Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to injury or infection. When our immune system is activated, inflammatory cells are sent out to heal damaged tissue and attack bacteria. However, sometimes our body releases inflammatory cells even when an injury or infection is not present. This condition is known as chronic inflammation and has been associated with many different autoimmune diseases as well as linked to heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic inflammation can be triggered by many factors including food allergies, stress, smoking, drinking, obesity, and even reactions to certain medications. If left untreated, chronic inflammation can lead to a general feeling of being unwell. Fatigue, muscle soreness, and G.I. tract issues are just some of the symptoms of inflammation. Fortunately, a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a well-balanced diet can greatly improve and prevent chronic inflammation. There are even certain foods that provide anti-inflammatory benefits. When consumed on a regular basis, these foods are part of a healthy anti-inflammatory diet.
What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
The aim of an anti-inflammatory diet is to reduce inflammation in the body by consuming foods that reduce inflammation and staying away from foods that may trigger it. These foods are generally minimally processed and incorporate specific nutrients and antioxidants that fight inflammation. Fresh fruits and vegetables, some nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil are some examples of anti-inflammatory foods. In addition to containing specific properties that directly inhibit the inflammatory response in our bodies, consuming whole, natural foods also helps to reduce obesity, a common cause of inflammation. Below is a list of some of the best foods to include in your anti-inflammatory diet:
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower are extremely nutritious and packed with essential vitamins.They are low calorie and rich in fiber, making them an excellent choice when trying to lose weight. In addition, eating a lot of cruciferous veggies is associated with lower risk of cancers and heart disease. This is likely due to their anti-inflammatory antioxidant properties. Cruciferous vegetables contain a ton of vitamin C, polyphenols, and carotenoids, antioxidants that destroy free radicals in your body that cause inflammation.
Turmeric is mostly known for its rich yellow color and flavorful taste present in many Asian dishes. The main component of turmeric is circumin, a chemical compound made by plants in the Circuma longa species. Circumin is known for its potent anti-inflammatory benefits. When taken alongside piperine (black pepper), circumin significantly decreases the inflammatory marker CRP in individuals with metabolic syndrome.
Berries are delicious small fruits that contain lots of fiber and nutrients. They are low calorie (just 85 calories per cup) and can be eaten alone or added as an ingredient in numerous delicious recipes. Some of the more common berries include strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Berries contain antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that are responsible for giving berries their blue and purple pigment. They are also said to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits. One study showed that overweight adults who ate strawberries had lower levels of inflammatory markers that are associated with heart disease.
Olive oil is a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. It is full of healthy fats that are known to be good for your heart and skin. Olive oil contains oleocanthal, an antioxidant that is said to work similarly to ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug. Oleocanthal along with the other antioxidants in olive oil seem to inhibit some genes and proteins that are responsible for inflammation. Additionally, olive leaf extract, which is derived from the leaves of the olive plant, are rich in polyphenolic compounds. Polyphenolic compounds are known to have powerful antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Oleuropein, the main antioxidant in olive leaves, can be consumed orally and is used in many traditional medicines. Additionally, it can be consumed in supplement form as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. Check out HotBodNutrition’s Premium Olive Leaf Extract supplement if you’re not a fan of olive oil.
Tomatoes are nutritious fruits (commonly thought of as vegetables) that are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, an antioxidant known for its anti-inflammatory effect. Lycopene is a carotenoid that’s better absorbed when consumed with a source of fat. Tomatoes and olive oil for example would be a perfect anti-inflammatory food combo. A study found that overweight women who drank tomato juice had a significant decrease in inflammatory markers. Lycopene is also said to be beneficial in reducing inflammatory compounds that are linked to several types of cancers.
Foods To Avoid on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
When seriously attempting to reduce your inflammation markers, foods to avoid include:
- Sodas and other sugary beverages
- Fried Foods like French fries and fried chicken
- Margarine, shortening, and lard
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread, pastries, some cereals
- Red meat and processed meats (hot dogs, sausage)
The foods that cause inflammation are unsurprisingly generally bad for your health. Many of them are associated with an increased risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, both of which are linked to inflammation. Foods that contain excess amounts of sugar and trans fats, like margarine or shortening are known to produce an inflammatory response in our bodies. Additionally, these foods contribute to obesity and obesity, another common factor for inflammation.
An anti-inflammatory diet will have benefits for everyone, especially those experiencing symptoms of inflammation. In general, improving our overall health with exercise and diet will improve most health conditions. Inflammation is no different. There are certain foods however that have specific properties for treating inflammation. The key for choosing anti-inflammatory foods is to stick with what is natural and minimally processed. That, combined with healthy lifestyle habits (such as not smoking) and natural supplements aimed at reducing inflammation can help to get your body back to a healthy state.