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Diet and inflammation

1603010_TSF_FBPost3.3We are told that foods with anti-inflammatory properties are a good for us. But what does this even mean?

Got a cut? Let’s fix it.

Casting back to high school biology, you may recall being taught about wound healing. Inflammation is a critical to this process. When injured or infected, the body initiates a response sending out chemical messengers to kill off pathogens, clear out cellular debris, and create protection to enable healing.

The chemical messengers can be thought of as soldiers, forever fighting in our defence. In order for the soldiers to reach the site in need (wherever on the body that may be), temporarily the blood vessels undergo vasodilation and become more permeable. Then, army of defenders can flood in great numbers, causing the area to swell, become red, warm, and possibly a little tender. Soon after the body heals and the inflammatory response can be dialled down.

Brilliant! A built in defence force! But what happens when the inflammatory response is activated long-term?

Chronic inflammation

Low-grade, chronic inflammation has been seen to by implicated in a huge range of conditions, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Autoimmune disease

Stress, medication and body weight contribute to levels of inflammation.1 However what we eat and drink plays a huge role in perpetuating the inflammatory response. What we consume can help mitigate it, leaving our innate defence force to act only when it is really needed, like in injury or infection.

Diet and inflammation

Various foods have been shown to either encourage or discourage inflammatory activity. Let’s take a look at foods to consider having in abundance, and foods to limit (though not necessarily eliminate); in order to find balance for the inflammatory response.

Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids
Consuming foods with omega 6 fatty acids in proportion to omega 3 fatty acids at about a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio is considered beneficial. However, the Western diet sits at about a 16-20:1 ratio, meaning excessive intake of foods causing inflammation, with little to counteract. Oh dear.

Refined and whole food sources of carbohydrates
Whole food, slow release carbohydrates, such as vegetables, nuts, some fruits, and any food high in fibre, assists in mitigating inflammation, by maintaining blood glucose levels, and offering an array of beneficial nutrients. Refined sources of carbohydrates and free sugars are high in glycaemic load (the impact of a carbohydrate quality and quantity on blood glucose levels). This leads to high insulin levels followed by a plummet in blood glucose, encouraging low-grade inflammation. Oh dear, again.1




Vegetable oils (excluding olive, coconut, cocoa)




Meat (especially red meat)

Refined carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, corn and rice cereals)

Sugary foods (including sweets, cookies, etc)


Anti-inflammatory Fish (especially oily fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon)



Green leafy vegetables

Spices and herbs

High fibre foods

Whole food carbohydrates (vegetables, nuts)

Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables


To some, if mightn’t come as a surprise that certain oils, refined, highly processed foods, and high glycaemic load foods encourage inflammation. Oh sugar. It rears its sweet, sweet head yet again, and in this case contributing to all manner of inflammatory related disease.

What is scary is the adult (24.5%) and youth (21.4%) vegetable and fruit consumption of both remains below recommended 5 serves per day; and high added sugar foods and refined grain consumption are rising.2

Moreover, a randomised control trial using 29 healthy controls found consuming as little as 40g of added sugar from soft drinks per day (equivalent of 1 375ml can) significantly increases inflammatory markers, with additional negative impacts in relation to body size, insulin resistance and LDL cholesterol markers.3 This is essentially one 375ml can of Coke.

We need inflammation
Now don’t get us wrong – inflammatory reactions in the body are NORMAL, and needed (as mentioned). Our bodies are designed to contend with some inflammation – we just don’t want to be inflamed all the time, with nothing to counter the response.

Our body is our friend
Let us remember that our body will do everything to keep us happy, and works hard, 24 hours a day to do so. So let’s give it a helping hand, and discourage the constant barrage of inflammation by eating an abundance of vegetables, some fruit, and choosing foods that are unrefined, low in sugar, and enjoy meat and minimally processed grains as condiments.



  1. Bosma-den Boer, MM, van Wetten, M, & Pruimboom, L 2012, ‘Chronic inflammatory diseases are stimulated by current lifestyle: how diet, stress levels and medication prevent our body from recovering’, Nutrition & Metabolism, vol. 9, no. 1, p. 32
  2. Esposito, K, & Giugliano, D 2006, ‘Diet and inflammation: a link to metabolic and cardiovascular diseases’, European Heart Journal, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 15-20.
  3. Aeberli, I, Gerber, PA, Hochuli, M, Kohler, S, Haile, SR, Gouni-Berthold, I, Berthold, HK, Spinas, GA, & Berneis, K 2011, ‘Low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial’, The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 94, no. 2, pp. 479-485.
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