The sumptuous snacks that really are good for you!


Inflammation lies at the root of many of the most common diseases. 

In the final part of this life-changing series, devised exclusively for Mail readers, one of the UK’s leading dietitians offers her advice — and mouthwatering recipes — to help you keep this hidden danger at bay. 

Using food as medicine is hardly new — the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates of Kos, was espousing it more than two millennia ago. But, increasingly, modern medicine is embracing the idea.

And it doesn’t have to be a joyless course, as the recipes and nutritional know-how I’ve shared in my anti-inflammation plan this week have highlighted: eating well can be both good for you and a pleasure.

By getting the building blocks of a (delicious) anti-inflammatory diet in place, you put your body in the best state to fight the aggressors that trigger chronic inflammation, damaging your cells and raising the risk of conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and even cancer.

And a few power-packed ingredients can help supercharge your body’s response to inflammatory triggers — so you can tackle a flare-up or simply feel confident that you have a steady supply of nutrients working at a cellular level to improve wellbeing.

If you add one or two to each meal, either as an ingredient in the main dish, a side or — as I suggest in my recipes today — in a snack or drink, they can help inhibit inflammation and have a cumulative effect throughout the day. 

Your daily diet prescription

Here are some of the powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients to add every day…

Ginger

This ancient remedy has modern medicine on its side, with studies showing its anti-inflammatory effect in conditions such as osteoarthritis and gout.

It can also help reduce blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes, and it’s brilliant at easing nausea. Add ginger to stir-fries and curries, or grate a thumb-sized knob of the root into a cup of hot water with a squeeze of lemon.

To avoid fresh root ginger going to waste, peel and grate it into an ice cube tray and freeze, ready to be popped out at any time. 

Mellow yellow turmeric shot

Unless you eat a lot of curries, you’re unlikely to get much turmeric in your diet, which is why this simple tasty shot is so great.

The fats in the coconut milk help the body to absorb the turmeric, while the black pepper acts as a catalyst to increase your uptake of curcumin, the active anti-inflammatory ingredient in turmeric.

Put half a teaspoon of fresh grated turmeric or turmeric powder (from the supermarket spice section), a grind of black pepper and 70ml of coconut milk in a pan and warm gently. 

To save time, make a week’s supply of turmeric shots in one go. Simply increase the quantities and, once cooled, store in the fridge.

Cinnamon 

This naturally sweet spice is a great alternative to sugar, sprinkled on porridge and added to stewed fruit such as apples. It contains cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid, natural antioxidants that can help to reduce cell damage. 

It also has anti-inflammatory properties that research suggests may slow down the progression of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. 

Some studies have suggested a small amount taken daily can lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes. 

Aloe vera 

The gel contained inside the leaves of this spiky plant is renowned for its skin-soothing and wound-healing properties, but its anti-inflammatory action works inside the body, too.

Aloe vera can be an effective remedy for people with gut disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease. You can buy organic aloe vera juice from health food stores, but if you have a plant at home you can easily harvest your own.

Cut a leaf at the outer section of the plant. Trim the prickly edges and remove the gel from the inside of the leaf. Add the gel to a smoothie or make aloe vera juice by mixing with water or fruit.

Turmeric

Golden yellow turmeric has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce our risk of a range of conditions, including dementia, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

So adding a dose of this warming spice to your day is an easy tick on the wellbeing chart. The potent part of the plant is curcumin — in countries where they eat a lot of curcumin-containing foods (such as curry), incidences of certain types of cancer are lower.

Grate fresh turmeric and fresh ginger into a shot glass of fruit juice, or try my turmeric shot. 

White and green teas 

Swap a few of your usual daily brews with a cup of green or white tea (from health food shops — white tea is made with younger or less processed leaves). Both contain EGCG, a type of powerful antioxidant called a catechin (black tea contains catechins but in lower amounts).

Numerous studies show that EGCG reduces inflammation linked to rheumatoid arthritis, some cancers and even wrinkles! White tea has a delicate, fresh flavour, so drink it without milk.

For super-antioxidant effects, try matcha, a finely ground green tea that retains even more EGCG.

Omega 3

As I explained in depth on Monday, omega 3 is an important dietary fat that helps to reduce inflammation. Good sources include salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, sardines and pilchards, as well as walnuts and seeds. 

Probiotics 

Probiotic or ‘good’ bacteria are found in the gut, but their beneficial effects are felt all around the body —studies show they may improve symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, as well as gut problems.

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles, as well as live yoghurt, Cheddar and mozzarella, contain natural probiotics. Or you can buy probiotic supplements, which come as drinks, powders and tablets. 

Prebiotics 

Prebiotics are a form of fibre, and act as a kind of grow bag for the production of your own probiotics.

But as well as having an indirect effect on inflammation, exciting research suggests prebiotic dietary fibre has a direct and profound anti-inflammatory effect, reducing inflammation in the gut and protecting against bowel diseases.

Try to include foods such as onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, chickpeas, lentils, oats and wheat in your daily diet, as these are rich in inulin and other prebiotic compounds. You can also buy prebiotic supplements in health food shops.

Crisps without the guilt

It’s the crunch and intense flavour hit of crisps we love so much, but they are laden with trans fats from the oil they’re cooked in, plus salt and flavourings — which can trigger inflammation.

You could make healthier versions by thinly slicing vegetables (carrots, beetroot and parsnip taste wonderful prepared in this way and are full of antioxidants) and baking them in the oven at 150c for around two hours until crisp; sprinkle with a little sea salt for extra flavour. 

Or try my easy kale crisp recipe. Kale is rich in calcium and antioxidants, so this snack is great for strengthening bones as well as protecting against inflammation.

Set the oven to 110c. Wash 500g kale, dry and rip into pieces, removing the stems. Put it in a bowl and add 50ml olive oil, half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and sea salt to taste, and mix well. Place the kale in a single layer on a tray and bake for 30 minutes. Leave to cool, then enjoy. 

Ginger, lemongrass & chilli poached pineapple

Ginger and chilli are both anti-inflammatory spices which when combined with the pineapple, which contains an anti-inflammatory called bromelain, make this pudding scrumptiously good for you.

Serves 2

  • 100g honey
  • 10cm ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 stick lemongrass, crushed
  • 2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced
  • 1 large pineapple

Place the honey, ginger, lemongrass and chillies in a pan with 500ml water — and mix. Bring the liquid to the boil and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the pineapple by removing the skin, the core, and cutting into 1cm slices. Add the pineapple to the simmering liquid and poach for five minutes.

Leave to cool at room temperature, then refrigerate.

The pineapple can be eaten right away or stored for serving later.

Ginger, lemongrass & chilli poached pineapple

Pineapple, celery & ginger juice

Pineapple is a good source of a relatively unknown antioxidant called bromelain, which when combined with anti-inflammatory ginger, makes this juice delicious and nutritious.

Serves 2

  • 2 ½cm ginger root
  • 1 bunch curly parsley
  • 1 small pineapple
  • 5 celery sticks
  • ½ cucumber
  • 1 unwaxed lemon

Put the ingredients through a juicer one by one, starting with the ginger and parsley, as these have less water, and the rest will push them through on being processed. 

Mix the juice, then allow to chill in the fridge for a few minutes, or add chunks of ice and serve right away.

Pineapple, celery & ginger juice

Pineapple, celery & ginger juice

Protein power balls

Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and provides a delightful warmth to these fibre-rich date balls.

Makes 30

  • 12 Medjool dates, pitted
  • 140g rolled oats
  • 120g almonds
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Desiccated coconut

Soak the dates in hot water for several minutes until softened, then drain them and place in food processor. Save the water.

Add the other ingredients to the food processor with the date paste and blend until the mixture turns into a dough-like consistency. Add a tablespoon of the date water from earlier if the mixture is too dry.

Using a small spoon, scoop the mixture into 30 balls.

Roll the balls in desiccated coconut and place on a tray to set. Serve right away or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Protein power balls

Protein power balls

Ginger & cinnamon tea

There is no better combination than cinnamon and ginger — both powerful anti-inflammatories — in this delicious tastebud-tingling tea.

Serves 2

  • 4cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 500ml water
  • 2 tbsp honey, added to taste

Put the ginger, cinnamon and water in a saucepan placed over a high heat. Cover and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat to low, then simmer, uncovered, for five minutes for the flavours to develop.

Strain the mixture into a heatproof jug and add honey to taste.

Set aside for 2-3 minutes, or until slightly cooled, before serving.

Ginger & cinnamon tea

Ginger & cinnamon tea

Gluten-free date flapjack

This flapjack is fibre-rich and gluten-free — which some feel is easier to digest — and has wonderful anti-inflammatory effects.

Makes 8

  • 90g rolled oats
  • 50g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
  • 35g pumpkin seeds
  • 150g Medjool dates
  • 4 tbsp almond butter
  • 85g raisins

Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/ gas 4 and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Soak the oats in 90ml water until it is absorbed (this will take roughly 30 minutes), then mix with the pecan nuts and pumpkin seeds in a bowl, and spread the mixture evenly over a baking tray.

Bake for ten minutes, or until it is browned and dried out. Blend the dates and almond butter to a paste in a food processor.

Place the oat and seed mixture in a mixing bowl, add the date paste and raisins and mix to combine.

Now transfer to a tray, pressing down the dough evenly with a spoon or pallet knife, and freeze for 15 minutes. Cut into eight even bars.

Gluten-free date flapjack

Gluten-free date flapjack

Beetroot, apple & lemon juice

Beetroot and carrots are both rich in the anti-inflammatory antioxidant beta carotene.

Serves 2

  • 2 beetroot
  • 2 large carrots
  • 3 green apples
  • 1 unwaxed lemon

Scrub the carrots and beetroot thoroughly then put all ingredients through a juicer. Serve immediately.

Beetroot, apple & lemon juice

Beetroot, apple & lemon juice

Blueberry & coconut smoothie

Blueberries are deliciously rich in antioxidants and make for a tasty anti-inflammatory smoothie.

Serves 2

  • 250g blueberries
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup or honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, to taste
  • Ice cubes

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. If it is too thick for your liking then add a little water or coconut water to thin down the smoothie. For the best consistency, serve right away.

Blueberry & coconut smoothie

Blueberry & coconut smoothie

Lemon, honey & black pepper tea

Many people love to start their day with lemon and hot water, thought to be good for digestion. But why not make it more anti-inflammatory by adding black pepper. 

If you want a stronger tea, you can let all the ingredients except the honey simmer for a few minutes, and then turn off the heat and steep. 

Add the honey after you turn off the heat or after straining.

Serves 2

  • 500ml filtered water
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • ½ unwaxed lemon, washed and sliced

Bring the water to a boil, then add all the other ingredients, stir and turn off the heat. 

Rest for a couple of minutes, then strain into two mugs and drink while hot.

Lemon, honey & black pepper tea

Lemon, honey & black pepper tea

Lemon hummus with celery sticks

Chickpeas are such a great source of non-animal protein, which can help us keep inflammation in check.

Serves 4

  • 250g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 50g smooth tahini
  • 2 tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Water
  • Handful parsley, chopped
  • Pinch of paprika
  • 1 bunch celery, cut into sticks

To prepare the hummus, place the chickpeas, tahini, oil, lemon zest and juice, garlic and salt into a food processor. Blend to a fine paste, adding about 5 tbsp of water to achieve the right consistency. Place the hummus in a bowl and garnish with parsley and paprika. Serve with celery sticks.

Lemon hummus with celery sticks

Lemon hummus with celery sticks

Cranberry, almond & orange balls

Dried fruits contain plenty of gut-friendly fibre — combine with protein-rich hemp shells (readily available in health food shops) to make these snack balls, which are also a great source of anti-inflammatory nutrients.

Makes 30

  • 250g dates, chopped
  • 80g dried cranberries
  • 40g hemp shell
  • 1½ tsp orange zest
  • 2 tsp coconut oil, melted
  • 40g ground almonds

Place the dates and cranberries in a food processor and blend until they form a crumbly mixture. Add the hemp shell and orange zest. Blend again to combine. 

Slowly stream in the coconut oil and keep blending until the mixture comes together into a sticky ball. Depending on the strength of your food processor, this could take a few minutes.

Roll into 30 balls and coat with ground almonds, then place in an airtight container and chill until ready to serve.

Cranberry, almond & orange balls

Cranberry, almond & orange balls

Lemon & ginger tea

Ginger has long been known to reduce inflammation. I love this tea as a great hit when I don’t want coffee but need a zing.

Serves 2

  • 500ml water
  • 2 tbsp ginger, grated
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tsp honey, added to taste

Boil the water. Add the ginger and boil for two minutes further. Turn the heat off then add the lemon juice and stir. Strain into cups. Add honey to taste, and enjoy hot.

Lemon & ginger tea

Lemon & ginger tea

Pick ’n’ mix

It is so easy and economical to make your own pick ’n’ mix — perfect to pack your child off to university with, or to give them to nibble on while they are studying at home.

Serves 8

  • 100g Brazil nuts
  • 100g walnuts
  • 100g sunflower seeds
  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 100g dried mango
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 100g dried blueberries

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

Pick ’n’ mix

Pick ’n’ mix

Hidden benefits of exercise

From a rush of feel-good endorphins, to stronger muscles and helping to keep weight under control, exercise has many benefits. But did you know it can also lower inflammation?

Research shows that physical activity can dampen down the chronic inflammation that is associated with a host of conditions, from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to dementia and cancer. What’s more, it needn’t be too taxing — even going for walks can help.

Tips to get you started

  • Pick a type of exercise you enjoy — even a brisk 30-minute walk, five days a week, will help.
  • Build up to a moderate intensity (enough to leave you out of breath but still able to have a conversation), or higher.
  • Exercise regularly for at least three months to reap the benefits. And don’t stop — you need to keep it up to keep a lid on inflammation.

‘You don’t need to push yourself like an Olympic athlete for exercise to be beneficial — enjoyment is key,’ says Lettie Bishop, a professor of exercise immunology at Loughborough University.

As it happens, inflammation starts off as a good thing, playing a vital role in the healing of wounds and tissue damage and in fighting off infections.

Fuelled by compounds called pro-inflammatory cytokines (proteins released by the immune system when we have an injury or infection), this acute inflammation should only last a few days, before being switched off.

But if it lingers, perhaps due to factors such as obesity, stress or, as we’ve been highlighting this week, poor food choices — it can damage healthy tissue, and so raise the risk of disease. 

How to keep a lid on inflammation 

However, research suggests this constant inflammation can be switched off or reduced by exercise and that’s good because it stops long-term damage to tissue, says Professor Bishop.

A 2014 study by Professor Bishop and the University of Leicester found that going for a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week led to a drop in chronic inflammation after six months.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, involved patients with kidney disease, but other studies show that regular exercise can help those who don’t have long-term illnesses but still have higher levels of inflammation.

Exercise can also help keep a lid on the increase in chronic inflammation that occurs naturally as we get older, raising our risk of ill-health. 

Little and often works wonders 

In one of the first studies to show this, researchers from University College London analysed data from a long-running study of British civil servants.

Tests on blood samples taken from more than 4,000 people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and again ten years later, showed that levels of IL-6, a pro-inflammatory cytokine, and C-reactive protein, a compound that is a marker of inflammation, rose over time.

Levels were, however, lower in those who reported doing at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate to vigorous exercise a week at the start of the study, and were still doing so a decade later.

Importantly, the finding couldn’t be explained by the exercisers simply being younger or being in better health overall. 

Writing in the journal Circulation in 2012, study author Mark Hamer, a professor of sport and exercise medicine, said: ‘Physical activity may be important in preventing the pro-inflammatory state seen with ageing.’

From a rush of feel-good endorphins, to stronger muscles and helping to keep weight under control, exercise has many benefits. But did you know it can also lower inflammation? [File photo]

From a rush of feel-good endorphins, to stronger muscles and helping to keep weight under control, exercise has many benefits. But did you know it can also lower inflammation? [File photo]

Indeed, everything from tai chi to weight training has been shown to cut levels of inflammatory markers. To see benefits, exercise should ideally be at least moderate in intensity, says Professor Bishop — meaning you will be out of breath but still able to have a conversation.

So, how does exercise help? Exercise lowers levels of chronic inflammation in several different ways, explains Professor Bishop.

First of all, fat cells pump out IL-6, one of the drivers of chronic inflammation, and so if you lose weight, levels of IL-6 fall.

Exercise also affects the balance of cytokines in the body, cutting production of pro-inflammatory IL-6 and increasing IL-10 and other cytokines that help dampen down inflammation.

Another effect is to make the cells that line the walls of our blood vessels less sticky. Known as the ‘Teflon effect’, it’s harder for fatty deposits to stick to them, forming clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes.

Finally, high-intensity exercise leads to a short, sharp spike in IL-6 levels — an otherwise unwelcome result it might seem.

The body, however, in a bid to curb IL-6, then releases longer-lasting anti-inflammatory cytokines and, repeated over time, this also helps lower levels of chronic inflammation. 

Do something you enjoy 

With research, however, showing it takes around three months of regular physical activity to lower inflammation and also that any gains are lost on stopping, Professor Bishop says the most important thing is to choose a type — and level — of exercise that you will stick to.

‘The “best” kind of exercise is the one that you want to do,’ she says. ‘It could be walking the dog, playing a sport, swimming, running, cycling, high-intensity interval training [HIIT, where short bursts of hard exercise are interspersed with rest], or weight training,’ she adds.

‘It’s only effective if you do it, so enjoy it too.’

FIONA MACRAE

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