The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What is it and What are the Benefits of Following it?

Inflammation is an essential component of the healing process.  Inflammation is the body's response to fight illness and protect it from harm.  However, with some medical conditions, the immune system does not work as it should, causing consistent or recurrent low-level inflammation.  Research shows that diet can help to manage these symptoms.  An anti-inflammatory diet is not a specific “diet”, but rather an approach to eating.  Anti-inflammatory meals include lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats rich in omega-3 fatty acids while limiting or avoiding processed foods, red meat, and alcohol.  

What is inflammation?

Inflammation occurs when something triggers an immune response.   There are acute and chronic types of inflammation.  Acute inflammation may occur with an injury or an infection, whereas chronic inflammation can develop from an autoimmune disorder, an autoinflammatory disease, or long-term exposure to a chemical irritant.  Typically, we think of inflammation as swelling and redness and sometimes painful, inflammation can also occur within the body. 

What is an anti-inflammatory diet and why is it beneficial?

There are foods that contain ingredients that may cause or exacerbate inflammation, such as processed foods and foods full of sodium and sugar (drinks too!).  Some foods can also cause the formation of free radicals which can cause cell damage.  This cell damage may contribute to inflammation and cause a variety of diseases.  You might ask, what can you do to combat free radicals from forming?  One way is to increase your intake of antioxidants because they help to remove free radicals from the body.   Foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients.  Another dietary modification you can make is to increase your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber as both can also help to decrease inflammation.  According to the Arthritis Foundation, “high fiber foods also feed beneficial bacteria living in the gut, which then release substances that help lower levels of inflammation body-wide” (1).  

Who benefits from following this diet? 

Those that suffer from conditions with chronic inflammation would likely benefit from this style of eating.  These are some illnesses associated with inflammation:

  • Asthma
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Psoriasis
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Hepatitis

Inflammation may also contribute to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. 

 

Foods to choose to help manage inflammation:

Foods included in an anti-inflammatory diet are rich in nutrients, abundant in antioxidants and include healthy fats.  Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of naturally occurring plant chemicals, known as phytochemicals or phytonutrients, that have protective qualities.  These phytochemicals and antioxidants help to neutralize the free radicles and destroy their ability to create damage to cells.

  • Lean protein
    • Choose skinless, chicken or turkey light meat
    • Fish
    • Lean cuts of beef and pork
    • Collagen Hydrolysate with other protein sources
    • Non-animal lean protein sources include
      • Beans
      • Lentils
      • Tofu
      • Tempeh
      • Low-fat/fat-free milk and yogurt
    • Fruits
      • Blueberries
      • Raspberries
      • Strawberries
      • Blackberries
      • Mangoes
      • Watermelon
    • Vegetables
      • Artichokes
      • Beets
      • Beans
      • Kale and spinach
      • Red cabbage
    • Whole grains contain a number of phytochemicals and antioxidants and are full of B vitamins, minerals and fiber
      • Whole-grain breads and pasta
      • Farrow
      • Quinoa
      • Brown rice
      • Whole-grain cereal
    • Healthy fats abundant in omega-3 fatty acids
      • Fatty fish like albacore tuna, salmon and lake trout (2-3 times per week)
      • Nuts
      • Ground flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds
      • Avocados
      • Monounsaturated fats like avocado, olive and canola oils

Foods to avoid in order to help manage inflammation:

Avoid foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and processed foods as they can contribute to inflammation. 

  • Foods with added sugar and salt
  • Unhealthy oils (corn, sesame, soybean oils)
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Unrefined carbohydrates: white bread, white pasta, white rice
  • Processed foods like chips, crackers, flavored nuts, margarine, bacon, sausage and deli meats because they generally contain partially hydrogenated oils, saturated fats and sodium.
  • Desserts like cookies, cakes, ice-cream and candy
  • Gluten for some individuals should be avoided. Gluten can trigger an inflammatory response.  A gluten-free diet can be very restrictive.  If you have noticed symptoms while eating foods with gluten, you may try to eliminate gluten from your diet and see if there are any improvements in your symptoms.
  • Nightshade plants can trigger an immune response in some individuals, but there is limited scientific evidence to validate this outcome. If you think nightshades are causing symptoms, try cutting them out of your diet for a few weeks and see if your symptoms subside.  Nightshade plants include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, hot peppers and tomatillos. 

Dietary approaches and other tips to help reduce inflammation:

  1. Make your plate a colorful one. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.  A colorful plate packed with fruits and vegetables will be full of a variety of antioxidants. 
  2. Use fresh ingredients. The processing of food depletes and/or changes the nutrients it provides.
  3. Variety is key. Include a variety of fresh ingredients in your meals to increase your nutrient intake.   
  4. Increase your activity. Consistent activity provides anti-inflammatory effects. 
  5. Maintain a healthy body weight. Excess fat might contribute to inflammation. 
  6. Get sufficient sleep.  Duration and quality of sleep have a direct effect on inflammation.

 

Following an anti-inflammatory lifestyle may be beneficial to help reduce any signs and symptoms directly related to inflammation and help to keep inflammation at bay.  Researchers continue to investigate how foods impact inflammation.  What we do know is that consuming foods such as lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats do in fact help to decrease inflammation and help to manage symptoms related to inflammation within the body.  This lifestyle is not only beneficial for those that suffer from conditions that create chronic inflammation but also beneficial to those who do not.    

 

Bibliography

  1. Rath, Linda.  “Can Increasing Fiber Reduce Inflammation”.  Arthritis Foundation.  https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/anti-inflammatory/increasing-fiber.

References:

  1. Felman, Adam. “Everything you need to know about inflammation” Medical News Today.  April 2020
  2. Gordon, Barbara. “Can Diet Help with Inflammation?” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. July 2019; reviewed March 2020.
  3. American Institute for Cancer Research. aicr.org

 

Disclaimer: The information provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical conditions. Nor is it intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a medical professional. Individual results may vary.

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