Following an anti-inflammatory diet will not cure arthritis, however for many people it is an effective way of controlling symptoms, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of developing other health problems. Recent studies have also found that a diet high in ultra-processed food (one of the things to avoid in an anti-Inflammatory diet) was associated with higher rates of disease and mortality.
So what is an anti-inflammatory diet and how can you incorporate it into your life?
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet involves eating nutrient-rich, whole foods that reduce inflammation in the body. It contains plenty of fibre, antioxidants, and omega-3s. This means a diet rich in vegetables, whole fruit, whole grains, legumes, and fatty fish – that is as unprocessed as possible.
Include these anti-inflammatory foods:
- Fresh vegetables (all kinds) – Aim for a variety of types and colours (a rainbow of veggies provides phytonutrients) with a minimum of four to five servings per day – especially dark, leafy greens (spinach, kale, Asian greens) broccoli and cauliflower, brussel sprouts, beetroot
- Whole pieces of fruit (not juice that strips them of fibre) – three to four servings per day is a good amount for most people, especially berries and cherries
- Fatty fish – such as salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel & tuna
- Herbs & spices -turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, cinnamon etc.,
- Healthy fats – extra virgin olive oil is the best option, avocado oil and the fats found in seeds, nuts, fish
- Nuts/seeds – such as walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, chia, hemp
- Whole grains – brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa
- Legumes/beans – especially black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney
- Drinks – water, green tea and organic coffee in moderation
Nightshades or not?
Eggplant, tomatoes, capsicum and potatoes – are central to Mediterranean cuisine. Some people believe they trigger arthritis flares, but there’s limited scientific evidence to support this theory. Some people may react as they have a food sensitivity to these vegetables. If you react consider replacing these vegetables with sweet potatoes, cauliflower or mushrooms.
The Mediterranean Diet is considered one of the healthiest diets and is also a good go-to for an anti-inflammatory diet. It also includes dairy such as yoghurt and cheese, good for calcium intake to prevent osteoporosis.
Avoid these inflammatory / processed foods
- Processed meats – sausages and cold cut meats – ham, salami etc.
- Refined sugars – found in soft drinks, cookies, cake, lollies, ice cream, some breakfast cereals
- Trans fats – found in deep fried foods, fast foods, commercially baked goods
- Processed snack foods – such as chips and crackers
- Gluten, white bread & pasta & too many carbohydrates
- Soybean oil and vegetable oil
- Alcohol in excessive quantities
Click here for a printable list of foods to keep on the fridge or use as a shopping list.
An update on ultra-processed food & poor health
Firstly what is processed food?
“Processed food” includes food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways. That is, packaged food that is no longer in its natural state.
Recent studies have found that a diet of ultra-processed food was associated with higher rates of disease and poor health. We know that ultra-processed foods tend to be higher in added sugar, salt and fat making them unhealthy. However, even if they have added nutrients, the evidence suggests that because they’re ultra-processed it doesn’t matter what we add to their nutrient content, it’s not going to make them a healthy option.
A recent study based in France, found increasing the proportion of ultra-processed food in the diet by 10 per cent was associated with significantly higher rates of cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease (such as stroke). Another study based in Spain, found people who consumed more than four servings of ultra-processed food per day were 62 per cent more likely to die of any cause compared to those who had less than two servings per day.
In both studies, large groups of adults completed food intake questionnaires, then their rates of disease were tracked for up to 10 years.
We might need to reconsider what it is about these foods that makes them unhealthy, said Professor Lawrence, a food policy expert from Deakin University.
“It’s not just about the so-called ‘risky’ nutrients in foods,” he said. “The nature of the cause is associated with the physical and chemical changes that happen to the food as a result of this high degree of industrial processing.”
The findings provide further weight to the already sizeable pile of evidence that highly processed food is linked to poorer health.
Easy food swaps & meal ideas
Instead of white bread (crumpets and English muffins), butter, jam, Nutella, processed breakfast cereals, pancakes and bacon, try:
- Avocado, nut spread (not peanut), banana/cinnamon on rye bread
- Have porridge (whole oats) & berries– sweeten with a small amount of maple syrup or honey
- Organic scrambled / boiled eggs with herbs or turmeric
- Avocado & smoked salmon on whole grain bread
- Granola with Greek yoghurt and berries
Instead of hot chips, frozen meals, white bread sandwiches (cold cuts), pasta/potato/Caesar salads try:
- Vegetable frittata with salad
- Salads with a variety of fruit and vegetables – also add brown rice, quinoa and nuts to be more filling – dress with oil and vinegar and spices (not store-bought dressings); replace lettuce with spinach
- Salmon cakes & salad
- Lettuce wraps with salmon or trout, herbs and carrot/cucumber
Instead of pizza, pasta, hamburgers, red meat roasts try:
- Try one-tray bakes with fish, lean chicken and veggies (less washing up!)
- Have minestrone soup instead of pumpkin soup – use a variety of veggies & herbs – count how many colours and types you can get in one soup
- Replace side serves of pasta, white rice and potatoes with more veggies, salad or whole grains
- Grill fish and veggies on the BBQ and service with a salad
- Asian soups with salmon and greens
Instead of chips, biscuits, cakes, chocolate, try:
- A handful of nuts – roast them or buy roasted for some extra crunch and flavour
- Kale chips – kale, olive oil and a small sprinkle of salt & roast in the oven
- Toasted pita spread, carrots, cucumber with hummus or avocado dip
- Mixed berries and Greek yoghurt
- Grab a piece of fruit
Instead of soft drinks and excessive alcohol, try:
- Water with a squeeze of citrus or flavoured with cut up fruit
- Mineral water
- Green tea and organic coffee in moderation
- Buy fruit and veggies that are in season for freshness and to save money
- Prepare a shopping list and stick to it…if it’s not in the pantry you can’t eat it!
- Have plenty of health snacks on hand
- Ask a partner, family member or friend to buddy up with you – provide each other support, encouragement and give each other ideas/recipes
- Limit the amount of take-away food
- Try different recipes and get a collection of ones that you enjoy – everyone has different tastes. See Sources and Further Reading below for some recipes ideas and inspiration
- Make large batches and freeze where you can, to have something on hand
- Be organised, plan your meals and it will then become easier as you go along
- Give yourself an occasional treat, rather than stop trying all together!
We hope that you enjoy the great feeling and health outcomes from eating nutrient-rich, whole foods.
Please note! If you need help from a health professional to get you started or think you have some food allergies or sensitivities, you may want to see a Dietician. To locate one near you, visit here.
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Sources and further reading
Arthritis Foundation: Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Medical News Today:
Do nightshades make arthritis worse
Anti-Inflammatory – what you need to know
Creaky Joints US: 8 Anti-Inflammatory Foods Arthritis Nutritionists Want You to Eat More Often
Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network: Anti-Inflammatory: What Foods Should You Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Healthline: Mediterranean Diet 101: A Meal Plan and Beginner’s Guide
Medical News Today: Anti-inflammatory meal plan
Taste: Anti-inflammatory recipes
Ultra-Processed Foods Studies
ABC News: Ultra-processed food link to disease and death grows
SBS News: How bad diets around the world have led to 11 million deaths