An anti-inflammatory diet at first glance might sound like the sort of regime that would take military precision and planning to get right – only to provide you with a list of foods you’re possibly not overly enamored with eating. You might stick with it for a few days at best before reverting to your old ways.
It’s time to think again! Why? Well, an anti-inflammatory diet is more of a guideline and way of eating, rather than a strict weight loss plan, therefore it’s much easier to implement, stick to, and see results from. It’s not designed to help you lose lots of weight (though there are lots of benefits if you do need to use a calorie-controlled approach to eating).
If you’re really not sure or feel like you could do with some advice on where to start and what to do, then help is at hand. We’ve put together some expert hints and tips to keep you informed. Read on to see our experts weigh in on diet tips to reduce inflammation.
Why might you want to make dietary changes?
There are many reasons to consider an anti-inflammatory diet for health. For some people, it’s just a way of life – a pleasant way to get more fruits, veggies, and good stuff into them without relying on too many UPFs (Ultra Processed Foods) which are currently gaining a lot of attention from Doctors and Nutritionists.
UPFs are basically any foodstuffs that are pre-packaged, manufactured, and will often contain high amounts of fat, salt, sugar, and ingredients called emulsifiers.
If you check the ingredient labels on any of the pre-prepared foods you buy, you might see them listed. While they’re not bad for you in small amounts, diets based entirely on these foods can be detrimental to your health long term.
Not sure what to avoid? Here are the foods you should consume less of or not at all:
- processed foods (ready meals)
- foods with added salt (think about potato chips)
- palm oils and saturated fats
- processed carbs, such as white bread, white pasta, and baked goods
- cookies, candy, ice cream
- excess alcohol
When thinking about making dietary changes and particularly moving towards an anti-inflammatory diet, it is worth considering whether you have any of the following conditions as these all involve inflammation:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Hashimoto’s Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Obese or overweight
- Cardiovascular Disease
These long-term conditions can be managed better by taking an approach to eating that cuts out as much processed food as possible and relies on fruits, veggies, and good quality sources of protein.
An anti-inflammatory diet should include foods that are nutrient-dense, high in antioxidants, and contain healthy fats (such as omega-3s). Think about the following foods from this list and include them where you can.
- oily fish, like tuna, salmon, mackerel and herrings
- antioxidant-rich fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
- veggies like kale, spinach, and broccoli
- beans and pulses
- nuts and seeds
- dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa solids)
- olives and olive oil
It’s a good idea to up the amount of foods you eat from this list – aim for three portions of oily fish a week (tinned and frozen count) and servings of the fruits and vegetables listed once or twice a day. It doesn’t need to be hard work.
Consider scattering a handful of blueberries or blackberries onto your morning porridge – alongside a spoonful of flax or chia seeds. Or serving a healthy stir fry based on the green veg we’ve suggested to go with a piece of lean grilled chicken or fish.
Snacks can include a handful of almonds and a couple of squares of really good quality dark chocolate, or some olives with a small glass of red wine.
Plan meals that include healthy beans and pulses to bulk them out – think about hearty lentil soups or bean stews and chillis.
Let’s hear from the experts now and see what they say about approaches to an anti-inflammatory diet.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
“Following an anti-inflammatory eating plan may help manage symptoms by reducing the effects of inflammation. The ‘diet’ advises the restriction of certain foods while encouraging others, and may recommend eating at specific times to influence the inflammatory process.
An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on foods that are rich in healthy fats, lean proteins and plant compounds – so whole plant-based foods and oily fish are key. The diet also aims to stabilise blood sugar, and by so doing regulate insulin response. This is important because insulin may influence the control mechanisms that manage the inflammatory process.” Kerry Torrens, Nutritionist writing for BBC Good Food
Why do we need to control inflammation?
“Inflammation is part of your body’s natural defenses—when a cut swells up and turns red, that’s inflammation at work healing you. But when inflammation becomes chronic, sparked by factors like poor diet and smoking, it can cause a host of health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis (including psoriatic arthritis), cancer and even depression.” Christine Yu writing for Eating Well
Which foods and beverages are considered to be inflammatory?
“Avoid inflammatory foods. Tolbert recommends decreasing your intake of sugar (often found in desserts, candy, baked goods, soda, fruit juice and even ketchup and pasta sauce), refined carbohydrates (like white pasta, bread and rice), fried foods, red and processed meat (like beef, pork, lamb, bacon, sausage and salami), dairy and processed foods (like chips, crackers and freezer meals).” Corey Tolbert, RD, LD, licensed and registered dietitian at Piedmont,
How can integrative medicine help patients heal from inflammatory conditions?
“Integrative medicine uses a holistic approach to address inflammatory conditions by combining conventional and complementary therapies. Integrative practitioners work to identify and address the root causes of inflammation –factors such as diet, lifestyle, stress, and environmental triggers. Integrative medicine utilizes evidence-based practices like acupuncture, herbal remedies, and mind-body techniques to develop personalized treatment plans. By fostering a partnership between patient and practitioner, this approach encourages sustainable lifestyle changes, empowering individuals to actively participate in their healing journey and achieve long-term relief from inflammatory conditions and promote overall wellness.” Courtesy of Dr. Anastasia Stocker, ND, LAc. Aria Integrative Medicine ariaintegrative.com
What are some great examples of foods that help heal inflammation?
“Some of the most powerful ways to lower inflammation are not found at the pharmacy, but found at the grocery store. My favorite foods that can lower inflammation include:
Fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchee, sauerkraut, fermented vegetables. They can certainly improve your microbiome diversity and the gut’s immune system.
Essential fats: Eat oily fish that contain Omega3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Essential indicates that you can’t make them internally, but must provide them from your diet. The research indicates that not only do they lower inflammation, but they also have a strong influence on the intestinal microbiota as well as provide protection for cell membranes. A 3- 6 oz. serving twice a week of salmon, tuna (check for the sources that have lower levels of mercury), cod, or sardines is recommended.
Omega 9 essential fats such as olive and avocado oils.
Omega 6: Nuts, seeds, nut butter, and seed butter: walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, and more.
Eat more Omega 3’s than Omega 6 fatty acids.
Fruit: Berries, citrus fruits, and pomegranates are among my favorite to quench free radicals and they are well stocked with Vitamin A, carotenoids, Vitamin C, potassium, bioflavonoids, anthocyanins, and more. They are lower in sugar and high in fiber as well.
Green leafy and cruciferous vegetables: They are high in fiber, folate, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, B vitamins, minerals such as calcium, sodium, and potassium as well as lutein for the eyes. Broccoli contains sulforaphane which has been studied to lower cancer risk.
Spices: Turmeric is well known to lower inflammation. But, other spices such as rosemary, ginger, oregano, cinnamon and garlic have been studied to lower inflammation as well. Add spices to your foods and you will enjoy them even more!
Organic and pasture-raised meat: Meat is often given a bad rap! Meat is high in essential proteins, iron, B12, B vitamins, zinc, selenium. Meat raised in their natural habitat is lower in saturated fat. Essential proteins need to be provided in the diet for growth and development, muscle and bone health and immune system function. Grass-fed beef is a significant source of natural and bioavailable iron.” Courtesy of Linda Clark, MA, CNC Universal Wellness Associates uwanutrition.com
A couple of examples of how good nutrition can help lower inflammation?
“Great dietary choices are key to reducing inflammation in the body. To start, I would recommend reducing your intake of ultra-processed foods. Sodas, for example, are full of many added sugars. Our bodies can not process these added sugars well so store those extra sugars as triglycerides and fat in the liver. If you are consuming excessive amounts of juices and sodas, you may develop Non-alcoholic fatty liver and increase your cardiovascular disease risk. These would also contribute to metabolic syndrome – a pro-inflammatory state that increases your risk for diabetes too!
If we are eliminating processed foods like sodas and juices, in place of them, choosing water is excellent to reduce inflammation. We eliminate toxins much more effectively when properly hydrated.
Additionally, if we fill our diet with unprocessed foods, you’ll see even more reduction in your inflammation. For example, dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables reduce the inflammatory cytokines in the body. Adding more plant-based sources of protein in place of processed meats is another excellent way to add fiber in your diet and reduce inflammation further.” Tanya B Freirich, MS, RD, CDN, CDCES Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist The Lupus Dietitian
What 3 tips can you offer to reduce anti-inflammatory responses in the body?
“The number one dietary tip is to lose excess body fat by calorie reduction. Reducing calorie intake activates AMPK (the master regulator of metabolism) in every cell reduces insulin resistance which slows pro-inflammatory gene transcription factors such as NF-κB that reduce the production of inflammatory mediators.
The second dietary tip is to take adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids (such as EPA and DHA) that are the building blocks for powerful anti-inflammatory hormones (i.e., resolvins) that reduce inflammation
The third dietary tip is to increase the intake of polyphenols that also activate AMPK. Berries are a good choice.
Finally, lifestyle factors such as exercise and stress reduction also activate AMPK and thus reduce insulin resistance. However, these lifestyle interventions will not be as effective as the combination of the three dietary steps listed above.” Dr. Barry Sears PhD President of the Inflammation Research Foundation, author of The Zone book series and creator of The Zone Diet drsears.com and Zone Living
What kinds of impacts can inflammation have on your overall health?
“Inflammation matters for three reasons: it causes frustrating symptoms, it can exacerbate current inflammatory conditions, and it can cause chronic disease.
If you have chronic inflammation, you may feel tired and fatigued all the time, or may have unexplained and chronic brain fog. You may also have digestive issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, because leaky gut is an inflammatory condition that causes all of these symptoms. You may experience puffiness in your face, hands, or feet, may get an unexplained rash, may be carrying extra fat around your belly. While all of these symptoms could be caused by other things, too, they can be telltale signs of inflammation, and no one wants to deal with them!
Inflammation from food and lifestyle can also make many inflammation-based conditions worse. Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis happen when inflammation is heightened, which damages the intestine lining and lets things into the bloodstream that should be kept in the intestines. This leads to more inflammation, and a vicious cycle (often called a “flare”) starts. Autoimmune conditions (like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and multiple sclerosis) are all linked to inflammation in some way, and increasing inflammation through food and lifestyle usually makes symptoms of these conditions worse. Even migraines are linked to higher levels of chronic inflammation.
Finally, a build-up of chronic inflammation over time has been linked to some significant chronic diseases. Although this should be obvious, I want to make it abundantly clear that one Twinkie or one McDonald’s Big Mac will not lead to these chronic conditions. But buildup of inflammation over time in bodies that are not adept at clearing inflammation is thought to contribute to causing these diseases. Chronic disease is directly linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease, Alzheimer’s, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.” Courtesy of Megan Lyons Head Health & Happiness Honcho, The Lyons’ Share Wellness