Inflammation is a significant risk factor for developing many chronic conditions. Because the inflammatory process takes place inside the body, we may not even know it’s happening.
Outside of taking medications, there are ways you can fight inflammation naturally. An anti-inflammatory diet is one of the best ways you can help control inflammation. The foods you put into your body can affect your health and wellbeing. Eating more fresh, whole foods boosts your mood, emotional health and cognitive functioning. Many foods also have the power to reduce inflammation.
In this article, we’ll offer some guidelines on how to build an inflammation-fighting diet. We’ll also discuss foods to take off your plate for good.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is an important part of your body’s immune system. It is your body’s response mechanism when faced with anything foreign. Illnesses, infections, injuries, microbes, environmental irritants and toxic chemicals trigger an inflammatory response.
Your immune system sends more white blood cells to the area when you sustain an injury or infection. Your white blood cells fight off the foreign invaders. As your body heals itself, you will experience an inflammatory response. Symptoms may include pain, swelling and redness at the site of an injury. If you have an infection, you may experience a fever, pain or chills.
In these cases, inflammation is beneficial. It is protecting your body from dangerous organisms or substances.
When Does Inflammation Become Harmful?
Chronic inflammation develops when your immune system starts attacking healthy tissues. These attacks cause episodes of inflammation even when your body isn’t injured or sick. Over time, persistent inflammation can damage your organs and tissues.
Many diseases are linked to chronic inflammation, including:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Some cancers
Current research suggests that chronic inflammation causes many of the diseases listed above. It also worsens symptoms of these conditions. Chronic inflammation occurs inside your body and doesn’t have noticeable symptoms.
Inflammation-Causing Foods to Avoid
Certain foods and beverages can speed up the development of inflammatory diseases. Additionally, consuming these foods and beverages can make existing inflammatory disease symptoms worse.
Limit your intake of the following:
- Processed meats like hot dogs, sausage and bologna
- Processed snacks like chips, cookies and crackers
- Overly sweet desserts like candy, doughnuts and ice cream
- Sugary drinks like soda and juices
- Trans fats like shortening, vegetable oils and fried foods
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and white pasta
Most likely, the foods on this list don’t surprise you. You probably already know that fried, processed and sugary foods aren’t good for your health.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Add to Your Diet
You can help fight inflammation by eating more whole, nutritious foods. Natural foods are packed full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. These nutrients help your body function more efficiently.
Add more of these foods to your anti-inflammatory diet:
- Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and collards
- Fresh vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers and tomatoes
- Healthy fats like coconut, avocados and olive oil
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios
- Fatty fish: salmon, mackerel and tuna
- Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries
- Fresh fruits like cherries, oranges, apples and grapes
- Plant-based proteins like beans and lentils
- Dark chocolate
Add flavor to your meals by cooking with cinnamon, turmeric, garlic and ginger. These herbs and spices have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
How do Anti-Inflammatory Foods Work?
Whole, natural foods contain several elements that can help stop or reduce inflammation. Here are some essential inflammation-fighting ingredients.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed full of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable atoms that cause cell damage, disease and inflammation. Carotenoids, found in carrots, tomatoes and leafy green vegetables, attack inflammation. Anthocyanins, which are found in berries, prevent inflammatory compounds from forming.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats stop inflammatory compounds from forming. They also reduce existing inflammation in the body.
Polyphenols are a protective plant compound. Berries, dark chocolate, herbs and spices are rich in polyphenols. This compound is linked to reduced inflammation in the body. Anthocyanins (a type of polyphenol found in berries) prevent inflammatory compounds from forming.
Fiber is one of the most beneficial nutrients for fueling your body. It helps lower inflammatory protein levels in the body. Additionally, fiber feeds good bacteria in the gut microbiome. This bacterial fermentation produces substances that reduce body-wide inflammation. Fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils are good sources of fiber.
5 Tips for Maintaining an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Need help getting started? We’ve compiled a few of our most helpful tips:
- Meal prep. Over the weekend, decide your meals for the week. It will be easier to eat healthy for the entire week if you have a plan in place.
- Write a shopping list. Prepare a grocery list before you step foot in the store. You’ll be less tempted to buy convenience foods and snacks.
- Choose a variety of fruits, veggies and healthy fats. Having options will keep you from getting bored. Plus, diversifying your meals will give you a full range of nutrients.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand. You’ll be less likely to reach for chips and cookies if a better option is nearby.
- Drink more water. Proper hydration boosts your energy level, brain function and overall health.
You should always talk to your doctor before incorporating dietary changes. Together, you and your doctor can discuss how to start building the best meal plan to improve your health.