Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or illness. Swelling is a sign of increased blood and lymph flow as cells rush to repair damage or fight infection, and usually goes away once healing is complete. Sometimes it occurs without an injury or infection, and can hamper healing. Unchecked inflammation is implicated in everything from cancer, to heart disease, to irritable bowel syndrome, and joint pain. There is a lot of evidence that following the right diet can help curb inflammation, allow the body to heal, and reduce the symptoms of some chronic health conditions.
What is the anti-inflammatory diet?
The anti-inflammatory diet is a mode of eating that emphasizes foods known to decrease inflammation, and limits those that promote it. This diet also relies heavily on foods high in antioxidants, which are naturally occurring compounds that prevent oxidative damage to cells. Over time, it can help reduce inflammatory symptoms and promote healing.
What foods should be avoided?
Some foods are known to increase the potential for inflammation, including refined grains, processed meats, and fried foods high in trans fats. As a rule, it’s best to avoid any highly processed foods when following the anti-inflammatory diet. While whole grains contain compounds that reduce inflammation, many of their most helpful components are stripped away when they are refined into flour. Some people with sensitivities to nightshade vegetables get relief by also avoiding foods like eggplants, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos, goji berries, and tomatoes, while those without nightshade sensitivities may benefit more from eating them.
What are the best inflammation-fighting foods?
Some foods known to help beat inflammation include:
1. Salmon and other fatty fish. Fatty fish contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which many diets are deficient in. These essential fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and balance out inflammation-promoting omega-6 fatty acids found in other foods. Aim for three servings of fatty fish per week.
2. Flax seed. Like salmon, flax is a good source of omega-3 fatty acid. It’s also high in fiber, which is important for helping remove inflammation-causing waste from the body. Since the natural coating on flax seeds resists digestion, either use ground flax seed or be sure to chew whole flax seeds very thoroughly.
3. Extra virgin olive oil. This oil has a better fatty acid profile than vegetable oil, and is one of the foundations for the success of the Mediterranean diet. Use a good extra virgin olive oil as a finishing oil in dishes where its strong flavor will be appreciated, like salads or dips.
4. Turmeric. Turmeric contains curcumin, a natural compound that fights inflammation. In one study, participants taking turmeric dietary supplements saw improvement in their inflammatory symptoms after three months of use. This mild, bright yellow spice can be used to add color and a subtly spicy, earthy note to dishes.
5. Dark berries. The darker the berry, the more antioxidant it contains and the better its anti-inflammatory potential.
6. Tart cherries. These sour fruits have been shown to help runners bounce back from inflammation and recover more quickly. According to the researchers involved, they contain more anti-inflammatory compounds than any other food. Try consuming a small glass of juice twice a day, or try a tart cherry concentrate.
7. Leafy greens. Dark greens, like dark berries, are loaded with antioxidants and fiber. Some leafy greens, like mustard greens and cabbage, are cruciferous vegetables with a high sulfur content. This helps the body reduce oxidative damage by boosting the activity of glutathione.
8. Dark chocolate. Not only can dark chocolate inhibit inflammation, it can also lower stress, boost mood, supply iron, and improve immunity. Be sure it contains at least 70% cocoa, though — anything less doesn’t provide the same benefits.
9. Lentils and beans. Preliminary research thought legumes might increase inflammation, but later studies have found that this isn’t the case. Their high fiber and magnesium content has earned them a spot as anti-inflammatory foods.
While the mechanisms by which foods help fight inflammation are very complex, following the anti-inflammatory diet is pretty simple. Limit your intake of inflammation-triggering processed foods and trans fats, and add more colorful fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and sources of fiber to your diet. Over time, this can help improve the symptoms of some inflammation-based health conditions and reduce the risk of circulatory problems.