Why You Should Eat More Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Why You Should Eat More Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Here’s how to get more anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.

Let’s first get clear on what inflammation is. Inflammation is our bodily response to an outside threat (Sears, 2015). By increasing the amount of blood and activity in certain parts of the body, our immune system tries to protect us against infection and facilitate healing of any injuries we may have. While we need this process to maintain health and recover from wounds or illnesses, we do not want to stay inflamed beyond the period needed to heal. This is because if our inflammation does not resolve, or if we become overly inflamed at first, we risk remaining in a state of chronic inflammation, which damages the cells in our body over time and leads to the development of chronic medical conditions.

Our ability to regulate and resolve our immune response is driven in part by certain hormones and proteins, and these key ingredients are found in certain foods (Sears, 2015). Thus, anti-inflammatory foods are foods that support the resolution of inflammation in our bodies by providing us with those essential ingredients. At the same time, other foods can activate inflammatory responses in our bodies. So, as humans, we have the ability to determine a lot about how well (or harmfully) our immune systems function simply by making choices to eat anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory foods (Sears, 2015).

“Joint pain, bloating and foggy thoughts are not imagined symptoms, They’re the result of improper diet. Make eliminations. Start with wheat, then dairy, then sugar. These are the most inflammatory foods.”
― Nancy S. Mure

Benefits of Anti-Inflammatory Foods

The primary benefit of anti-inflammatory foods is that they decrease the amount of inflammatory cytokines, or substances secreted by our immune systems during an inflammatory response (Mayr et al., 2018). Over time, this may mean we are less likely to develop chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or that we will experience less severe symptoms of these medical conditions. For example, other researchers have shown that switching away from pro-inflammatory foods and toward anti-inflammatory foods is associated with weight loss and lowered risk of heart attack (Zwickey et al., 2019).

Furthermore, inflammation seems to be implicated in the development and severity of mental health disorders. For example, people who eat more pro-inflammatory foods are at increased risk of experiencing depression, compared to people eating an anti-inflammatory diet (Lv et al., 2022; Tolkien et al., 2019).

Anti-Inflammatory Meal Ideas

Here are some anti-inflammatory meal ideas for each meal of the day (Vadell et al., 2020):

Breakfast. One key change you can make at breakfast is to use fermented dairy or non-dairy yogurt or milk. Another is to incorporate as many nuts, seeds, and berries into your meal as possible. You might also consider moving away from highly processed cereals with added sugar or highly processed breads to simpler, more whole grain options. So for example, a breakfast meal that would be very high in anti-inflammatory nutrients would consist of a bowl of oatmeal sweetened with blueberries (rather than sugar) and flavored with nuts and seeds. You could also make overnight oats by combining these ingredients with fermented dairy such as kefir or an unsweetened yogurt high in probiotics.

Lunch and dinner. An anti-inflammatory main meal should get its protein from non-red meat sources, such as beans or lentils, chicken, or fish. Salmon in particular is recommended as an anti-inflammatory meat choice. Starchy foods such as potatoes or pasta can be inflammatory but are much less so if the pasta is whole grain or the potatoes are cooked without adding oil and salt. An ideal anti-inflammatory main course includes multiple vegetables and a variety of spices. Vegetables such as bell peppers, onions and garlic, and spinach might give you the most anti-inflammatory bang for your buck.

So for lunch, you might have a curry with chickpeas and vegetables paired with brown, not white, rice. (Those spices that make your eyes water might be helping the rest of you feel less stressed!) And for dinner, you could try salmon with whole grain pasta and broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and garlic stir-fried in olive oil.

Snacks. Fruits may be your best bet for an anti-inflammatory snack. Eating a banana, apple, or pear when you want a little boost will be far better for you than a processed food with added sugar.

Finally, there are many teas with anti-inflammatory properties, such as English breakfast tea. Adding ingredients such as cinnamon and cloves to your tea could further boost its anti-inflammatory benefits (Gunawardena et al., 2014).

In Sum

If you want to eat more anti-inflammatory foods and are worried about how your diet impacts your well-being, all of this information could be overwhelming. So let’s end by making it simple. If you can, gradually swap out red and processed meats for lean and unprocessed meats. Also start swapping out simple starches like white bread for whole grain or whole wheat options. Add more fruits and vegetables wherever possible. And eliminate added sugar—whether that’s in your peanut butter, your pasta sauce, or your soda—as much as possible (Kanauchi et al., 2019).

And be gentle with yourself along the way. If you live in North America, you likely are surrounded by food systems and marketing that make it harder to obtain, cook, and enjoy anti-inflammatory foods than it should be. But each step you take against that grain could really benefit your overall well-being.

References

● Gunawardena, D., Shanmugam, K., Low, M., Bennett, L., Govindaraghavan, S., Head, R., . . . & Münch, G. (2014). Determination of anti-inflammatory activities of standardised preparations of plant- and mushroom-based foods. European Journal of Nutrition, 53, 335–343.

● Kanauchi, M., Shibata, M., & Iwamura, M. (2019). A novel dietary inflammatory index reflecting for inflammatory ageing. Annals of Medicine and Surgery, 47, 44–46.

● Lv, X., Sun, S., Wang, J., Chen, H., Li, S., Hu, Y., … & Yao, Y. (2022). Anti-inflammatory dietary diversity and depressive symptoms among older adults: A nationwide cross-sectional analysis. Nutrients, 14(23), 5062.

● Mayr, H. L., Tierney, A. C., Thomas, C. J., Ruiz-Canela, M., Radcliffe, J., & Itsiopoulos, C. (2018). Mediterranean-type diets and inflammatory markers in patients with coronary heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Research, 50, 10–24.

● Sears, B. (2015). Anti-inflammatory diets. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 34(sup1), 14–21.

● Tolkien, K., Bradburn, S., & Murgatroyd, C. (2019). An anti-inflammatory diet as a potential intervention for depressive disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Nutrition, 38(5), 2045–2052.

● Vadell, A. K., Bärebring, L., Hulander, E., Gjertsson, I., Lindqvist, H. M., & Winkvist, A. (2020). Anti-inflammatory Diet In Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA)—a randomized, controlled crossover trial indicating effects on disease activity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 111(6), 1203–1213.

● Zwickey, H., Horgan, A., Hanes, D., Schiffke, H., Moore, A., Wahbeh, H., . . . & Purnell, J. Q. (2019). Effect of the anti-inflammatory diet in people with diabetes and pre-diabetes: a randomized controlled feeding study. Journal of Restorative Medicine, 8(1)