Inflammation is associated with many health problems, and certain foods seem to make it worse. Eating less processed foods, alcohol, and red meat, and consuming more plant-based foods can help manage inflammation. However, some people suffer from a medical condition in which the immune system does not work as it should. This dysfunction can lead to persistent or recurrent low-level inflammation. Chronic inflammation manifests itself in various diseases, such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. There is evidence that food choices can help manage symptoms.
An anti-inflammatory diet favors fruits and vegetables, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and spices. It discourages or limits the consumption of processed foods, red meats and alcohol. The anti-inflammatory diet is not a specific diet but rather an eating style. The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are examples of anti-inflammatory diets.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
Some foods contain ingredients that can trigger or worsen inflammation. Sugary or processed foods can do this, while fresh, whole foods are less likely to have this effect. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables. Many plant foods are good sources of antioxidants. Certain foods, however, can trigger the formation of free radicals. These include, for example, foods that are fried in repeatedly heated cooking oil. Dietary antioxidants are molecules found in food that help scavenge free radicals from the body. Free radicals are the natural by-products of certain bodily processes, including metabolism. However, external factors, such as stress and smoking, can increase the number of free radicals in the body.
Free radicals can cause cell damage. This damage increases the risk of inflammation and can contribute to a range of diseases. The body creates certain antioxidants that help it eliminate these toxic substances, but dietary antioxidants are also useful. An anti-inflammatory diet favors foods rich in antioxidants over those that increase the production of free radicals.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, can help reduce inflammatory protein levels in the body. Fiber may also have this effect, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Types of anti-inflammatory diets
Many popular diets already adhere to anti-inflammatory principles. For example, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet both include fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats. Inflammation appears to play a role in cardiovascular disease, but research suggests that the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based foods and healthy oils, may reduce the effects of inflammation on the cardiovascular system.
Who can he help?
An anti-inflammatory diet can serve as complementary therapy for many conditions that worsen with chronic inflammation.
The following conditions involve inflammation:
inflammatory bowel disease
Metabolic syndrome refers to a collection of conditions that tend to accumulate, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Scientists believe that inflammation plays a role in all of these conditions. An anti-inflammatory diet can therefore help improve the health of someone with metabolic syndrome. A diet rich in antioxidants may also help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Foods to eat
An anti-inflammatory diet should combine a variety of foods that:
are rich in nutrients
provide a range of antioxidants
contain healthy fats
Foods that can help manage inflammation include
fatty fish, such as tuna and salmon
fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cherries
vegetables, including kale, spinach, and broccoli
nuts and seeds
olives and olive oil
The authors of a 2017 article also recommended the following:
raw or moderately cooked vegetables
legumes, such as lentils
spices, such as ginger and turmeric
probiotics and prebiotics
It is good to remember that:
No food alone can improve a person’s health. It’s important to include a variety of healthy ingredients in your diet.
Fresh, simple ingredients are best. Processing can change the nutritional content of foods.
People should check the labels of prepared foods. While cocoa can be a good choice, for example, products containing it often contain sugar and fats as well.
A colorful plate will provide an array of antioxidants and other nutrients. Be sure to vary the colors of fruits and vegetables.
Foods to Avoid
People following an anti-inflammatory diet should avoid or limit their intake of:
foods with added sugar or salt
Processed carbohydrates, found in white bread, white pasta, and many baked goods.
processed snacks, such as chips and crackers
prepared desserts, such as cookies, candies and ice cream.
In addition, people may find it beneficial to limit their intake of the following products:
Gluten: Some people experience an inflammatory reaction when they consume gluten. A gluten-free diet can be restrictive and not suitable for everyone. However, if a person suspects gluten is triggering symptoms, they may consider eliminating it for a while to see if their symptoms improve.
Plants in the black nightshade family, such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes, seem to trigger flare-ups in some people with inflammatory conditions. There is little evidence to confirm this effect, but a person can try removing nightshades from their diet for 2 to 3 weeks to see if their symptoms improve.
Carbohydrates: There is evidence that a diet high in carbohydrates, even though they are healthy, may promote inflammation in some people. However, some carbohydrate-rich foods, such as sweet potatoes and whole grains, are excellent sources of antioxidants and other nutrients.
Can a vegetarian diet reduce inflammation?
A vegetarian diet may be an option for people looking to reduce inflammation. The authors of a 2019 review analyzed data from 40 studies. They concluded that people who follow a vegetarian-based diet are likely to have lower levels of various inflammatory markers. A 2017 study looked at data from 268 people who followed either a strict vegetarian diet, a lacto-ovegetarian diet, or a non-vegetarian diet. The results suggested that consumption of animal products could increase the risk of systemic inflammation and insulin resistance.
Tips for an anti-inflammatory diet
It can be difficult to make the transition to a new way of eating, but the following tips can help:
Choose a variety of fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks when doing your weekly shopping.
Gradually replace fast food meals with healthy, homemade lunches.
Replace sodas and other sugary drinks with still or sparkling mineral water.
Here are some other tips:
Talk to a doctor about dietary supplements, such as cod liver oil or a multivitamin.
Incorporate 30 minutes of moderate exercise into daily routine.
Adopt good sleep hygiene, as poor sleep can make inflammation worse.
An anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of some common health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. There is no single anti-inflammatory diet, but a diet including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can help manage inflammation. Anyone with a chronic health condition involving inflammation should ask a healthcare professional about the best dietary options for them.