How Does the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Work?

The anti-inflammatory diet is an eating plan designed to prevent or reduce low-grade chronic inflammation, a key risk factor in a host of health problems and several major diseases. The typical anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.

Chronic inflammation results when the immune system releases chemicals meant to combat injury and bacterial and virus infections, even when there are no foreign invaders to fight off.

Since our food choices influence the level of inflammation in our bodies, the anti-inflammatory diet is thought to curb chronic inflammation and help prevent or treat the following conditions: allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, gout, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and stroke.

Foods to Eat on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Research suggests that people with a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and fish may have a reduced risk for inflammation-related diseases. In addition, substances found in some foods (especially antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) appear to possess anti-inflammatory effects.

Foods high in antioxidants include:

  • Berries
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Avocados
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Dark chocolate

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Oily fish
  • Flaxseed
  • Walnuts
  • Omega-3-fortified foods

There’s also some evidence that certain culinary herbs and spices, such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic, can help alleviate inflammation.

Foods to Avoid

Omega-6 fatty acids (a type of essential fatty acid found in a wide range of foods) are known to increase the body’s production of inflammatory chemicals.

Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids include:

  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Margarine
  • Vegetable oils

Instead of vegetable oils, opt for oils like olive oil and avocado oil.

Additionally, studies show that a high intake of high-glycemic index foods like sugar and refined grains, such as those found in white bread and many processed foods, may rev up inflammation. Avoid sugary drinks, refined carbohydrates, desserts, and processed snack foods.

Meal Ideas

Breakfast foods: breakfast smoothie, chia bowl, oatmeal.

Lunch: salad with quinoa and vegetables, soup, grilled salmon.

Snacks: fresh blueberry fruit salad, apples and nut butter, walnuts, chia seed pudding, guacamole.

Beverages: ginger turmeric tea, golden milk, green juice, green smoothie, herbal tea, turmeric tea, green tea.

Tips on Following an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

  • Eat five to nine servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Limit your intake of foods high in omega-6 fatty acids while increasing your consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as flaxseed, walnuts, and oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring).
  • Replace red meat with healthier protein sources, such as lean poultry, fish, soy, beans and lentils.
  • Swap out margarine and vegetable oils for the healthier fats found in olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
  • Instead of choosing refined grains, opt for fiber-rich whole grains like oats, quinoa, brown rice, breads, and pastas that list a whole grain as the first ingredient.
  • Rather than seasoning your meals with salt, enhance flavor with anti-inflammatory herbs like garlic, ginger, and turmeric.

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