Monday, July 12, 2010

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

My nutritionist recommended that I buy a book called The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan by Monica Reinagel. Extremely interesting reading! Apparently it is becoming more understood and recognised that inflammation inside the body plays a big role in heart disease, auto-immune conditions, Alzheimer's, diabetes, allergies and many other chronic conditions. People can suffer systemic inflammation (meaning it affects the whole body) without even realising it since this sort of inflammation affects your cells and so isn't seen or even felt in most cases. Reinagel's primary research focus was how to assess the inflammatory effect specific foods have on the body and her book explains this in a very clear and easy to follow manner.

Our bodies produce pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory chemicals (prostaglandins) in response to our immune system's signals, it does this by using the fatty acids in our food to make the prostaglandins. Omega-6 fatty acids convert into inflammatory prostaglandins and Omega-3 fatty acids convert into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. It is vital to maintain a balance so that you don't produce too many inflammatory prostaglandins as this will result in systemic inflammation and an overload on the immune system. It is thought that in the Stone Age man ate roughly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 foods, in modern times the average person eats about 20 times more omega-6 foods than omega-3 foods! Why? We eat a lot more bread-products and highly processed foods - as I've complained before most snack foods are wheat-based. Plus livestock (cows, hens, sheep) and farmed fish are also fed a diet of mainly grain rather than traditional grass / plants (or algae and tiny fish for fish) which means their meat is also higher in omega-6 than it was historically.

Reinagel has developed an Inflammation Rating (IF Rating) using the research of the US Department of Agriculture and the research of the Glycemic Index Research Institure, Australia. By combining over twenty different factors for each food type, she has been able to create this rating system that is as simple as possible for a lay person to both understand and follow. Foods with a positive rating are anti-inflammatory and foods with a negative rating are pro-inflammatory. The inflammation-free diet is not a strict diet with a whole list of 'banned foods' - it is a question of balancing what food items you eat across the day to make sure you remain on the positive (anti-inflammatory) side of the scale. That's not to say that eating unhealthily and 'negatively' all day can be offset by eating one very highly positive food - it is a complete system to ensure healthy, balanced eating habits are developed and maintained. The average person should aim for a daily 'score' of +50 but for anyone who already has an inflammatory condition (such as my ankylosing spodylitis) then the aim should be at least +200.

Some of the key findings she made that she was surprised at since they didn't follow the standard thinking of nutritionists were:
1. Beans and legumes are slightly inflammatory - this doesn't mean they should be avoided, they just need eaten with anti-inflammatory foods to offset them.
2. Lean cuts of beef and pork are anti-inflammatory whereas chicken and turkey are actually inflammatory.
3. Meat from younger animals (lamb, veal) is more inflammatory than meat from mature livestock since as animals age their tissue composition changes and they build up a better balance of omega-3 and 6 fats.
4. Low-fat dairy products are less inflammatory than full-fat but even the full-fat products are not severly inflammatory and so can be balanced out with other foods.
5. Cold water fish (sardines, salmon, tuna, herring etc) are the best anti-inflammatory food source. However, farmed salmon is one of the most inflammatory foods so it's recommended to by only wild salmon (tinned is just as good as fresh).
6. Garlic, ginger, turmeric, chili peppers and curry powder are very anti-inflammatory; just a teaspoon of turmeric provides a huge anti-inflammatory benefit.
7. All grains (including wholegrain bread and brown rice) are inflammatory but again the key is not avoidance, it is balance.
8. Most oils and butter are inflammatory but olive oil and canola oil are anti-inflammatory.
9. Sugary, fatty and junk foods are inflammatory - no surprises there!
10. Most fruits are inflammatory - but again, moderation and balance are the buzz words.

The book itself is only 60 pages of actual explanation and the rest is then made up of lists of all the various foods with their IF rating (plus fat and carbohydrate content for those needing to lose weight). The foods are listed alphabetically and then by food group (all meats together, all fish, all vegetables etc). I would say that I am an extremely healthy eater but when I wrote down everything I ate on Friday and added up my 'score' I got a final total of -600!! Super-inflammatory. Using excel, I plugged in my intended foods for Saturday, Sunday and Monday and was then able to use the food group section to find alternatives to any highly inflammatory items. As an example, a baked potato is -258 whereas a baked sweet potato is +210 so that is an easy switch that immediately helps to raise the daily total.

I would by lying if I said that it's easy to start on this plan - it took me nearly 2 hours to work out those 3 days of meals. However, I know it will get easier because I don't eat thousands of different foods so I'll be able to simply copy and paste each food with its IF Rating and that shouldn't then take too much time. In terms of planning meals, I'll continue as before and will then plug all the foods into the excel spreadsheet and if it shows a negative balance then I'll look at the highly negative foods to see what positive alternatives there are. Simple! It's going to take at least a couple of weeks to have a noticeable effect but fingers-crossed...


  1. Hi Ruth, Sorry just got around to really taking a look at your website, I thought as I no longer live in Dubai, hearing about all those fantastic restaurants would just drive me nuts! However this is very interesting! My friends have convinced me to try an anti-inflammatory diet for my endometriosis, so I'm just coming to grips with what I should be eating.

    I'm finding it a bit complicated but I'm not calculating every meal, I'm just trying to make some broad changes that will help me feel better. So far, so good, although I feel like a squirrel nibbling all the time on dried fruits and nuts, because I find I want to eat a little more often. Probably better on the digestive system anyway!

    I'll be sure and check to see if you post other health info here, very interesting!

    Take care of yourself (and baby-to-be)


  2. Hi,
    I saw about your new diet on FB, hope it helps.
    Reinegel's book is very interesting but the calculating is too much of a chore and takes ages. It gives some good ideas though in terms of making the right food choices, i.e. wild instead of farmed salmon, sweet potato rather than normal ones, yellow and orange peppers not green etc.
    I don't know for endometreosis but everything I read talks about how wheat really is one of the worst foods for your health so maybe try and cut that out?
    Take care,
    Bon Appetit!

  3. Hello, I was wondering if you found that this change in your diet helped?
    Thanks for your review :)

  4. Wow this is amazing! I am sure this will help our candida and food allergies. Must buy the book. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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