Foods to fight inflammation

Judith Wills / 07 November 2014

Diet and wellbeing blogger Judith Wills shares her anti-inflammatory diet tips, and provides a great recipe for a healthy chicken and tomato bake.

Two weeks ago I mentioned I was starting an anti-inflammatory diet because I had discovered that all the symptoms I've been experiencing for some time may largely be caused by an overactive immune system, which can trigger inflammation, which in turn can cause problems ranging from joint pain/arthritis and allergies through to dry eye and bowel problems such as IBS and is even linked with cardiovascular disease. And new research also links being overweight and a salty diet with immune function problems.

I listed the foods I intended to base my diet upon and promised you more information. Well, here it is.

Several books have been written on the anti-inflammatory diet and, needless to say, they vary in the advice they give. Christopher Cannon, a professor at Harvard Medical School with a special interest in preventing and treating inflammatory conditions, says that the ideal anti-inflammatory diet is “probably very close to the Mediterranean diet” and other medical specialists broadly agree, suggesting a diet rich in plant foods, fish, fish oils and mono-unsaturated fats in foods such as olive and rapeseed oil, nuts and seeds.

Other foods to include are wholegrains and spices such as ginger, chilli and turmeric, while foods to avoid include highly processed fast foods high in sugar, salt and fat, and refined carbs such as white bread and white rice (potatoes can be eaten in small amounts), along with sugary soft drinks, and, importantly, salt should be severely restricted. Meats can be eaten in small to moderate amounts, as can dairy, with natural yogurt being one of the best, and eggs.

One of the key effects of this diet is that it will reduce the amount of omega-6 fats you eat and increase the amount of omega-3s. In the typical Western diet, the ratio of 'bad' omega-6s to 'good' omega-3s is way too high and many experts believe this is a big contributing factor to inflammation because it encourages cytokines – proteins that trigger inflammation – to be released in the body, while there are several studies to show that omega-3s reduce arthritic-type pain and stiffness. But all the 'foods to eat' mentioned have their own roles to play, as does an overall reduction in sugar and salt.

Although not a weight loss regime as such, anecdotal evidence shows that overweight people do lose weight on such a regime, probably because of the absence of snack-type junk foods and drinks.

My own efforts are going not too badly; I hope to lose a pound a week. I'm already finding that my mysterious sweet tooth is fading nicely, which is a huge relief. I'm still missing salt but I feel this will change soon, too. I don't expect to notice immediate relief from my inflammatory symptoms for a while – another USA specialist, Russell Greenfield, says a 'noticeable' difference may be seen in a few weeks.

As long as I don't get asked to test another batch of dessert recipes. This last week I've been cooking blueberry muffins, raspberry and almond traybake and various other items for the relaunch of my Garden to Kitchen Expert book early next year. And no, it didn't help the diet one bit as I had to taste and taste again, and although the recipes are healthier than the standard versions, they are still highish in sugar. But at least I didn't eat everything – I froze most of it in anticipation of family influx towards the end of the year.

Ate last night: It's great that spices are good for us, I love them - so I made a very tasty and simple chicken thigh dish, loosely based on a similar thing I found at BBC Good Food, for self and Husband. It was a good way to use up the last of our homegrown cherry tomatoes. It does contain a small amount of pancetta, which is quite salty but honestly, it's within bounds! Using spices means you can cut right down on salt without missing it.

Spicy chicken and tomato bake

Serves 2-3

  • 1½ tbsp sundried tomato puree or red pesto
  • 1 large mildish red chilli, e.g. jalapeno, chopped (use the seeds too)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • 1 pack skinless chicken thigh fillets (about 4-6 thighs)
  • 350g peeled new potatoes, thickly sliced into rounds
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 4 slices pancetta bacon, torn
  • 250g fresh tomatoes – cherry type are ideal

1. Blitz the tomato puree, chilli, garlic, 2 tbsp of the olive oil and pepper in a processor or with a hand blender and use the mixture to coat the thigh fillets. Put them in a roasting dish big enough to hold them in one layer with some space round the edges.

2. Parboil the potatoes in unsalted water for 5 minutes, drain thoroughly and tuck in around the chicken. Sprinkle the dish with the remaining olive oil then sprinkle over the paprika. Bake at 190c/gas 6 for 25 minutes then scatter the pancetta around and bake for a further 15 minutes.

3. Finally add the tomatoes (halved or quartered if large) and bake for another 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil if you like, and serve with green salad.

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