Inflammation is part of the immune response and is the body’s attempt at self-protection by removing harmful substances. But it can be part of a chronic condition lasting months or years and often includes an auto-immune response where the immune system attacks healthy tissue, causing pain. This information sheet is about the role that diet has in managing the symptoms of excessive and unwanted inflammation.
Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, pilchards, herring, fresh tuna and salmon are high in omega-3 fats which help to reduce inflammation. Aim to eat two portions a week. Tinned tuna is not high in omega-3 fats.
Nuts and seeds such as linseeds, walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds contain plant sources of omega-3 fats. These have a weaker effect on reducing inflammation than fish oils but may still be of benefit.
Oils such as flaxseed, rapeseed, soya bean, walnut (in order of their richness, highest to lowest) are good sources of plant omega-3 fats. Buy them in their unrefined source and take a tablespoon a day. Cooking destroys the qualities of oils so have them uncooked.
Fruit and Vegetables
Make sure you have a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Eat a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables to maximise your anti-oxidant (compounds which reduce inflammation) intake. They are also high in potassium, low levels of which have been linked to arthritis and contain vitamin C which helps to absorb iron and acts as an anti-oxidant.
If you are fighting inflammation, tiredness is very common and this can be made worse by anaemia (a
Deficiency of red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body). So it is important to eat iron rich foods regularly. These include: red meat, eggs, green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, chard), raisins, dried apricots, mushrooms, peas, beans and lentils, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Calcium along with vitamin D is essential for strong healthy bones. Aim to have 3 portions of dairy per day: ½ pt (200ml) of milk, pot of yoghurt (preferably plain), 50g cheese. Also soya yoghurts fortified with calcium, almonds and fish where you eat the bones such as tinned sardines or pilchards are all rich in calcium.
Slight deficiency is common in the UK in the winter months and if you avoid the sun in the summer months. As there is some evidence that arthritis progresses more quickly in people who don’t have enough vitamin D, a vitamin D supplement may be useful. The recommended intake for adults over 50 is 10 µg a day. Food sources include oily fish, eggs, liver and some fortified foods including margarine and cereals.
Anti-oxidant rich, anti-inflammatory herbs and spices These include: basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, cinnamon, ginger, paprika, cayenne, turmeric, coriander seeds and curry powder. It is a good idea to use these liberally in cooking.
Green tea and pomegranates may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Has numerous benefits to health including: supporting the cardiovascular system, reducing the viscosity of blood, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial actions which may help to reduce catarrh and early rheumatic disorders. Use garlic in your cooking.
Ensure you drink adequate water in order to allow the body to deal effectively with the inflammation. Aim to have 35ml per kg of body weight per day.
Eat wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals where possible to ensure good bowel health.
Highly processed food such as ready meals, deep fried foods, snacks and sweets which are difficult to digest and low in nutrients. Keep these foods to a minimum in your diet. Try to cook your meals from basic ingredients and have fruit or nuts as snacks. This will make a big difference to your health.
Foods high in added sugars
Sugars found naturally in fruit, milk and plain yoghurt are not of concern; however fruit juice should be limited to one small glass a day. Sugar added to foods in production or at the table adds calories with little nutritional value. Try to gradually reduce the amount of sugar you eat.
Food allergy/ intolerance
Food allergy/intolerances may cause or exacerbate inflammation. If there are severe gastro-intestinal symptoms such as severe gas, bloating, discomfort, diarrhoea, and/or constipation, consider removing suspect foods such as those containing wheat (gluten) or dairy (lactose) from your diet, one food item at a time. If this does not help, further help from a nutritionist may be of benefit to identify the foods causing the symptoms
Some believe that chemicals found in the plants in the Solanaceae (nightshades) family may contribute to the development of arthritis in sensitive people, but more research is needed to confirm this. Plants in this family include: potato, tomato (unripe), aubergine, tobacco, peppers, caffeine and some pesticides. Elimination of these foods may lead to an improvement in symptoms of arthritis in some.
Makes 5 servings
a handful of walnuts
a handful of sunflower or pumpkin seeds
a handful of raisins or chopped dried apricots
Mix everything together in a bowl. Serve with milk or yoghurt.
Quick, easy and can be adapted by using prawns, pork or beef.
2 cm piece of fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic
¼ teaspoon chilli flakes
handful of fresh coriander (optional)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
approx. 400g chicken breast (or prawns or other meat) raw, or can also make with leftover meat.
1 heaped teaspoon of five-spice
1 tablespoon of cornflour
two handfuls of mangetout
two handfuls of frozen peas
two handfuls of beansprouts
(or 2 bags of supermarket stir-fry veg)
juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon of runny honey
400g medium egg noodles (can also be served with rice)
Put a large pan of water on to boil. Peel and finely slice the ginger and garlic. Preheat a wok or large frying pan on a high heat. Once it’s hot add the oil. Stir in the ginger, garlic, and dried chilli, chicken, and five-spice, and fry for a minute. Add the cornflour, baby corn, mangetouts and bean sprouts and stir fry for another minute. Stir in the lime juice, honey, and frozen peas and cook for 5 minutes. Add the noodles to a pan of boiling water and use a fork to break them up a bit. Cook for 7 minutes or as instructed on packet. Drain the noodles into a colander, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Add a large spoonful of the cooking water to the wok and cook for a further minute of two. Spoon the noodles onto plates, top with the chicken and veg and any juices and sprinkle coriander on top.
An adaptable curry that can be made with beef, lamb, chicken or chickpeas and always tastes delicious.
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 medium onion
½ teaspoon of chilli flakes
2 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
4 tablespoons of curry paste
2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
400g meat can be raw or leftovers, if leftovers use 75g per person, sliced into strips
or a drained can of beans such as chickpeas
600g vegetables such as red peppers, courgettes, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, peas
1 tin of coconut milk
1 tin of tinned tomatoes or ½ pint of vegetable stock
a handful of fresh coriander
salt and pepper
to serve: lemon cut into wedges, yoghurt
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Fry the onion with the chilli flakes, ginger and coriander seeds. Add the curry paste, strips of meat or chickpeas and veg. Stir well to coat everything. Season it with salt and pepper. Add the stock or tomatoes, and coconut milk. Use the empty tin to add half a tin of water. Bring it to the boil. Turn down and simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on. Prepare your rice as per packet instructions. Check regularly to make sure it’s not drying out and add extra water if necessary. When the meat is tender and cooked, taste it and add a bit more salt and pepper if needed. Serve with lemon wedges, chopped coriander leaves and yoghurt. You can also serve with a side salad.