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Inflammation is a hot topic these days. With so many people suffering from chronic diseases, we are all looking for ways to reduce our risk. It turns out that diet is a major risk factor for inflammation and chronic disease. This fact has many people asking, “What anti-inflammatory foods should I be eating?”
What Is Inflammation?
Acute inflammation is a normal short-lived response to injury or infection that repairs tissue or removes infection from the body. Chronic inflammation is often milder but more prolonged and out of control. It increases your risk of many chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, depression, heart disease, dementia, and many forms of cancer.
Poor diet along with inactivity, inadequate sleep, stress, and environmental toxins form part of the inflammation puzzle. (For more information on inflammation, read our article “What Does Inflammation Mean? Understanding the Link Between Inflammation and Disease.”)
As a general rule, a diet high in natural, unprocessed foods—including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, and beans—is anti-inflammatory. Your body knows how to process these foods, and they’re highly nutritious.
Eating a well-balanced combination of these anti-inflammatory foods provides not only the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) but also the water, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and fiber needed to keep your body in tip-top condition.
Pro-inflammatory foods include those that are highly processed, with refined sugars and grains, saturated or trans-fats and artificial additives. (See also our post “Anti-Inflammatory Diet: It Could Be Your Key to Pain Prevention.”)
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOOD BENEFITS
Extensive research shows that anti-inflammatory foods can:
- Optimize weight
- Reduce inflammation
- Slow cell ageing and promote longevity
- Improve energy levels, cognitive abilities (brain function) and mood
- Reduce the risk of chronic conditions
What Anti-Inflammatory Foods Should You Be Eating?
Vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants, micronutrients, and fiber, all of which reduce inflammation.
- Vegetables. Vegetables contain carbohydrates and small amounts of protein and healthy fats. Aim to eat 5 to 9 cups/servings each day, two of which should be raw leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collards.
- Fruits. The calories in fruit are mainly carbohydrate. If you’re watching your weight, beware of eating too much fruit, opting for berries or citrus fruits if you can. It is much better to eat the whole fruit, not processed fruits or juices. The darker, more vibrant the color, the more antioxidants a fruit has. (A word on organic foods: Some fruits and vegetables absorb pesticides more than others, so if you can afford to buy some of your produce in the organic form, check out our article on “The Dirty Dozen,” which outlines the 12 foods to buy organic.)
- Fish. Fish is a great source of protein and healthy fats. The best sources are cold-water fish including salmon, tuna, sardines, herring and anchovies, which are high in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Eating 3 to 4 ounces of fish twice a week limits this risk while limiting your exposure to heavy metals. If you are keen to prevent or are suffering from an inflammatory disease, you may want to add in a high-quality fish oil supplement (check with your pharmacist first if you are on medication).
- Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are a great snack or topping for a salad, dessert, or breakfast. They tend to be low in carbohydrate and are rich in micronutrients, fiber, and monounsaturated fats. Aim to eat around one handful of nuts and seeds every day.
- Fats and oils. Your body and particularly your brain needs fat, just the right kind and not in huge amounts. Olive oil, nut or seed oils, or avocado oil are most anti-inflammatory.
- Beans. Beans such as chickpeas, black beans, red kidney beans, and lentils are high in fiber and phytonutrients, which reduce inflammation. They are an inexpensive and excellent source of protein, especially for vegetarians or vegans, and they’re a low-glycemic carbohydrate. Aim to eat at least 1 cup of beans twice a week.
- Whole grains. Whole grains can be part of a healthy diet but practice moderation, as they are high in fiber and can cause inflammation. They contain the healthy parts of the cereal grain and can be a good source of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, thiamin, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium. Aim to eat 6 ounces of whole grains each day; that’s about ½ cup cooked brown rice or 1 slice of whole-wheat bread. Brown rice, oats, and quinoa are great sources of whole grain, but if you are gluten-intolerant, check the label to see if they might contain traces of gluten.
- Nightshade foods. Nightshade vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, red bell peppers, and potatoes, are nutritious and anti-inflammatory with minimal calories. However, some people are intolerant and find that these foods trigger inflammation related to such conditions as arthritis.
- Spices. Certain spices have anti-inflammatory properties and are great for adding flavor to your food. These include garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, chilies, and cayenne pepper. They can be added to your food in marinades, sauces, salad dressings, or rubs or they can be taken as a supplement pill.
- Teas and coffee. Coffee, green tea, and black tea contain polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds, and are good for health in moderation. If you struggle to get to sleep, restrict caffeinated drinks to early in the day.
A Personalized Approach to Inflammatory Foods
Many people have food intolerances or full-blown allergies to foods that, for the majority of people, are healthy. For example, some people get ill when they eat tomatoes, kiwi, celery, or almonds, which are superfoods for other people.
If you notice that you feel tired after eating certain foods or get aches and pains or strange rashes, you may want to avoid that food, or see your doctor for allergy testing.