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Rugby nutrition: the top ten anti-inflammatory foods

Full stretch: Argentina players go through their stretching routine. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

Sports nutritionist Matt Lovell explains what you should eat to ease swelling and soreness

May 29, 2016 8:25 AM EDT

By Matt Lovell To help you understand the reasons behind which foods assist a normal inflammatory response, let’s talk about what inflammation is and how it’s moderated by the foods we eat. Inflammation is in layman’s terms how the immune system travels and mounts a response in the body. An example of an inflammatory response would be a bee sting. Another example is the soreness you get after training and healing is an inflammatory response. When we say anti-inflammatory foods, we should say inflammation normalising as we require inflammation for life! The issue in modern society is the response can stay switched on or at a level higher than is necessary all the time. This is known as chronic inflammation. Most diseases have an inflammatory component too, so keeping inflammation under control is useful for reducing the risks of developing these diseases too quickly.

Eat the rainbow: It's important to eat foods of all different colours. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

The three main ways we control inflammation in the body are through:

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  1. Controlling oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant-rich foods, keeping stress levels under control, sleeping well, avoiding pollutants and not exercising too much.
  2. Keeping the right balance of essential fats in terms of a higher intake of omega 3 fats from oily fish, linseeds and chia seeds, balanced with plenty of monounsaturated fats and a lower intake of vegetable oils (omega 6 rich) foods such as anything commercially baked, fried or any food bought in fast food restaurants.
  3. Looking at other factors like vitamin D sufficiency, good bowel health and a low inflammatory food intake in general.
  1. Blueberries – Rich in flavonoids called anthocyanins they offer strong protection against oxidative stress. All berries are good though. Try frozen berries also to save some cash, they make a great smoothie in the hot weather.
Berry good: Blueberries are a good source of anthocyanins. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

  • Wild salmon – Contains large amounts of omega 3 fats and lower levels of omega 6 fats as compared to farmed salmon, they look like 2 different species based on what they eat and how they exercise! Like many humans! Other oily fish will also help – sardines and herring are two of my favourites.
  • Turmeric – The king of the spices in terms of its ability to regulate inflammation. It’s so strong at doing this levels of Alzheimer’s in countries where they take more of this spices are much lower. Indeed, eating more curries (home-made please) actually reduces the risk in this country also. The spice kingdom should be delved into regularly!
  • Ginger – A rich, warming spice that can be particularly effective for stomach inflammation and digestive pain. Make a nice tea with ginger, honey and lemon. All-spice and cinnamon are other spices which go well with sweeter foods and drinks.
  • Lemon – A great fruit for its vitamin C content and juicing the whole lemon will release the oil limonene, which is the best bit really for helping detox and reducing inflammation. Juice them whole, buy unwaxed (you don’t want to eat the wax).
  • Mellow yellow: Try juicing the whole lemon to get more nutrients. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

  • Rosemary – Rich in rosmarinic acid offers some unique benefits and has been attributed to the longevity of the population of Salerno. Delicious with chicken too. Oregano, basil and the other culinary herbs have similar benefits. Dried herbs generally have higher levels.
  • Garlic – Contains 1,2-DT (1,2-vinyldithiin) one of the unique sulfur compounds in garlic that has long been recognised as having anti-inflammatory The onion family in general is a good one to increase in your diet.
  • Dark chocolate – Rich in catechins, this is another one of these flavonoid rich foods. Should be included in daily diet, as a snack or drink. Associated with longevity in monks who grow and brew daily hot chocolate. Must be 80+% cocoa – and it’s yum!
  • Tasty treat: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt tucks into some chocolate. Photo: Getty Images Rugby World

  • Tea, especially green tea – Rich in antioxidants and catechins, a good cup of green tea really helps increase the body’s availability of these unique molecules. A selection of these teas can be useful to top up on flavonoid intake. I like licorice and cinnamon teas, and matcha green tea has the most powerful effects of all teas.
  • Green leafy vegetables and pigment vegetables in general – The colour in edible foods is normally indicative of a presence of a health giving compound. Keeping the diet the colour of the rainbow is a worthwhile cliché and eating more of these foods displaces the more inflammatory foods, which are often eaten to excess.
  • Kinetica Sports brand ambassador, Matt Lovell is a nutritional therapist with a special interest in elite sports performance. www.kineticasports.com For the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here.

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