Ask a Dietitian: What Are the Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

With the array of diets on offer, it’s no wonder people get confused about which eating methods are worth their time and which ones are just passing fads. Fortunately, the anti-inflammatory diet is in the former camp, with some significant and science-backed benefits for your health.

What is an anti-inflammatory diet?

An anti-inflammatory diet is said to reduce long-term, low-grade chronic inflammation in the human body. Chronic long-term inflammation (which is different to acute, short-term inflammation in response to injury or infection) is linked to a long list of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome, cancer and bowel disease. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet can help manage health symptoms, aid weight management and maintain overall health.

What does an anti-inflammatory diet involve?

Two commonly recommended anti-inflammatory diets are the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional dietary patterns of people living along the Mediterranean Sea, where vegetables, fruit, nuts and wholegrains and healthy fats like olive oil are the staples of the diet. Moderate amounts of poultry and dairy (cheese and yoghurt in particular) are included in the Mediterranean diet. 

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) focuses on foods low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. It recommends a largely vegetarian diet, loaded with vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and nuts, as well as low-fat dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt) and lean meats (poultry and fish). Red meat, sugary drinks and sweets should be avoided or in the very least, limited.

In fact, the two diets are very similar on paper. The only marked difference is the stricter recommendation of low-fat dairy in the DASH diet but it’s still included due the benefits of calcium for bone health and the long-term prevention of osteoporosis. 

What should you eat on an anti-inflammatory diet? 

An anti-inflammatory diet consists of nutrient-dense, unprocessed wholefoods that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties among other health benefits. Both diets are naturally high in fibre, antioxidants and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  

Here is a broad list of foods included in an anti-inflammatory diet:

  • Vegetables – A rainbow of vegetables is recommended to capture a range of phytonutrients, especially dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale.
  • Fruit – Skin on fruits, berries and cherries.
  • Wholegrains – Brown rice, quinoa, oats, wholegrain bread and pasta.
  • Legumes – Beans, chickpeas, lentils.
  • Oily fish – Salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel and tuna.
  • Nuts/seeds – Almonds, walnuts and cashews.
  • Healthy fats ­– Extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil.
  • Drinks – Water, green tea and coffee in moderation.
  • Herbs & spices – Cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano and thyme.

There’s also a number of unsurprising foods you’ll need to limit. We’re talking the typical culprits such as processed foods, deep-fried foods, fast food, smoked meats and large amounts of alcohol.

The link to good gut health

Anti-inflammatory foods ­– specifically phytochemicals associated with dietary fibre, have a positive anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, effect on gut microbiota and improve the health of the intestinal lining.  

The research into the effect of certain foods on gut microbiota is currently a hot topic for nutritional scientists. The science tells us that low-grade inflammation leads to disease and that foods that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties such as fish oils and polyphenolic foods, can reduce inflammation biomarkers in the body. Current research is studying the positive effect of fermented foods, probiotics, spices such as turmeric and cinnamon, and polyphenols (found in plant foods, especially berries, beans and nuts) on low-grade chronic inflammation and how they can help to reduce disease risk.

So, there are really no downsides to adopting an anti-inflammatory diet!

Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

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