The benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet
Certain foods can help reduce inflammation while others can increase it.
We all want to perform our best — whether it’s at work, at the gym or playing with our kids. And for many, that means finding ways to treat or prevent chronic inflammation.
“Inflammation is more than the swollen finger you hit with a hammer or the toe you stubbed,” says Dana Deroba, a registered dietitian at Geisinger. “When we don’t take care of our bodies, we can develop chronic inflammation, which can show up throughout the entire body, leading to joint pain, weight gain and even Alzheimer’s or heart disease.”
If you eat foods that decrease inflammation, you may start to notice less pain and swelling. And you’ll lower your chances of developing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases.
Inflammation can cause pain and fatigue that can hold you back. But, believe it or not, it’s often a good thing.
“Inflammation is how your immune system alerts your body that there’s an issue that needs to be taken care of,” says Deroba.
Lots of things can cause inflammation, but a contributing factor is the typical American diet of high-fat, high-salt foods.
“French fries and soda might be delicious, but too much of these foods can leave you feeling achy, tired and out of sorts,” says Deroba.
The good news? You can tame that inflammation with a few tweaks to your diet.
Try adding more of these anti-inflammatory foods to your diet:
Berries: Berries, especially blueberries, are full of vitamins and antioxidants called flavonoids that fight inflammation. They also have chemicals that regulate your immune system, which can reduce chronic inflammation.
Green tea: Tea has antioxidants called catechins, which reduce inflammation. Green tea contains EGCG, the most powerful type of catechin. Other types of tea have this effect too, but green tea has the most benefits.
Beets: Studies show that beets can decrease inflammation and other risk factors for chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Broccoli: Broccoli and its other cruciferous relatives are all high in vitamin K. Most of us don’t get enough vitamin K in our diets, so boost your intake to drive down inflammation.
Dark chocolate: Cocoa contains antioxidants that reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar levels. Make sure to get chocolate with at least 70% cacao for the strongest antioxidant punch.
Fish: Fish, especially salmon, is a great source of omega-3s — it contains two different types, DHA and EPA. Omega-3s are nutrients that reduce inflammation and ease joint pain.
Ginger: With antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, ginger can even help ease severe inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Turmeric: This yellow spice boasts a chemical that inhibits chronic inflammatory signals in the body. It eases inflammation, which can prevent joint damage, arthritis, heart disease and liver damage.
Foods that cause inflammation
Just like certain foods can lower inflammation, other foods can increase it. If you want to manage your symptoms, avoid these foods:
Gluten and refined carbohydrates: Carbohydrates have a place in our diets, but refined carbs and certain forms of gluten can increase inflammation. When you eat carbs, stick with higher-fiber options. Refined carbs have a lot of their fiber removed, which increases inflammatory gut bacteria and leads to imbalanced blood sugar levels.
Alcohol: The first thing to remember? Everything in moderation. Alcohol may not bother you much, but excessive drinking can lead to inflammation, among other health risks.
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup: These sweeteners might taste great, but they increase inflammation which can lead to chronic diseases and even certain cancers.
Artificial trans fats: Another ingredient that tastes great, these are some of the unhealthiest fats you can eat. They’re added to extend the shelf life of products, but they also raise the levels of certain inflammatory markers in your body.
Vegetable and seed oils: While not all veggie oils are bad for you, you should avoid the ones high in omega-6. It’s not bad for you in moderation, but too much can contribute to chronic inflammation.
Paying attention to the foods you eat can have a huge impact on your health. Whether you have arthritis or even just a bad knee, following an anti-inflammatory diet can reduce your overall pain.
“Remember that everyone’s body is different,” says Deroba, “so some foods might cause inflammation while others don’t give you a problem.”
Always listen to your body and stop eating foods that bother you. See if your symptoms stop after you’ve cut something from your diet, and talk with your doctor if you’re having a lot of inflammation symptoms, like joint pain, redness or swelling. They can help you get to the cause of your inflammation.
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