I recently met with Alison Ritchie from Alison Joy Nutrition and Alison told me about her experiences of working with clients that experience pain as part of the reasons why they are working with her. As chronic pain is thought to be a consequence of chronic inflammation within the nervous system Alison told me that a good way of starting to help reducing chronic inflammation in the body is with a ‘cleaning up diet’. I asked her what this involved and how this might help people that I work with.
What is a cleaning up diet?
It’s a funny expression and it might not be the right one but broadly speaking it refers to moving someone away from processed foods towards a more whole food diet.
Why would this be beneficial?
Many processed foods contain substances that adversely affect the body. Examples include sweeteners, emulsifiers, and less body friendly fats. Often, they are cooked at temperatures not possible in a normal kitchen and this can also alter the nutrient content of the food. Not in a dramatic, instant way, but slowly and over time they contribute to low grade inflammation and disturb the normal management of blood sugar. This can lead to weight gain and other conditions of disrupted metabolism such as diabetes, auto-immune conditions, or stomach issues.
It seems that eating a good variety of nutrients is vital as part of how food is absorbed within the body. How can we easily get a good range of nutrients in our bodies?
Yes Hannah, you are so right! We could eat the most nutritional diet ever but if our digestion is not working well the benefit would be lost. Often the first step with my clients is talking them through the process of digestion – which starts in the brain- and get them thinking about eating mindfully. A lovely tip which works so well is to start each meal with the intention to nourish yourself. It is so simple and takes no time but can alter your mindset about eating and remind us of what the process is all about.
Something that I have always wondered is with regards to how long vegetables keep their nutrients for when kept in a fridge and also what are the differences in how they are cooked with regards to nutritional content – is this something that you know?
Yes, this is a good point. Often it depends on how the food is grown or where it came from. I find the Riverford website a great source of information on how to store and cook vegetables and a great book is ‘How to Eat’ by James Wong which shares some great tips – did you know it is good to cut broccoli into florets around 30-40 minutes before cooking as the cut releases an enzyme which makes it easier for us to get the nutrients? Also, some varieties of vegetables have more nutritional punch – unfortunately much of our modern farming is designed to increase sales rather than goodness.
What are the similarities and differences between an anti-inflammatory diet / Mediterranean diet / ketogentic diet – why might eating like this be helpful if I have pain?
All 3 of these diets put focus on eating whole, unprocessed food. The Mediterranean diet in its purest form is more than just food but a lifestyle where food is shared and enjoyed slowly. It is largely anti-inflammatory, but a specific anti-inflammatory diet will put special emphasis on food which has been proven to reduce inflammation. A keto diet is a medical diet designed originally to treat epilepsy. There is growing evidence that it can be effective for other chronic conditions but needs to be monitored and is more of a short-term fix as is cuts out certain food groups. In the longer-term reducing breadth of food reduces the diversity of the gut microbes which impact all aspects of our health.
Where they vary is in the quantity of macronutrients – fat, protein, and carbohydrate. I don’t generally advocate any labelled diet; I believe that eating is a personal thing and I see that different bodies respond in unique way to food. Food is also so much more than just nutrients; it is a powerful way to connect with others and to celebrate milestones and cultural events.
Why might what I am eating affect my osteoarthritis?
Understanding what is driving your condition is important. I would normally start with a full blood chemistry to understand how the body is functioning. It might be that there are some significant nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin D or magnesium which are key players in maintaining bone and joint health.
Working on the efficacy of your digestion might also be important to ensure you are getting the nutrients from your diet. Identifying any food intolerances is also important to support this.
Eating foods which contain high levels of seed or vegetable oil can feed inflammation and these oils are ubiquitous in all packaged foods. Eating 2-3 portions of oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring) a week can help ensure the joints have flexible cell membranes which are able to bring in nutrients and expel toxins. Nuts and seeds are also a good source (in moderation – a small handful a day).
Providing the body with coloured fruit and vegetables provides the body with antioxidants which soak up damage caused and so eating a diet rich in rainbow food can help manage the condition.