Inflammation gets a bad rap. Across the media, news, and pharmaceutical industry, we’ve been conditioned to believe that inflammation is harmful. But that’s actually not the case. As with most things wellness-related, there’s a gray area. When it comes to inflammation, we want not too little, not too much. Just the right amount. We can find the right balance by incorporating the best anti-inflammatory foods into our diet.
what is inflammation?
Inflammation is a vital part of the human immune system. It signals the heal and repair process in the body. It’s a defender against foreign invaders (like, viruses and bacteria). It happens when a physical factor triggers an immune reaction. One of the best ways to decrease inflammation in the body is by eating anti-inflammatory foods. These foods nourish the body on a cellular level, helping fight against unwanted inflammation. From potent herbs, like ginger, to fatty fish and other Mediterranean foods, fighting inflammation is two-fold: delicious and functional.
Signs of inflammation
In fairness, inflammation can cause a significant amount of damage in the body—but only when it’s chronic. Inflammation is actually a normal, protective part of your immune response. Whether you skin your knee or catch the common cold, your body’s inflammatory response takes action. In essence, inflammations’s top priority is to clear whatever you’ve been exposed to (pathogens). You know inflammation is underway when you have a a stuffy nose, aches, fatigue, and a fever. These are all signs of inflammation, and these are all signs that you want to load up on the best anti-inflammatory foods.
Chronic Vs. Acute inflammation
A host of factors cause inflammation. From an unhealthy lifestyle—like a constant lack of sleep, too much stress, toxic exposures in your home, allergies, and frequently eating ultra-processed foods—inflammation can spin out of control. And when inflammation runs wild, it can damage the body. How so? It creates an abundance of pro-inflammation cells. Chronic inflammation can lead to health issues and conditions, such as leaky gut.
Acute inflammation, on the other hand, happens when white blood cells enter your blood or tissues to protect your body from invaders. This raises the blood flow to the infected area, causing redness and heat. In turn, you may experience pain, swelling, and irritation. Ultimately, this protective process is a result of inflammation. While acute inflammation is normal, chronic inflammation can have consequences. This is the type of inflammation that doesn’t go away. In fact, when inflammation happens in an uncontrolled or inappropriate manner, it contributes to nearly every chronic and autoimmune disease. Think: allergies, depression, insulin resistance, cognitive decline, and more.
which foods make inflammation worse?
As you can guess, there are certain foods that can make inflammation worse. While this varies from person to person, there are common culprits. For example, fast food, high-sodium frozen meals, omega-6 vegetable oils (canola oil), alcohol, and conventionally-raised meats have been associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers. Last but not least, sugar-sweetened beverages and refined carbs can promote inflammation. A few examples of foods that have been associated with increased levels of inflammation are white bread, potato chips, mozzarella sticks, soda, energy drinks, and hot dogs.
While creating food fear is not the goal, it’s important to know what foods can help or hinder your cellular and organ health.
consider your daily diet
If you take wellness into your own hands, you’re on a path to decreasing inflammation. Simply by incorporating daily movement (walking counts!), prioritizing sleep, and loading up on vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, having a once-a-baseball-season hot dog (or a slice of chocolate cake at your friend’s birthday party) isn’t likely to trigger an inflammatory response. That said, consider your daily diet. If you consistently lean towards refined starches, sugar, and unhealthy oils, that hot dog or piece of cake is more likely to trigger an inflammatory response. Ultimately, one food eaten in one instance will not determine the net inflammatory outcome. Most often, it’s your comprehensive dietary patterns that matter the most.
signs of chronic inflammation
This varies from person to person. But based on visual observation, these are the five classic signs of inflammation: redness, heat, swelling, pain, or loss of function (at the inflammation site). In other words, the traditional description of inflammation accounts for visual changes. Abdominal pain, digestive woes, and joint stiffness may all be a result of chronic inflammation. Think you’re experiencing inflammation? Schedule an appointment with your doctor or healthcare provider. We can also work together to create lifestyle and diet changes to decrease inflammation in your body.
Benefits of eating anti-inflammatory foods
The benefits of anti-inflammatory foods are endless. Most importantly, they reduce or minimize low-grade inflammation within our bodies. These types of ingredients improve energy, cognitive function, hormone health, and more. In some cases, they can reverse chronic illness and disease. They’re also packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, nourishing your body on a cellular level.
8 best foods to fight inflammation
While certain foods can be inflammatory, there are also plenty of anti-inflammatory foods. Eating a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods can be a game-changer. Consider eating more omega-3 fatty acids, fiber-rich vegetables, and leafy greens. Spices count too (turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, etc.). The easiest way to begin? Add color! I typically recommend at least three colors per meal. For example, roasted wild-caught salmon with brown rice and sautéed spinach in ghee. Or, eggs scrambled in olive oil with bell pepper, sweet potato, and arugula. Below are some of the best anti-inflammatory food choices.
Avocados have omega-3 fatty acids, along with potassium, magnesium, fiber, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. In one study, participants who consumed avocado with a hamburger, as opposed to just a hamburger, had lower levels of a few inflammatory markers.
Bell peppers are high in vitamin C and antioxidants that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. They also provide the antioxidant quercetin, which may reduce oxidative damage.
From strawberries to raspberries, berries are an incredible source of antioxidants. They contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, compounds that may have effects on reducing the risk of diseases.
Bone broth is very nourishing food for healing intestinal permeability. In other words, it helps the gut lining. Bone broth contains collagen, which supports the gut lining and reduces inflammation.
Extra-virgin olive oil, specifically, is rich in monounsaturated fats, which are linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, brain cancer, and other detrimental health conditions. Unlike more refined olive oils, extra-virgin olive oil offers great anti-inflammatory benefits.
Mushrooms have been reported to contain antioxidant properties. These antioxidant properties enable them to neutralize free radicals. In fact, research shows that shiitake mushrooms may boost your immune system.
Salmon, sardines, mackerel, etc., are fatty fish with omega-3s, which research has shown has potent anti-inflammatory properties. EPA and DHA, both present in these fish, reduce inflammation that can lead to chronic illness and disease.
Chia and flaxseeds are both high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven inflammation fighters. Best of all, they’re super easy to incorporate. You can add a couple of tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds to your cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt, baked goods, or smoothies.
Ready to decrease inflammation in your body?
Let’s work together. As a double-certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Nutrition Consultant I help women in all stages of their lives. Take a look at my health coaching packages, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or schedule a 15-minute consultation with me, here.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.