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The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

Updated: Mar 8, 2023




What is inflammation?


Inflammation is the body's natural and healthy response to stress when your body is damaged from an injury, infection or toxin. This is called acute inflammation and is the body’s way of healing and protecting. When your body is stressed all the time from a chronic disease or an unhealthy lifestyle the immune system works beyond the point of necessity and starts damaging tissues (1). This type of long-term inflammation is called chronic inflammation.


Many social, environmental, health and lifestyle factors can contribute to chronic inflammation. These include: smoking, pollution, disturbed sleep, poor eating habits, stress and isolation, obesity, an unhealthy gut microbiome, chronic infections , and autoimmune disorders or inflammatory diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus (2).

When your immune system is constantly activated, your body produces energy-saving behaviours, sometimes called “sickness behaviours”. This includes increased blood pressure, insulin resistance and high cholesterol.

Overall, chronic inflammation can possibly increase the risk of:

  • Premature aging

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Cancer

  • Diabetes

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

  • Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease

How to reduce inflammation with diet and lifestyle

You may have noticed that a lot of things that cause inflammation are things that we have the control to change! Try some of these tips to reduce inflammation in your body:

  • Eat well

  • Get the best possible sleep (7-9 hours)

  • Exercise regularly

  • Stop smoking

  • Reduce stress (practice mindfulness, prioritize your mental health)

  • Make time to spend with friends and family

What foods should you eat to reduce chronic inflammation?


Foods high in healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties because they are a source of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 is one type of fatty acid that has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel have good amounts of omega-3. You can also get omega-3 by adding 1-2 tablespoons of chia or flax seeds into your diet per day.


Other foods like nuts and seeds, tomatoes, citrus fruits, berries and leafy greens have other substances that likely fight inflammation in the body. For example, berries and tea have polyphenols (8) and leafy greens have phytochemicals which contribute to their anti-inflammatory properties (9).


The key here is to focus on your eating pattern rather than on single foods. Aim to eat a balanced and varied diet that includes a wide variety of whole, unprocessed and plant foods.


What about wine and chocolate?


There has been a lot of discussion about red wine and chocolate having anti-inflammatory properties. Red wine has a compound called resveratrol that has anti-inflammatory properties. However, alcohol itself also has well-known inflammatory properties and can increase your risk for some conditions like heart disease and cancer. There's also no definitive research about the potency of dark chocolate for inflammation but it theoretically has strong anti-inflammatory properties.


Enjoy these foods mindfully and in moderation for enjoyment rather than for their anti-inflammatory properties. There are many other more nutritious foods that have anti-inflammatory properties.

Do I need supplements to reduce inflammation?


A lot of nutrients in supplements that claim to reduce inflammation actually come from foods! Fish oil, green tea, turmeric, garlic, and ginger extracts are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Before considering a supplement try adding these things to your diet instead:

Takeaway Message


Eating a healthy and balanced dietary pattern that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, olive oil and legumes can help reduce inflammation and help prevent chronic disease like diabetes. heart disease and some cancers.


Co-written by: Clare Zasowski, Nutrition Student and Niloufar Deilami, RD MPH


References:

  1. Nasef, N. A., Mehta, S., & Ferguson, L. R. (2017). Susceptibility to chronic inflammation: an update. Archives of toxicology, 91(3), 1131-1141.

  2. Furman, D., Campisi, J., Verdin, E. et al. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nat Med 25, 1822-1832 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0

  3. Straub, R. H., Cutolo, M., Buttgereit, F. & Pongratz, G. Energy regulation and neuroendocrine-immune control in chronic inflammatory diseases. J. Intern. Med. 267, 543-560 (2010).

  4. Straub, R. H. The brain and immune system prompt energy shortage in chronic inflammation and ageing. Nat. Rev. Rheumatol. 13, 743–751 (2017).

  5. Monteiro, R., & Azevedo, I. (2010). Chronic inflammation in obesity and the metabolic syndrome. Mediators of inflammation, 2010.

  6. Ellinger S, Stehle P. Impact of Cocoa Consumption on Inflammation Processes-A Critical Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2016;8(6):321. Published 2016 May 26. doi:10.3390/nu8060321

  7. Chalons P, Amor S, Courtaut F, et al. Study of Potential Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Red Wine Extract and Resveratrol through a Modulation of Interleukin-1-Beta in Macrophages. Nutrients. 2018;10(12):1856. Published 2018 Dec 1. doi:10.3390/nu10121856

  8. Joseph SV, Edirisinghe I, Burton-Freeman BM. Berries: anti-inflammatory effects in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2014 May 7;62(18):3886-903. doi: 10.1021/jf4044056. Epub 2014 Mar 17. PMID: 24512603.

  9. Zhu, F., Du, B., & Xu, B. (2018). Anti-inflammatory effects of phytochemicals from fruits, vegetables, and food legumes: A review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 58(8), 1260-1270.


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