and strawberries – which are packed with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals – an example of which is quercetin, which is found in the skins of apples and red onion and is purported to have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Papaya (or pawpaw) contains papain, a protein-digesting enzyme. Together with other nutrients such as vitamins C and E, papain improves digestion and helps to reduce inflammation. It can also be applied topically for the treatment of cuts, rashes, stings and burns.

Turmeric is an Asian spice commonly found in pre-mixed curry powder and contains a powerful, nontoxic compound called curcumin.

Its cousin, ginger, is also known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and some research suggests that it might also help control blood sugar.

There are various other foods which are singled out for their anti-inflammatory properties. Asian mushrooms, including shiitake, are particularly good. So is kelp. And green tea. It goes on.

I worry a bit when they start listing the bad foods. Like sugar. And alcohol. It all seems a bit militant. (But then I see that the jolly Dr Weil has included dark choclate and red wine in his food pyramid! So, it’s not all bad.)

I asked Lia Purnomo, a dietician at the Albion Street Centre, in Sydney, how important adhering to the anti-inflammatory diet should be for PLHIV.

We know that the body needs a variety of nutrients, she says, to keep the immune system ready to act. The relationship between specific nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and inflammation is an area of ongoing research.

Chronic inflammation also plays a part in obesity. Biomarkers of inflammation are increased in obesity. Chronic inflammation is associated with insulin resistance and predicts the development of type 2 diabetes  and cardiovascular disease.

She believes that, although dietary considerations vary significantly from each individual, a good approach is eating a balanced diet. We should not (as I have done here) focus on individual foods.

‘What is important is to pay attention to our overall pattern. So, reducing inflammation is not just about diet but also a healthy lifestyle, which incorporates getting enough exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.’

Which all makes perfect sense.

The idea of living on kelp and broccoli does not inspire me. Nor does the idea of never eating ice cream again or the odd hot chip.

So, balance, people. Include the good foods and limit the bad ones. But above all else . . . enjoy!

Information for this article was gleaned from and can be further investigated at:,

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