The hearty lunches to kickstart your health

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In the third part of this groundbreaking series, one of the UK’s top dietitians reveals how to tackle inflammation, the biggest health risk we all face.

Demonising certain food groups is counterproductive — not only does it mean we can miss out on key nutrients, but we simply crave the food we can’t have, so may end up gorging on it later.

However, some foods are more inflammatory than others — especially if we eat too much of it — and so moderation is key.

Excess dairy, carbohydrates and meat have all been linked with inflammation as our body’s natural defence system over-reacts to this overconsumption; this in turn can trigger a range of chronic health conditions.

Let them eat bread!

It surprises some people that I eat bread because they assume it’s unhealthy. But it’s all about quality — it’s better to pay a bit more and eat less of the good stuff than to opt for cheap bread that can add to inflammation.

Many commercial loaves are made with highly processed wheat flour and have additives to preserve their shelf life. 

In my clinic, I find that many clients who come in believing they are sensitive to wheat or gluten actually find they can eat bread — if it’s the good stuff. Sourdough bread is fermented, which means it’s easier to digest and less likely to aggravate the gut. 

I also recommend wholemeal bread — a diet rich in wholegrains is proven to reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases.

Dark rye bread also releases energy slowly and is packed with plant nutrients, including lignans, which reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancers. 

To avoid wasting a loaf, slice and freeze it — take a slice out at a time and it can be toasted directly from the freezer.  

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But it’s not as simple as saying ‘cut these out of your diet and you will never get ill’. 

I never recommend cutting out whole food groups. It is about knowing the pros and cons and selecting the best ways to eat them.

And the fact is these major food groups are important as they contribute valuable nutrients that have a profound effect on our wellbeing. 

Of course, you can give up dairy or meat and still have a deliciously well-balanced, nourishing diet but if you decide to cut down on a certain food group, you must ensure you fill any nutrient gaps so you don’t end up actually putting yourself at risk of inflammatory conditions while trying to improve your health by cutting down on inflammation.

Indeed, these ingredients actually feature in some of the anti-inflammation recipes I’ve devised exclusively for Mail readers.

Today, I’ll explain more about the main food groups that are linked with inflammation and how to integrate them in a healthy way as part of an anti-inflammation plan.

My take on dairy

Dairy foods are a rich source of calcium, protein and iodine, which are all needed as part of a healthy diet. In 2017, a major review of 52 clinical studies found that while the saturated fat present in dairy foods is inflammatory, other compounds it contains, such as vitamin D, calcium, essential fatty acids and protein, may reduce inflammation.

Cons: There is evidence that saturated fats (found in high quantities in dairy) are linked with raised cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease.

Conclusion: You can have some dairy in your diet — focus on yoghurt and milk and limit the amount of butter, cream and cheese you consume, as these tend to be higher in saturated fat. 

Carbohydrates 

Grain-based complex carbohydrates (such as oats, wholegrain bread, brown rice and spelt) are rich in nutrients and generally have a low glycaemic index, which means they are digested slowly and release consistent energy throughout the day. Studies show that diets with a low glycaemic index may offer anti-inflammatory benefits.

Cons: Simple, or refined, carbohydrate products (such as white bread and pasta, biscuits and cakes) have most of their fibre removed as part of the manufacturing process, and are made with bleached and refined flour, as well as added sugar.

Most of the goodness is removed along with the grain, so they don’t have the minerals and vitamins that complex carbs contain. They also release their sugar quickly into the bloodstream, prompting the body to release insulin to absorb the sugar for energy or storage. 

Over time, eating a lot of simple carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, and promote inflammation that can lead to disease.

Conclusion: Swap white bread and simple carbs for fibre-rich wholegrain foods, which provide valuable nutrients while reducing inflammation.

Meat

Animal protein is a source of the eight essential amino acids — the building blocks of protein, called ‘essential’ because we can’t produce them in our body and they are needed for muscle and tissue repair, immunity and general strength and endurance.

Red meat, such as beef, also provides vitamin B12 and omega 3, which both have anti-inflammatory effects.

Cons: Unless you’re going to the butcher or supermarket meat aisle, a lot of meat you eat will be processed — for example, hotdogs, bacon and nuggets. It is ultra-processed foods like these, plus the saturated fat in some meat and meat products, which will cause inflammation.

Conclusion: The current advice is to limit our intake of processed meat and to keep our consumption of red meat to 500g or under a week.

To balance the cost, buy a smaller amount of lean meat and use it to add flavour and goodness to dishes such as soups and pasta sauces, rather than it being the focus of the plate. 

Ask a butcher to recommend inexpensive cuts, such as knuckles, hocks, oxtail and brisket, which are deliciously tender when slow cooked.

Lunches-on-the-go

Don’t derail your healthy eating just because you’re not at home. Here are my tips for inflammation-busting lunches for when you’re out and about…

Soup: Ideally make your own but if you’re buying it, opt for a vegetable, broth-based one (rather than creamy) — the veg contain antioxidants that protect cells from damage, and are packed with fibre to keep you full and your gut healthy. 

A tinned tomato soup is high in the antioxidant lycopene, which is anti-inflammatory. But watch the salt content of ready-made soups.

Chopped veg and hummus: Carrot, celery sticks, peppers and mangetout dipped in hummus make a great, antioxidant-packed al-desko lunch. A sachet of miso soup on the side is warming and because it’s fermented, it contains ‘good’ bacteria that has anti-inflammatory benefits, too.

Pre-prepared salads: Look for one that’s bulked out with wholegrains such as quinoa or buckwheat, rather than pasta or white rice. The fibre in the wholegrains is anti-inflammatory and is less likely to cause an energy crash.

A Juice or smoothie: Choose a veg-based one not loaded with sugar. It will be packed with antioxidants to help calm inflammation and heal cell damage.

Tub of smoked mackerel pâté with oatcakes: The pâté can be easily whipped up with smoked mackerel fillets, thick Greek-style yoghurt and lemon juice, although shop-bought is fine. 

Eat with oatcakes and add gut-friendly sauerkraut on the side for a lunch that’s full of flavour and super-satisfying. The omega 3-rich fish, oats and fermented sauerkraut also contain compounds that fight inflammation.

Visit nourishbyjaneclarke.com 

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Ham hock & 3 bean stew

Beans are a wonderful source of anti-inflammatory fibre, which helps keep our guts happy and healthy. But what to cook with them? Ham hock works well, particularly if you take the time to cook your own. 

This gives you the cooked meat (anything leftover can be frozen) and stock needed for the bean stew. 

Buy a whole, smoked ham hock and cook it slowly with a bouquet garni in water for about four hours. 

The meat should fall off the bone and the water becomes the stock after you pass it through a fine sieve.

Serves 2

  • 50ml rapeseed oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 2 springs thyme
  • 1 tin mixed beans, drained
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 500ml ham stock (use stock cubes if not cooking meat from scratch)
  • 150g cooked, smoked ham hock
  • Black pepper and sea salt
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped

Pour the oil into a pan placed over a medium heat, then fry the onion and garlic until lightly caramelised. 

Add the carrots, celery and thyme and cook for another five minutes, or until lightly browned. 

Now, stir in the beans and mustard and cook for one minute more. Add the stock and slowly bring to the boil, tip in the meat and simmer for ten to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are fully cooked.

Season, to taste then add the chopped parsley and serve with toasted sourdough bread, if you prefer.

Ham hock & 3 bean stew

Ham hock & 3 bean stew

Bean chilli & guacamole with wild rice

Beans are a great source of protein and prebiotics (which feed the good bacteria in your gut), and when combined with these amazing spices make this a deliciously nourishing dish and one that’s rich in anti-inflammatory properties.

Serves 6

  • 1 tbsp organic cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 tbsp chipotle paste
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • Black pepper and sea salt
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 6 chestnut mushrooms, diced
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
  • 300g tinned red kidney beans, drained
  • 300g tinned cannellini beans, drained
  • 300g tinned haricot beans, drained
  • 1 bunch coriander, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 800g wild rice (cooked to packet instructions)

For the Guacamole

  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 2 jalapeño chilli peppers, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Black pepper and sea salt

Heat the rapeseed oil in a large pan over a medium heat and fry the onion and garlic until soft. 

Add the chipotle paste, spices, carrot, mushroom and celery and fry for five minutes, or until a brown layer forms on the bottom of the pan.

Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil, stirring, then simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on the pan.

Add the beans and simmer for a further 20 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the coriander and lime juice, mix and taste and then adjust the seasoning to your liking.

For the guacamole, place all of the ingredients in a bowl and mash them gently with a fork until well combined. Check the seasoning and serve on the side along with the wild rice.

Bean chilli & guacamole with wild rice

Bean chilli & guacamole with wild rice

Prawn & Mediterranean vegetable quinoa salad

Prawns are great to keep in the freezer for when you want a quick source of lean protein for your midday meal. 

This dish includes anti-inflammatory vegetables and quinoa, with many antioxidants to boot. Easy to pre-prepare, it makes a perfect light lunch.

Serves 2

  • 1 small aubergine, diced
  • 1 small courgette, diced
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced
  • Black pepper and sea salt
  • 50ml organic cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • 60g quinoa
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 150g fresh or frozen prawns
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 150g cherry vine tomatoes, halved
  • Small bunch basil leaves, chopped
  • Small bunch mint leaves, chopped
  • Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6. Place the aubergine, courgette, onion, garlic and pepper on a greased baking tray and season with salt and pepper, then drizzle over half of the rapeseed oil. 

Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool down. Cook the quinoa according to packet instructions.

In a non-stick pan, toast the pine nuts until golden in colour, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Place a frying pan over high heat and add the rest of the rapeseed oil. Season the prawns, then fry them for five minutes, or until they are golden brown. Finish with a drizzle of lemon juice.

Place the roasted vegetables, pine nuts, quinoa and prawns in a large bowl and mix, season to taste, and top with the basil and mint, and a little olive oil then serve. 

Prawn & Mediterranean vegetable quinoa salad

Prawn & Mediterranean vegetable quinoa salad

Baked sweet potato with chickpea tahini salsa

Sweet potatoes are a wonderful source of vitamin A and slow-release energy, reducing the blood sugar spikes we want to avoid in an anti-inflammatory diet. 

Add a piece of grilled fish or roasted chicken for a more substantial lunch.

Serves 2

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • Black pepper and sea salt for the salsa
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely diced
  • 2.5cm ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • 200g chickpeas, roughly chopped
  • 150g cherry tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch coriander, chopped
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp tahini paste
  • 50g olive oil
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced

Preheat the oven to 160c/140c fan/gas 3. Season the sweet potatoes with salt and pepper and wrap in foil. 

Bake in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes, depending on their size. Pierce with a knife to check they are cooked — there should be no resistance when pierced.

To make the salsa, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Check and adjust seasoning.

Cut the sweet potatoes open and top each with a generous serving of the salsa, then serve.

Baked sweet potato with chickpea tahini salsa

Baked sweet potato with chickpea tahini salsa

Roast chicken salad with mozzarella & mango

Chicken is a great source of protein and does not cause as much inflammation within the body as red meat. Instead of being sun-dried, sun-blushed tomatoes are semi-dried and usually preserved in oil, which has anti-inflammatory properties, too.

Serves 2

  • Organic cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • 2 small chicken breasts, skin on
  • Black pepper and sea salt
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 ball mozzarella, diced
  • 1 large ripe mango, diced
  • 150g sun-blushed tomatoes
  • 2 little gem lettuce, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 2 handfuls basil leaves
  • 2 handfuls coriander leaves

Place a frying pan over a medium heat, add a little oil, season the chicken and place it, skin down, in the pan. 

Add the garlic and fry on a medium heat, turning the chicken regularly, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it is firm and cooked through, then leave to rest. 

Place all the other ingredients in a bowl and combine. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Slice the chicken breast and add to the salad. Serve on a large plate.

Roast chicken salad with mozzarella & mango

Roast chicken salad with mozzarella & mango

Roasted cauliflower, fennel & ginger soup

Roasting the cauliflower gives not only a wonderful, intense nutty flavour to this soup, but it also helps — along with the fennel and ginger — to provide our guts with much-needed beneficial fibre and prebiotics, which feed our ‘good’ gut bacteria. The soup can also be enjoyed cold.

Serves 2

  • 1 white onion, peeled and quartered
  • 5cm ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • ½ head large cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 fennel bulbs, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • Pinch fennel seeds
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • 500ml vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 3 tbsp hummus
  • Black pepper and sea salt
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped, to serve

Preheat oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6. On a greased baking tray, place the onion, ginger, garlic cloves, cauliflower, fennel, turmeric, fennel seeds and cinnamon and mix well. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until lightly charred.

Heat up the stock in a saucepan over a low heat. Remove the veg from the oven and add to the stock in the saucepan. 

Add the soy sauce (or tamari) and hummus, and simmer for two minutes. Use a hand blender or food processor to blend until the soup is creamy. 

Check and adjust the seasoning. Serve in two soup bowls and decorate with chopped parsley.

Roasted cauliflower, fennel & ginger soup

Roasted cauliflower, fennel & ginger soup

Broccoli, anchovies & toasted almond salad

Broccoli, one of the original superfoods, is quite rightly considered right up there with its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties. 

I love to mix it with anchovies for an omega 3 hit, too, which is also anti-inflammatory and protects the heart. Roasting the broccoli instead of boiling it in water, preserves a lot of the flavour.

Serves 2

  • 800g stem broccoli
  • Black pepper and sea salt
  • Organic cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • 8 anchovies, chopped
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, chopped
  • 2 red chillies, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 50g almonds, toasted
  • Bunch parsley, chopped

Place a pan over a high heat. Season the broccoli with salt and pepper and place in the dry pan. Do not remove the stems too quickly, as you want to char them a little.

When all sides are a little charred, add a drizzle of rapeseed oil and take the pan off the heat and leave to cool down.

In a separate bowl, combine all the other ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Now mix in the broccoli and dressing before serving on a large plate.

Broccoli, anchovies & toasted almond salad

Broccoli, anchovies & toasted almond salad

Note : Always consult your GP before starting a new diet, particularly if you are taking any prescribed medication. 

Food checklist: What’s on the menu… and off it

From calorie counts to fat content, food labels are packed with information. But how do you know which foods are likely to trigger inflammation — and which ones will dampen it down?

This is still very much an emerging area in medicine, but now U.S. doctors and public health experts have devised an at-a-glance guide to help.

They’ve assessed 20 common foods, from breakfast staples such as cereal and coffee, to red meat, apples and alcohol, and given each an inflammation score.

The more negative the score, the better the food is at fighting inflammation — making tomatoes (see table below) the most anti-inflammatory food of all those tested.

From calorie counts to fat content, food labels are packed with information. But how do you know which foods are likely to trigger inflammation — and which ones will dampen it down?

From calorie counts to fat content, food labels are packed with information. But how do you know which foods are likely to trigger inflammation — and which ones will dampen it down?

In contrast, the more positive the number, the more inflammation it causes. White bread, breakfast cereal and processed meat, including bacon, are some of the worst offenders, reported the study in the Journal of Nutrition last year.

‘Inflammation is linked to a range of diseases, from cancer and heart disease to type 2 diabetes, asthma and depression, and it’s known that a person’s diet can contribute to that inflammation,’ says Professor Suzanne Judd, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the U.S. 

‘We wanted to find out which foods cause inflammation and which ones help prevent it.’

Foods to fight inflammation

These are the inflammation ratings of 20 popular foods, according to a recent analysis by U.S. researchers. 

Note the bigger the negative score, the less inflammatory the food is. Foods that scored a ‘positive’ score are inflammatory.

Tomatoes -0.78

Alcohol (moderate intake) -0.66

Apples and berries -0.65

Carrots, squash and peaches -0.57

Poultry -0.45

Nuts -0.44

Tea & coffee -0.25

Other fruit and fruit juice -0.16

Onions, courgettes and aubergines -0.16

Green leafy vegetables -0.14

High fat dairy products -0.14

Low fat dairy products -0.12

Fish -0.08

Legumes -0.04

…And some that could trigger it

Red meat 0.02

Alcohol (high consumption) 0.30

Butter, oil and mayonnaise 0.31

Soft drinks, chocolate and sweets 0.56

Bacon and other processed meat 0.68

Refined grains and potatoes 0.72

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To develop the dietary inflammation score index, Professor Judd crunched data on the diet and health of 639 people. The volunteers, who were in their 50s and 60s, had given extremely detailed information about what they ate, as well as blood samples.

The blood was analysed for levels of four proteins (C-reactive protein and interleukins 6, 8 and 10) that are known as inflammatory markers. The higher the level of the first three of these proteins, the more potentially damaging inflammation there is in the body. Interleukin 10, in contrast, is a sign of lower inflammation.

By comparing the diet information with the blood test results, the researchers calculated how much 20 common foods and food groups contribute to inflammation.

To check the results, Professor Judd scored the diets of another 14,000 volunteers and then compared the scores with levels of inflammatory markers in their blood. This proved the system’s worth.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the foods found to be most anti-inflammatory are all fruits and vegetables, with tomatoes, apples and berries, followed by carrots, squash, peaches and other deep yellow and orange produce at the top of the list.

Their bright colours are a signal that they are rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants, says Professor Judd. ‘In simple terms, antioxidants are compounds that go out and gobble up the inflammation in the body,’ she explains. ‘The body produces inflammation all the time, from when it’s responding to an illness, or to a lack of sleep, for example — lots of things cause inflammation and there are processes within the body to try to temper that back down again.

‘Antioxidants in the diet are an important part of lowering inflammation back down to normal levels. They also help with chronic inflammation that might increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer.’

Processed meat, including bacon and sausages, was rated highly inflammatory. Nitrites, compounds added to processed meats as preservatives, are thought to increase inflammation. Plus, they are high in saturated fat, which fuels inflammation, particularly when cooked, says Professor Judd.

The foods that performed worst on the inflammation scale were potatoes and refined grains — white rice, white bread, pasta, breakfast cereal and cakes. Their beige colouring is a sign they are low in antioxidants, she says, while additives used during the processing of grains may trigger inflammation. Wholegrains are thought to be moderately anti-inflammatory.

Alcohol, in moderation (under 12 units a week for women and 24 for men), fights inflammation but, in higher amounts, stokes the flames.

Low amounts of alcohol encourage the formation of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol in the liver, thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, explains Professor Judd.

But when alcohol is consumed in high quantities, the liver has to work aggressively to process the toxins in it — leading to the production of large amounts of pro-inflammatory compounds.

‘There were inflammation indexes of nutrients but to make it easy for people to assess their own diet, they need to know about the foods themselves,’ says Professor Judd.

FIONA MACRAE

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