Confession: I first discovered the anti-inflammatory diet from Spencer Pratt. Yes, that Spencer Pratt. For the record, we both have sensitive skin so when I read his self-care routine on Fashionista, I thought the anti-inflammatory diet could solve my own skin and overall health woes too. Another reason to be thankful for Speidi, right?
When I first started looking into the anti-inflammatory diet I have to admit, I found the topic of gut health (Leaky gut! Microbiome! Good bacteria! Bad bacteria!) and the sheer amount of information on this topic to be completely daunting. While I’ve introduced aspects of the anti-inflammatory diet into my life – namely, my turmeric obsession – it wasn’t until I interviewed a nutritional therapist last week about allergies (FYI, hay fever is caused by inflammation too) that I decided I really need to take this more seriously.
If, like me, you find the whole subject of gut health and anti-inflammatory food to be confusing and overwhelming, here’s 5 easy things you can do to look after your gut health today:
- Cook from scratch
If you take one thing and one thing only from the anti-inflammatory diet it’s this – ditch the processed food. White bread, fried goods and refined carbs are usually full of sugar and trans fats which just drive inflammation. When you cut anything out of your diet, you need to replace what you’re cutting out with a healthier option – in this case go for vibrant, brightly coloured vegetables. As mentioned above, I spoke to nutritional therapist Eva Hamilton Hill recently for a feature in the Irish Daily Star and she advised me that at least half of your dinner plate should be different coloured vegetables. Think red onions, beetroot, red cabbage and beta carotene-rich veggies like butternut squash and pumpkin. Food is one of the best ways to prevent and fight inflammation and you should take your cues from the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils. Here’s a helpful list of the top anti-inflammatory foods courtesy of the clever folk at Harvard:
- olive oil
- green leafy vegetables – spinach, kale, romaine lettuce
- nuts– almonds and walnuts
- fatty fish– salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
- fruits – strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
Although they’re a diet staple in Eastern countries, fermented foods are just beginning to be recognised for their gut-healing properties in the West. During the fermentation process, beneficial probiotics, or ‘live bacteria’, are produced. Introduce your palate to gut-friendly bio live yoghurt, kefir and kombucha to heal your digestion and improve your immune system. (BTW – did you know that 70% of the immune system is in the gut?) One of the best probiotics is also the cheapest – sauerkraut (cabbage). Just a heaped forkful (approx. 30g) a day is enough to support the growth of good bacteria. Here’s a good article on the best fermented food for gut health.
3. Pick up a Pineapple
Turns out pineapples are good for more than just pina coladas; in fact, the pineapple is a rock star when it comes to healing your gut. Easily one of my favourite fruits, pineapples are rich in the enzyme bromelain which is excellent at reducing inflammation. Some experts claim that the bromelain found in pineapples achieves similar results to anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the side effects. Try my pineapple smoothie recipe for an anti-inflammatory, totally tropical treat.
- Chill out.
Yeah, I know, as if it’s that easy. We all know stress has a negative impact on our health but recent medical research suggests that stress is as bad for our gut microbiota as eating junk food, especially if you’re a woman. YAY! The latest research shows that anxiety, depression and overall research is all linked to our microbiome so, you can eat as healthily as you like but if you’re stressed, you’re undoing all your good gut-healing work. To keep your gut microbiota happy and healthy, the best thing you can do is to work on your stress levels and how you manage your daily stress, whether through lifestyle changes or adopting a daily meditation practice.
For years, we’ve thought of all bacteria as bad. All wrong. Instead, a diversity of bacteria and microorganisms is key to optimal health so a lot of current gut health research is about feeding bacteria, not killing it off. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria in our guts and increase the numbers of good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotic foods to eat include bananas, onions, garlic and asparagus so make sure to add these versatile ingredients to your shopping basket.
Want to find out more about the link between gut bacteria and mental health? This article from The Atlantic is a fascinating overview of the link between gut bacteria and the brain. Check out Dr John Cryan’s brilliant TED Talk on gut instinct and how gut bacteria affects mental health.