Before you groan and roll your eyes at yet another fad “diet” that will likely be out of trend by 2020, the anti-inflammatory diet does not include a meal plan, counting calories, or measuring your food like it’s a math problem. While “diet” has become a dirty word, associated with limitation or deprivation for the sake of losing weight, it actually just means the food you’re putting in your body. And the anti-inflammatory diet is about putting the right foods in your body to ward off disease and to be your healthiest self.
While it’s been buzzed about lately as a means to cure acne or prevent cancer, it has a much wider range of health benefits. Eating anti-inflammatory foods has been proven to help athletes recover, boost gut health, reduce pain associated with aging, and even protect heart health.
What really is inflammation?
Inflammation is a process activated by the immune system when your body recognizes anything that is foreign or bad, like harmful bacteria or disease. So the occasional bout of inflammation directed at threatening “invaders” actually protects your health. However, when inflammation becomes chronic, i.e. your body is experiencing inflammation constantly, it can lead to many illnesses and issues ranging from leaky gut to acne to depression to cancer to heart disease.
In today’s world, inflammation triggers are everywhere, from pollutants to chemicals to toxins in our beauty products, and yes, even in the food we eat – usually on a regular basis.
So how can you eat to reduce inflammation?
While it all sounds scary and a bit overwhelming, we really do have the power to control and limit inflammation to be used to keep us healthy instead of make us unhealthy. This power does not actually come from a pharmacy or the medicine aisle at CVS, but actually from the grocery store. Many studies have shown that certain foods have anti-inflammatory effects and can reduce the risk of illnesses, diseases, and other chronic inflammation symptoms.
For example, fresh produce that is high in antioxidants and vitamins have been shown to reduce inflammation, as well as healthy fats like nuts, avocado, and olive oil. Now for arguably the best part of this lifestyle: coffee may also protect against inflammation, as it contains polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds.
On the flip side, there are foods that do cause significant inflammation. The body does not know how to digest highly processed foods, pesticides, or artificial sweeteners, so it treats these ingredients that are commonly found in the foods we eat as invaders, causing inflammation to rise. Think about it: our bodies are constantly under attack mode because of the “nutrition” (or lack thereof) that we’re giving them — of course they’re not going to work exactly the way they should.
While it’s technically called a “diet,” this way of life is as simple as eating clean, unprocessed, and whole foods, while limiting everything with added sugar or too much processing. Looks like the cavemen got it right — the more natural, the better.
The Anti-Inflammatory Grocery List:
- Fresh fruit (especially berries, pomegranates, tomatoes; and citrus like lemon and oranges, which are high in antioxidants)
- Fresh vegetables (especially broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and lots of leafy greens)
- Plant-based proteins like lentils, chickpeas, and quinoa
- Fatty fish like wild salmon, albacore tuna, and mackerel
- Whole grains like steel-cut oats, brown rice, and barley
- Foods with omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, olive oil, and avocado
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, flaxseeds, etc.)
- Foods high in antioxidants like green tea, dark chocolate (80 percent or more cacao), and red wine (studies show that quercetin, a potent flavonoid in red wine, has strong anti-inflammation properties)
Foods to Limit or Avoid (that cause the most inflammation):
- Foods and beverages that are high in sugar (including artificial sweeteners) like soda
- Red or processed meat
- Refined carbohydrates (processed white pasta/bread, pastries, etc.)
- Fried Foods
- Processed oils like vegetable or canola oil
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- MSG (the food additive found in many fast foods, prepared soups, salad dressings, and deli meats — it actually can trigger two different kinds of serious chronic inflammation)
Other lifestyle practices to reduce inflammation:
While you already know that exercise is crucial for your health, studies show that even just 20 minutes of exercise a day can decrease inflammation and protect against chronic conditions. Schedule in regular workouts, and when you think you’re too tired or too busy to work out one day, go on a 20 minute brisk walk on your lunch break, or go through a morning yoga flow to reap the anti-inflammation benefits. Mindfulness and meditation have also been proven to reduce inflammation, and mind-body practices can reduce psychological stress that leads to inflammation — looks like that Calm app has more benefits than just making you less angry on your commute!
The bottom line is that the anti-inflammatory diet is not a “diet” at all, but rather a lifestyle, focusing simply on nourishing your body in the best way possible, so it can do its job of keeping you healthy. While there are a lot of great diets out there worth trying, the anti-inflammatory diet promises a life free of inflammation, risk of disease, and overthinking what you can and cannot eat. Now that’s a diet I can get behind.