Anti-Inflammatory Food + Anti-Inflammatory Diet
When we look at the diseases that plague our society — arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — we see that long-term lifestyle changes are needed. What might not be as obvious is the common denominator tied to all of them and more: inflammation is at the root of most diseases.
By addressing the inflammation with anti-inflammatory foods, not only can the symptoms of these diseases be alleviated, but we could even see them disappear. Let’s dive into the top foods that will combat inflammation.
What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods? And How Can They Transform Your Health?
Inflammation as a bodily function is not necessarily a bad thing. When the body is injured or ill, the lymphatic (immune) system springs into action, bringing the immune system’s army of white blood cells to the area of concern via increased blood flow.
With the increased attention to the area, there might also be swelling, redness, heat, and pain or discomfort. You’ve probably seen this inflammatory response in action, as a cut or scrape becomes hot and puffy around the wound while the extra blood runs. Inflammation, in a healthy body, is the normal and effective response that facilitates healing.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
While today’s modern diet may provide beneficial protection from micro- and macronutrient deficiencies, our overabundance of calories and the macronutrients that compose our diet may all lead to increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease. (2)
To move toward an anti-inflammatory diet and anti-inflammatory foods, we primarily move away from the abundance of overly processed, unbalanced diets of the West and toward the ancient eating patterns of the Mediterranean. (3) A Mediterranean diet comprises plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, little to no red meat, certainly no chemicals or meat additives, and an abundance of omega-3 foods.
As we look into the anti-inflammatory components of certain foods and herbs, we can see how this kind of diet is linked with lowered inflammation. Among the many compounds found in fresh produce, a few general categories stand out as beneficial when attacking inflammation and inflammatory diseases at their source.
- Antioxidant foods
- Essential fatty acids
There’s little doubt that the pursuit of a healing diet or a Paleo diet begins with a menu high in vegetables, fruits, wild meats and sprouted seeds rich with omega-3 benefits. The evidence is clear that such anti-inflammatory foods can regulate the immune system and impact the way inflammation affects our bodies and our lives. (4)
Top Anti-Inflammatory Berry
Small, gradual changes are typically more sustainable, easier for the body to adapt to and can make you less likely to go back to your old ways. So rather than emptying your pantry and sailing off to the Mediterranean, you can pursue an anti-inflammatory diet one step at a time.
By adding in the anti-inflammatory foods that fight inflammation and restore health at a cellular level, you can begin to repair the body without any drastic changes. Once you find foods that heal your body and satisfy your palate, you can remove the inflammation-causing offenders without feeling deprived. Let’s take a look at 15 of the best anti-inflammatory foods you can add to your diet.
One antioxidant, in particular, stands out as an especially strong anti-inflammatory, and that’s quercetin. Found in citrus, olive oil and dark-coloured berries, quercetin is a flavonoid (a beneficial substance or phytonutrient that’s prevalent in fresh foods) that fights inflammation and even cancer. (10) The presence of quercetin, as well as the fellow phytonutrient anthocyanins (so-called water-soluble vacuolar pigments that usually appear red, purple or blue), explains why there are so many health benefits of blueberries. (Both quercetin and anthocyanins are also naturally occurring in cherries.)
In a study seeking treatment for IBD, an extract from the noni fruit was used to affect the gut flora and colon damage done by inflammatory diseases. Of the effects the extract had, quercetin created the prominent anti-inflammatory actions.
Another study found that consuming more blueberries slowed cognitive decline and improved memory and motor function. The scientists in this study believed these results were due to the antioxidants in blueberries protective the body from oxidative stress and reducing inflammation.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
With anti-inflammatory foods filling the diet, you naturally begin to eliminate pro-inflammatory foods and substances — they’re not as satisfying as a diet rich in whole foods.
A prime suspect is the duo of saturated and trans fatty acids (trans fat). Found in processed foods, these fats cause inflammation and increase risk factors for obesity (such as increased belly fat), diabetes and heart conditions. (25) The same foods are also likely to be higher in omega-6 fatty acids, which are necessary but only to an extent.
In excess and without the balance of omega-3s, omega-6 fats actually create inflammation in the body. Sadly, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports, “The typical American diet tends to contain 14–25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.” (26)
Simple, refined sugars and carbohydrates are more inflammation-causing culprits. Limiting refined grains is an important factor in an anti-inflammatory diet. (27) Whole grains should replace the refined carbohydrates, as truly whole grains are important sources of nutrition. (28) Sourcing these grains as fermented sourdough allows the nutrients to be broken down and better available to the body. (29)
Finally, establishing a regular routine of physical activity can help prevent systemic inflammation from building up or returning. (30) An active life fueled by fresh, whole anti-inflammatory foods and unrestricted by processed, toxic compounds can set you on the path toward freedom from inflammation.