• Cristina Montoya, RD

On Trend: The Anti-inflammatory Diet & Arthritis. Is there a connection?


Anti-inflammatory foods have been a hot topic for many health professionals, food bloggers and celebrities over the last few years. There has been a growing body of research that shows how diet can affect your body’s regulation of chronic inflammation. The typical Western diet or Standard American Diet (S.A.D), which is often high in red or processed meat, refined starches, unhealthy fats and added sugars, can be linked to increased incidence of inflammation. Whereas a diet focused on anti-inflammatory choices such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 fats can help to decrease the chronic inflammation that can cause pain and swelling of the joints for arthritis warriors like us.


Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at what the body’s inflammatory response is and how chronic inflammation is different. When the body experiences injury or attack by foreign objects such as pathogens or toxins, the immune system launches an attack that triggers inflammation to help your body get rid of the intruders. This is the body’s normal inflammatory response. However, in the case of the chronic inflammation that is experienced by those with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, the immune system launches an attack on healthy tissues in the body even though there are no foreign invaders that need to be fought off. This causes pain and swelling in the body.

If you are thinking that the anti-inflammatory diet sounds like the MedDiet I introduced a couple of weeks ago in this series, you are correct! Much like the MedDiet, the anti-inflammatory diet is more a style of eating health-promoting foods, rather than a typical restriction diet. Foods are categorized as pro- or anti-inflammatory according to a system of classification called the Dietary Inflammatory Index, which can help you to reduce the risk of the painful flare-ups associated with inflammatory arthritis.


The main difference between these two styles of eating is the inclusion of coffee and green or black tea consumption and less of a focus on red wine in the anti-inflammatory diet. Coffee and green or black tea contains phytochemicals, which are also found in whole grains. Phytochemicals may be important anti-inflammatory fighters because when consumed, they are associated with lower levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and cytokines in the body, biomarkers associated with chronic inflammation.


The anti-inflammatory diet encourages you to eat foods rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats and phytochemicals. These nutrients can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish and shellfish, herbs and spices, and coffee or green and black teas. Some of the spices that have been emphasized with this diet are ginger, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, cayenne, parsley, mint, oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme for their higher content of phytochemicals.

What are the pros and cons of this style of eating?


Pros:


Promotes healthy food choices


Increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean proteins like fish and seafood, and whole grains not only can help to reduce chronic inflammation, but it can help to reduce your risk of developing other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular illnesses or type 2 diabetes. The reduction in processed foods, saturated fats and red meats that is encouraged through the anti-inflammatory diet promotes overall health.


Non-restrictive


What’s the main reason most diets fail? They are too restrictive for anyone to maintain for too long. When there are too many restrictions or eliminations as a part of a diet, it can lead to binges, which leads to guilt, which can lead to more binging! A vicious cycle for sure. The anti-inflammatory diet encourages you to eat the majority of your foods from the fruit and vegetable group with particular attention being paid to leafy greens and berries which are high in phytochemicals. However, this diet does not exclude any of the food groups making it easier to stick with for the long haul.


Helps to regulate inflammation


All of the foods you are encouraged to eat on the anti-inflammatory diet contain anti-inflammatory properties such as phytochemicals, fibre or omega-3 fatty acids. While these nutrients may not be able to prevent chronic inflammatory diseases, they work with your body to reduce the risk of flare-ups.


A recent randomized, controlled crossover trial tested a model of an Anti-inflammatory Diet In Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA), which investigated if an anti-inflammatory diet, rich in n–3 fatty acids, dietary fibres, and probiotics, compared with a typical Swedish diet high in Saturated Fatty Acids can help with the RA's disease activity. The study showed some positive effects on disease activity, but more long term studies are required to establish whether this diet can lead to significant clinical improvements.


Promotes flavourful foods and recipes


The anti-inflammatory diet allows for diversity and experimentation in your cooking! With so few restrictions, the recipes that can be found to follow this style of eating are endless.

Here is a list of 15 delicious Anti-inflammatory Breakfast Recipes


Cons:


Seasonal availability and cost


For those of you living in parts of the world that experience harsh winters or are located in more remote locations, access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables can be a challenge. To overcome this, I recommend choosing frozen fruits and vegetables which still contain the same nutritional composition of their fresh counterparts but can be purchased at a lower price point and year-round.


Contains common food allergens


For those of you with food allergies and sensitivities, this diet could seem off-putting because it emphasizes many common food allergens such as fish and shellfish, wheat and nuts or seeds. While this may seem tricky to navigate, I encourage you to find an appropriate alternative that works for you and to seek out professional advice when needed.

If you are looking for a way to reduce your chronic inflammation and make healthy choices about the types of foods you consume, the anti-inflammatory diet may be a great place to start. At your next BBQ, switch out the beef patty in your hamburger for a chicken or veggie patty, enjoy a bowl of plain yogurt with fruit and granola for breakfast or add some quinoa to a salad for lunch to help you feel fuller and keep your energy levels for longer. Happy Eating!


Special thanks to Cheryl Anderson, 3rd-year nutrition student at Ryerson University who assisted with the research and writing for this post.

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