The human immune system provides a natural defense against bacteria, viruses, and illness related to infection. The process known as inflammation is triggered whenever you injure tissue or whenever the body detects any invading microbes. Inflammation aims to control and prevent infections while the associated tissue is healing.
While intermittent, short-term inflammation is necessary to your health, chronic inflammation can result in serious health issues. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of major diseases, from arthritis to cardiovascular issues.
Medication and visits to the doctor play an integral role in reducing chronic inflammation, but one of the best ways to keep your inflammation down is the anti-inflammatory diet. Learn more about some of the best anti-inflammatory foods that you can eat to keep your inflammation at bay.
Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Chronic inflammation is characterized by a steady, low level of inflammation that can have long-term, whole body (systemic) effects. Persistent inflammation can occur when the body perceives a threat, even when there may be no actual threat. As part of the natural immune response, the body sends white blood cells, but without anything to do, the white blood cells may mistakenly begin to attack healthy tissue and organs, resulting in damage and ill health.
An unhealthy diet may exacerbate issues further. The average American diet is high in processed foods containing omega-6 fatty acids and other foods that may contribute to inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods may help keep inflammation under control. Studies show that eating an anti-inflammatory diet may help to keep down the levels of certain inflammatory markers, like C-reactive proteins, which can be measured with a blood test. Most anti-inflammatory diets also contain healthful foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, that are rich in other nutrients which can contribute to your overall health.
What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
The exact components of an anti-inflammatory diet can vary based on who you ask, but most commonly, it is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet, with some small variations. The Mediterranean diet itself does not have a single definition, but its main components include:
- A high daily intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats
- Weekly consumption of eggs, beans, and lean protein (mainly fish and poultry)
- Moderate dairy consumption
- Limited red meat
The anti-inflammatory diet goes further with:
- Minimal saturated and trans fats
- Plenty of foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, including fish, walnuts, and fish oil supplements
- High consumption of whole grains, like brown rice, bulgur wheat, and quinoa
- Plenty of spices like ginger and curry
The key here is to eat a mostly plant-based diet with most of your protein coming from lean sources. Eating more fatty fish inevitably means getting more omega-3 fatty acids. Your body cannot naturally produce omega-3 fatty acids, meaning that diet is your only option. Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied for their powerful immunomodulatory activities and regulation of inflammation, particularly pro-inflammatory compounds produced by omega-6 fatty acids.
Ginger, curry, and other spices have been studied for their ability to block inflammatory cytokines and reduce inflammation.
These foods generally help maintain a healthy body weight. Some studies suggest that obesity may be associated with a higher risk of chronic inflammation.
Inflammatory Foods That You Should Avoid
An important part of the anti-inflammatory diet is avoiding certain pro-inflammatory foods. The most common of these pro-inflammatory foods include:
- Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners
- Refined carbohydrates (any white breads, rice or pastas)
- Trans fats (margarine, shortening, lard)
- Processed meats (ham, sausage, beef jerky, bacon, lunch meats)
- Vegetable oils
- Fried foods
Essentially, the goal is to stay away from highly-processed foods as well as foods that have added sugar. Extra processing often results in the formation of advanced glycation end products, which are compounds known to contribute to signs of aging as well as general inflammation. Excessive sugar intake may also contribute to inflammation while depleting healthy gut bacteria. Refined carbohydrates, which are essentially carbohydrates that have had most of their dietary fiber and nutritional content processed out of them, break down into simple sugars.
Tips for Following an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Here are some simple tips to get you started on an anti-inflammatory diet:
- To ensure a high intake of antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients, aim to eat five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
- Shop for chicken, turkey, fish, lentils, and beans instead of red meat.
- Instead of seasoning with salt, consider enhancing the flavors of your meals with more diverse spices, like ginger, garlic, and turmeric.
- Not all carbohydrates are the enemy here. Always opt for whole grains instead of refined grains. Ancient grains are better yet. Replace white rice and bread with brown rice and whole wheat.
- Consider a supplement derived from anti-inflammatory bioactives or antioxidants (i.e., vitamin C).
Some easy meal ideas include:
- Fruit smoothies and a bowl of oatmeal
- Fresh kale salads with chicken
- Grilled fish with a side of brown rice
- Guacamole with flaxseed chips
- Green and herbal tea
While no single food can completely change your health, following an anti-inflammatory diet may help to reduce inflammation in the long-term while supporting your overall health in the process. Make small steps to incorporate natural anti-inflammatory foods and supplements, like Colostrum-LD®, Vital C-LD®, or Curcumin-LD® from Sovereign Laboratories, into your everyday diet.