Got Inflammation? Try the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
What is Inflammation?
The immune system uses inflammation as a way to help protect the body from bacteria, viruses, and allergens. The typical signs of acute inflammation, like when you cut your finger, are often redness, swelling, and pain. This type of inflammation is important, as it helps protect your body from harm.
Chronic inflammation on the other hand, is linked to other health-related diseases like heart disease, arthritis, depression and diabetes. This type of inflammation can be caused by other lifestyle factors like physical inactivity, sleep deprivation, obesity, excessive alcohol intake and smoking cigarettes. Chronic inflammation can cause damage to the body and increase the risk for certain cancers like breast cancer.
So, what is one way to combat inflammation? Your diet! Certain foods have pro-inflammatory effects while others have anti-inflammatory effects. Therefore, being mindful and consuming the right foods can help reduce inflammation and your risk of illness.
What are the benefits of the anti-inflammatory diet?
While the research on what specifically constitutes an "anti-inflammatory diet" is still ongoing, there is a large amount of evidence that certain nutrients can decrease the amount of inflammation in the body. Several studies have shown that consuming higher amounts of dark leafy greens and foods containing antioxidants and polyphenols (dark chocolate, green tea, turmeric, red onions, and ginger) can reduce the amount of inflammation in the body. Additionally, higher intake of anthocyanins (fruits and vegetables with natural blue and red color hues like blackberries, raspberries and blueberries) has been associated with reduced inflammation. Other findings were that a higher intake of flavonoids was associated with lower levels of two types of inflammatory biomarkers. Therefore, showing there is a link that what you eat can help prevent and reduce inflammation.
What foods are anti-inflammatory?
There are certain fruits, vegetables, and other foods that can help combat inflammation. Bulking up on foods rich in phytonutrients like kale, collard green, berries, cherries, beans and lentils can help fight and protect against inflammation.
Other foods that you can add to your shield of protection are healthy fats, meaning unsaturated fats (those that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil). Other healthy fats like flaxseeds, salmon, sardines, tuna, almonds, and walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce inflammation as well. It is still unclear how much and how often you need to consume these anti-inflammatory foods to combat inflammation. However, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a way to combat inflammation is by adopting a healthy eating style.
What foods are pro-inflammatory?
Just as there are anti-inflammatory foods, there are those that can promote inflammation as well. Foods like red meat, processed meat and organ meats, along with foods that are fried and high in added sugars, are all considered pro-inflammatory. Other ingredients like aspartame, MSG, trans fats and alcohol have also been shown to have inflammatory effects. While this does not mean that you can never eat these foods, it is a helpful reminder to have them in moderation and focus on a higher intake of anti-inflammatory foods.
The Main Point
Although there is no specific anti-inflammatory diet that exists yet, adopting a healthier eating style that includes more of these anti-inflammatory foods will help reduce your risk for illness. Other items you may want to consider are getting adequate sleep, being physically active, drinking alcohol in moderation, avoiding cigarette smoke, and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
Learn more about healthy eating and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by: Heidi Baltodano, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern