The Benefits of Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

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 healthreduce 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)
  • Coffee

 

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.)
  • Dairy
  • 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.

 

Have you tried the anti-inflammatory lifestyle? Did you notice any changes in your health?

  • Karen

    It is very reckless of the author to make some of these statements. Does she have any medical training? Did she even consult a doctor or medical professional before making all these claims in her article?
    Example: “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.”
    -Telling people that they have the power to CONTROL inflammation with no medical basis.

    To quote one of the medical articles she linked above: “Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fats, processed foods, and sugars is generally a good idea, though more study needs to be done to determine how it might affect inflammation.”

    • B

      Reckless? It’s telling you to eat healthy and cut out processed garbage. How is that reckless? You *do* have the ability to control inflammation to an extent. Obviously if you have *very serious* inflammation problems or other medical issues then you should consult your doctor before trying a new diet, but that’s common sense and something you should know to do if you have any kind of medical condition. Eating less high sugar and super processed foods is not going to hurt you. Less fast food and soda is for the best, honestly.

      • Meg B

        While I agree, cutting sugar and processed foods is not going to hurt you, I do wish Everygirl had a medical provider on staff to edit and provide input (like research) with these articles, especially since you have such a large readership.

    • Caitlin Corbin

      Karen,
      I agree with you. I believe The Everygirl, along with the thousands of other blogs out there, have a responsibility to present evidence based information by people truly educated in their fields (I.e. a registered dietician, an M.D., etc.). The Everygirl doesn’t state what the author’s credentials are. So many sites, including The Everygirl, boast authors who are “health coaches” or the like. That title means nothing, as it’s not governed by any board and typically doesn’t require a certain education/license/registration, etc. Anyone who feels “passionate” about health/food/fitness can join in as an expert. This is dangerous. From this we have gotten gluten free, dairy free, “wellness” bs that is actually promoting eating disorders (I.e. the newest being Orthorexia). I’m a former psychotherapist (with a license) so seeing this makes me sad and angry.

      • Cristen Lindsay RD, CNSC

        Preach!

      • erica o

        Hmm gluten free dairy free b.s- please elaborate what you mean by this?

  • josmile33

    I am an RA survivor and I went on an anti-inflammatory diet. I did yoga every day and I walked every other day just due to my joints hurting more one day than the other. I was able to cut 172lbs in 5 months and that is how I put my RA in remission. Going on an anti-inflammatory diet was the best thing I could do for myself. I stay on that diet now with the occasional inflammatory food just because I still want to live life and enjoy it but I watch my consumption a lot. I think if you want to make a change in your life you have to believe in what you have to do and are doing to make it work. If you don’t need to make a change and are happy with what you are doing then that is great, continue to love yourself because we are all queens just surviving in this world.