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Anti-Inflammatory Diet 101: How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally

Health + Wellness
Edalin / iStock / Getty Images

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation is a natural process that helps your body heal and defend itself from harm.


However, inflammation is harmful if it becomes chronic.

Chronic inflammation may last for weeks, months, or years—and may lead to various health problems.

That said, there are many things you can do to reduce inflammation and improve your overall health.

This article outlines a detailed plan for an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is your body's way of protecting itself from infection, illness, or injury.

As part of the inflammatory response, your body increases its production of white blood cells, immune cells, and substances called cytokines that help fight infection.

Classic signs of acute (short-term) inflammation include redness, pain, heat, and swelling.

On the other hand, chronic (long-term) inflammation often occurs inside your body without any noticeable symptoms. This type of inflammation can drive illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and cancer (1, 2, 3, 4).

Chronic inflammation can also happen when people are obese or under stress (5, 6).

When doctors look for inflammation, they test for a few markers in your blood, including C-reactive protein (CRP), homocysteine, TNF alpha, and IL-6.

Summary

Inflammation is a protective mechanism that allows your body to defend itself against infection, illness, or injury. It can also occur on a chronic basis, which can lead to various diseases.

What Causes It?

Certain lifestyle factors—especially habitual ones—can promote inflammation.

Consuming high amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is particularly harmful. It can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity (7, 8, 9, 10, 11).

Scientists have also hypothesized that consuming a lot of refined carbs, such as white bread, may contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance, and obesity (12, 13).

What's more, eating processed and packaged foods that contain trans fats has been shown to promote inflammation and damage the endothelial cells that line your arteries (14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20).

Vegetable oils used in many processed foods are another possible culprit. Regular consumption may result in an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which some scientists believe may promote inflammation (21, 22, 23).

Excessive intake of alcohol and processed meat can also have inflammatory effects on your body (24, 25, 26).

Additionally, an inactive lifestyle that includes a lot of sitting is a major non-dietary factor that can promote inflammation (27, 28).

Summary

Eating unhealthy foods, drinking alcohol or sugary beverages, and getting little physical activity are all associated with increased inflammation.

The Role of Your Diet

If you want to reduce inflammation, eat fewer inflammatory foods and more anti-inflammatory foods.

Base your diet on whole, nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants — and avoid processed products.

Antioxidants work by reducing levels of free radicals. These reactive molecules are created as a natural part of your metabolism but can lead to inflammation when they're not held in check.

Your anti-inflammatory diet should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fat at each meal. Make sure you also meet your body's needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.

One diet considered anti-inflammatory is the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers, such as CRP and IL-6 (29, 30, 31).

A low-carb diet also reduces inflammation, particularly for people who are obese or have metabolic syndrome (32, 33, 34).

In addition, vegetarian diets are linked to reduced inflammation (35).

Summary

Choose a balanced diet that cuts out processed products and boosts your intake of whole, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods.

Foods to Avoid

Some foods are associated with an increased risk of chronic inflammation.

Consider minimizing or cutting these out completely:

  • Sugary beverages: Sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juices
  • Refined carbs: White bread, white pasta, etc.
  • Desserts: Cookies, candy, cake, and ice cream
  • Processed meat: Hot dogs, bologna, sausages, etc.
  • Processed snack foods: Crackers, chips, and pretzels
  • Certain oils: Processed seed and vegetable oils like soybean and corn oil
  • Trans fats: Foods with partially hydrogenated ingredients
  • Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption

Summary

Avoid or minimize sugary foods and beverages, processed meat, excessive alcohol, and foods high in refined carbs and unhealthy fats.

Foods to Eat

Include plenty of these anti-inflammatory foods:

  • Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.
  • Fruit: Especially deeply colored berries like grapes and cherries
  • High-fat fruits: Avocados and olives
  • Healthy fats: Olive oil and coconut oil
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies
  • Nuts: Almonds and other nuts
  • Peppers: Bell peppers and chili peppers
  • Chocolate: Dark chocolate
  • Spices: Turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon, etc.
  • Tea: Green tea
  • Red wine: Up to 5 ounces (140 ml) of red wine per day for women and 10 ounces (280 ml) per day for men

Summary

It's best to consume a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods that can reduce inflammation.

One-Day Sample Menu

It's easier to stick to a diet when you have a plan. Here's a great sample menu to start you out, featuring a day of anti-inflammatory meals:

Breakfast

  • 3-egg omelet with 1 cup (110 grams) of mushrooms and 1 cup (67 grams) of kale, cooked in olive oil
  • 1 cup (225 grams) of cherries
  • Green tea and/or water

Lunch

  • Grilled salmon on a bed of mixed greens with olive oil and vinegar
  • 1 cup (125 grams) of raspberries, topped with plain Greek yogurt and chopped pecans
  • Unsweetened iced tea, water

Snack

  • Bell pepper strips with guacamole

Dinner

  • Chicken curry with sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli
  • Red wine (5–10 ounces or 140–280 ml)
  • 1 ounce (30 grams) of dark chocolate (preferably at least 80% cocoa)

Summary

An anti-inflammatory diet plan should be well-balanced, incorporating foods with beneficial effects at every meal.

Other Helpful Tips

Once you have your healthy menu organized, make sure you incorporate these other good habits of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle:

  • Regular exercise: Exercise can decrease inflammatory markers and your risk of chronic disease (36, 37).
  • Sleep: Getting enough sleep is extremely important. Researchers have found that a poor night's sleep increases inflammation (38, 39).

Summary

You can boost the benefits of your anti-inflammatory diet by taking supplements and making sure to get enough exercise and sleep.

Rewards of an Improved Lifestyle

An anti-inflammatory diet, along with exercise and good sleep, may provide many benefits:

  • Improvement of symptoms of arthritis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, lupus, and other autoimmune disorders
  • Decreased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, cancer, and other diseases
  • Reduction in inflammatory markers in your blood
  • Improvement in energy and mood

Summary

Following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle may improve markers of inflammation and reduce your risk of many diseases.

The Bottom Line

Chronic inflammation is unhealthy and can lead to disease.

In many cases, your diet and lifestyle drives inflammation or makes it worse.

You should aim to choose anti-inflammatory foods for optimal health and wellbeing, lowering your risk of disease and improving your quality of life.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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