Anti-Inflammatory Diet Overview: Food List, Benefits, Meal Plan

anti-inflammatory diet
anti-inflammatory diet

Inflammation is a process that can drive certain conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, certain kinds of cancer, liver disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more (1, 2, 3, 4).

Chronic inflammation can arise from stress, obesity, smoking, and even some dietary sources (5,6).

Eating foods that tamp down inflammation may help improve the symptoms associated with these health conditions. An anti-inflammatory diet relies on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein, herbs, and spices. These foods may help fight inflammation.

What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

Some foods we eat can make inflammation worse. Processed foods, refined foods, sugar, and oils that are repeatedly heated and cooled all may trigger inflammation. 

There are no specific anti-inflammatory diets, but the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet are examples of diets that are anti-inflammatory. 

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is anti-inflammatory. This is due to the antioxidants found in them. Antioxidants work to relieve inflammation in the body.

The Mediterranean diet promotes a diet pattern rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, and limits red meat and refined grains and flours. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers, like CPR and IL-6 (7, 8, 9).

Vegetarian diets have been linked to a reduction in inflammation (10). And, as many low-carb diets promote a high intake of fruits and vegetables, they have also been found to reduce inflammation, especially for those who have metabolic syndrome or are obese (11, 12, 13).

These diets also feature healthy fats that are rich in polyunsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, which also help to ease inflammation. 

What Causes Inflammation? 

Free radicals damage our cells, which increases inflammation and has been linked to several diseases. These free radicals can be caused by natural processes in the body, but are also caused by stress, smoking, pollution, and other sources. Antioxidants found in food help to remove these free radicals from the body. 

Lifestyle factors like smoking, consuming high levels of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, transfer and refined grains like white bread, can lead to inflammation. It can also promote insulin sensitivity, diabetes, and obesity (14, 15, 16, 17, 18).

Trans fats have also been linked to increased inflammation in the body. Artificial trans fats, such as hydrogenated vegetable oils, have been effectively banned from the US food supply (19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24).

Vegetable oils that are used in processed foods may also promote inflammation, by increasing the amount of omega-6 fatty acids, as compared to omega-3 fatty acids (25, 26, 27).

Processed meats like sausage, bacon, and luncheon meat, as well as heavy alcohol intake, can cause inflammation in the body. These have also been linked to certain kinds of cancer (28, 29, 30).

A sedentary, inactive lifestyle can promote inflammation in the body (31).

Avoiding foods that are high in sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined flours, processed foods, and processed red meats may help to reduce free radicals and fight inflammation.

Benefits of Anti-Inflammatory Diets

Because an anti-inflammatory diet can help improve inflammation, health conditions that are marked by chronic inflammation may be improved by consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, healthy fats, and fatty fish. 

Some conditions that are marked by inflammation are:

  • Psoriasis
  • Asthma
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Colitis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Hashimoto’s disease
  • Lupus
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis

It’s important to note that many of the conditions listed have not been studied on an anti-inflammatory diet and so there is not a lot of evidence that this diet improves these conditions. That said, there are several personal accounts from individuals saying that their symptoms improved when following this eating pattern. 

The anti-inflammatory diet is also an otherwise healthy dietary pattern that promotes nutrient-rich foods. The DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are both anti-inflammatory diets that have been widely studied and linked to a variety of health benefits. 

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

The following foods are anti-inflammatory. They contain antioxidants and a host of nutrients that can fight free radicals and reduce inflammation.

  • Fruits and berries (apples, grapes, olives, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and cherries)
  • Veggies ( bell peppers, leafy greens, chili peppers, spinach, kale, and broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds (pecans and almonds)
  • Whole grains ( brown rice, oats, oatmeal)
  • Beans and Legumes
  • Oily fish (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines)
  • Healthy oils (avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, safflower oils)
  • Lean Protein
  • Dark chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Red wine
  • Spices (curcumin, turmeric, garlic, and ginger)
  • Fiber

Anti-Inflammatory Diet Foods to Avoid

The following foods may promote inflammation in the body, and should be limited or avoided:

  • Processed foods 
  • Processed red meat
  • Fast food including chips
  • Desserts with added sugar 
  • Alcohol
  • Trans fats
  • Fried foods such as French fries and fried chicken
  • Soybean
  • Refined grains, like white flour, bread, pasta
  • Ice cream
  • Vegetable oil
  • margarine
  • Soda
  • Cookies
  • Hot dogs
  • Potatoes

It’s worth noting, that there are some foods that may cause inflammation, but more research is needed.

Some people experience an inflammatory reaction when they consume gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye. A gluten-free diet can be restrictive, and it is not suitable for everyone. However, if a person suspects that gluten is triggering symptoms, they may want to consider eliminating gluten for a while to see if their symptoms improve.

Additionally, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplant) seem to be somewhat of grey area for diets that reduce inflammation. There are several personal testimonies that eliminating nightshades improves the symptoms of inflammatory conditions like psoriasis and arthritis. Though some claim they impact inflammation and add to a list of foods to avoid, more research is needed.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet may help to reduce inflammation markers in the body and improve certain health problems mentioned above. Weight loss often results from this anti-inflammatory diet, though it’s not particularly designed to be a weight loss program in itself.

Prevention of weight gain and better weight management are benefits that arise from making food choices in accordance with the guidelines set here.

1-Day Sample Anti Inflammatory Diet Eating Plan

Following an anti-inflammatory diet may help to reduce inflammation markers in the body and improve certain health problems mentioned above. Weight loss often results from this anti-inflammatory diet, though it’s not particularly designed to be a weight loss program in itself.

Breakfast:

  • Omelet with Sautéed Spinach & Red Bell Pepper
  • 1/4 avocado 
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup of Green Tea

Lunch:

  • Baked Salmon on Bed of Spring Greens with Fresh Vegetables, Herbed Vinaigrette
  • Whole-Wheat Oat Muffin
  • 1 cup fresh cantaloupe cubes
  • Water

Dinner:

  • Black Beans with Sautéed Onions, Tomatoes, Mushrooms
  • Quinoa Pilaf with Toasted Walnuts
  • Water

Summary

An anti-inflammatory diet features whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (especially fish), and healthy fats while limiting sweets, fried foods, processed foods, and refined grains. This may help tamp down inflammation in the body that has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, certain kinds of cancer, GI disorders, psoriasis, and arthritis.

While this diet will not cure these conditions, it may help improve some of the symptoms associated with them.

References

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