Doctors believe that the best way to reduce inflammation isn’t in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator! You can fight off inflammation for good by following a simple anti-inflammatory diet.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a mechanism the body uses to protect itself from further injury or illness. The immune system sends an increased number of white blood cells to the area fighting off an infection or injury. Signs of acute or short-term inflammation include pain, redness, heat, and swelling.
Inflammatory diseases include a vast array of disorders and conditions. Some chronic inflammatory diseases like arthritis and asthma can cause the immune system to go into overdrive and attack healthy tissues! Inflammation over time can damage DNA which can lead to serious health conditions. Major diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s have all been linked to chronic inflammation. Many experimental studies have shown that some components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects, so you may want to choose the right anti-inflammatory foods to reduce your risk of illnesses.
What causes inflammation?
- Consuming high amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is particularly harmful. In the long term it can lead to insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes.
- Scientists have also found that consuming a lot of refined carbs like white bread, may contribute to inflammation, obesity and insulin resistance.
- Vegetable oils used in many processed foods are another possible culprit because they create an imbalance in fatty acids, which scientists believe is a leading cause of inflammation.
- Excessive intake of processed meat and alcohol can also have inflammatory effects on your body.
- Regularly eating processed and packaged foods that contain trans fats leads to inflammation and damages the endothelial cells that line your arteries.
- Non-dietary factors like an inactive lifestyle could also promote inflammation.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet works by replacing sugary, refined foods with nutrient-rich, whole foods that help to reduce inflammatory responses. The high amount of antioxidants in an anti-inflammatory diet are what help to lower free radicals, which are molecules in the body that are responsible for damaging cells and increasing the risks of certain diseases.
Aim for an overall healthy diet if you want to reduce levels of inflammation. Consider a Mediterranean diet as it’s an eating plan that closely follows the rules of anti-inflammatory eating. The basic Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, healthy oils, and fish. In essence, to lower inflammation, a more natural and less processed diet can have remarkable effects on your physical health.
“A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases but also for improving mood and overall quality of life”
– Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health
Anti-inflammatory diet tips
Transitioning to an anti-inflammatory diet is a super healthy way to go. Try following these general diets rules for an overall health kick:
1. Consume at least 25 grams of fiber every day.
Reduce inflammation by following a fiber-rich diet as it supplies naturally occurring anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found in vegetables, fruits and other whole foods.
2. Eat a minimum of nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
One ‘serving’ is equivalent to half a cup of cooked vegetables or fruit, or one cup of raw leafy greens. Add anti-inflammatory spices and herbs like turmeric and ginger to your cooked fruits and vegetables help to increase their antioxidant capacity.
3. Eat four servings of both crucifers and alliums every week.
Crucifers are vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, mustard greens, and brussel sprouts while alliums include scallions, garlic, leeks and onions. Given their powerful antioxidant properties, a weekly intake of crucifers and alliums can help lower your risk of cancer. Doctors recommend eating a clove of garlic every day.
4. Limit saturated fat to 10 percent of your daily calories.
Keeping your saturated fat intake low will help reduce the risk of heart disease. The recommended amount is about 20 grams per 2,000 calories. Also limiting red meat to once a week and marinating it with spices, herbs and unsweetened fruit juices instead of your regular recipe of seasoning salts and rubs will definitely help reduce toxic compounds formed during cooking.
5. Consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and also help lower risks of chronic diseases like arthritis, cancer and heart disease. Try to eat coldwater fish like herring, salmon, oysters, sardines, trout, mackerel and anchovies, and add foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, kidney beans and soy to your diet.
6. Eat fish at least three times a week.
Choose both low-fat fish such as flounder, sole and coldwater fish that contain healthy fats, like herring, salmon, mackerel, anchovies and sardines.
7. Use oils that contain healthy fats.
Choose ‘good’ fat found in oil for your heart, cholesterol and overall health. Virgin and extra-virgin olive oil and expeller-pressed canola oil are the best bets to reap anti-inflammatory benefits. Other options include expeller-pressed, high-oleic versions of safflower and sunflower oil.
8. Eat healthy snacks twice a day.
If you’re a snacker, snack on fruit, plain or unsweetened Greek-style yogurt, carrots, celery sticks, or nuts like almonds, pistachios and walnuts.
9. Avoid refined sugars and processed foods.
This category of food contains high-fructose corn syrup or food high in sodium, which contributes to inflammation throughout the body. Avoid artificial sweeteners and refined sugars whenever possible. The dangers of excess fructose can lead to type-2 diabetes, raised blood pressure, raised uric acid levels, increased risk of fatty liver disease and more.
10. Cut out trans fats.
In 2006 The FDA started requiring food manufacturers to identify trans fats on nutrition labels. Studies show that people who eat foods high in trans fats have higher levels of C-reactive protein, a biomarker for inflammation in the body.
Rule of thumb: always read labels thoroughly and skip the products that contain the words ‘hydrogenated’. Examples of foods containing trans fats are margarine, crackers and cookies.
11. Sweeten meals with phytonutrient-rich fruits, and flavor foods with spices.
Most fruits and vegetables are usually loaded with important phytonutrients. Try adding natural ingredients like apples, apricots, berries and even carrots to naturally sweeten your meals.
As for flavoring savory meals, opt for spices that are known for their anti-inflammatory properties like cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, ginger, rosemary, sage and thyme.
An anti-inflammatory diet should include these foods:
- olive oil
- green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and collards
- nuts like walnuts and almonds
- fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines
- fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges
Foods that cause inflammation
It is believed that foods that fall under the nightshade family like eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes or peppers can prove to be quite harmful in some inflammatory diseases. Although there is limited evidence to support this theory, if you suffer from an inflammatory disease – you can try cutting these vegetables out of your diet for 2–3 weeks to see if symptoms improve.
Some evidence suggests a high-carbohydrate diet, even when healthy carbs are involved, may promote inflammation; because of which many people on an anti-inflammatory diet choose to reduce their carbohydrate intake.
Try to avoid or limit these foods as much as possible:
- refined carbohydrates like white bread and pastries
- soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
- french fries and other fried foods
- margarine, shortening and lard
- red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
The immune system
The immune system is one of the most incredible and complex parts of the human body. Our immune system acts as a protective shield and can instantly recognize foreign bodies like viruses and bacteria that might harm our body.
Did you know that there are two main parts of the immune system?
The first is innate or non-specific immunity which is the defense system that we’re born with, its job is to protect us against external threats through protective barriers like stomach acid and mucus. These barriers form the first line of defense in the immune response. Examples of innate immunity are cough reflexes, enzymes in tears and skin oils, and mucus which traps bacteria, skin and stomach acid.
The second type of immunity makes up the adaptive immune system and is a continually growing system, developing as we advance in life. Each time your body is exposed to an illness or germ, your adaptive immune system keeps a record of it and helps your body build up a pre-programmed defense. In other words, acquired immunity is immunity that develops with exposure to various antigens, and then ideally ensures that it doesn’t make you sick the next time you come into contact with the germ or illness! This adaptive immune process involves a complex system of cells, biological pathways and chemicals that make up one of the great wonders of the human body.
Inflammation and the immune system go hand in hand, creating an inflammatory response is a significant way through which the immune system responds to a threat and starts to fight off bacteria or tissue damage.
Any type of chronic inflammation is unhealthy and can eventually lead to illness, reducing inflammation may help you feel more comfortable in general. You can reduce your body’s inflammatory response by implementing dietary changes. If you have a chronic inflammatory condition, you should visit a dietitian to develop a dietary plan to help tackle it. Your lifestyle and diet can help to drive inflammation out or make it worse – so be wise with what you choose to put into your system!