Anti-Inflammatory Diets - What To Know
If you suffer from chronic or systemic inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet could be very beneficial!
There are certain foods and nutrients that help decrease inflammation and fight free radicals. Free radicals are the natural byproducts of some bodily processes, including metabolism. However, external factors, such as stress, smoking and poor diet, can increase the number of free radicals in the body.
Free radicals can lead to cell damage. This damage increases the risk of inflammation and can lead to symptoms such as joint pain, muscle stiffness, fatigue, and headaches, to name a few. It can also contribute to a range of diseases, like cardiovascular disease, COPD, autoimmune diseases, and other inflammatory pathologies such as endometriosis, lupus, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
I want to reiterate that you don’t have to have an inflammatory disease process to have inflammation. Chronic stress, smoking, and poor diet are notorious for increasing inflammation. The symptoms we typically see in our office are musculoskeletal in nature, like joint pain, headaches, and muscle stiffness. For the population we usually treat, this is mostly caused by chronic stress and/or poor diet. Research suggests that diets focused on plant-based foods and healthful oils, can reduce the effects of inflammation and are also good sources of antioxidants. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in oily fish, may help reduce the levels of inflammatory proteins in the body. Fiber can also have this effect, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
How do you get chronic inflammation?
Your immune system becomes activated when your body recognizes anything that is foreign—such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. This often triggers a process called inflammation. Intermittent bouts of inflammation directed at truly threatening invaders protect your health.
However, sometimes inflammation persists, day in and day out, even when you are not threatened by a foreign invader. That's when inflammation can become your enemy. Many major diseases that plague us—including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer's—have been linked to chronic inflammation. One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the grocery store.
What exactly is an anti-inflammatory diet and how can it help chronic inflammation?
Some foods contain ingredients that can trigger or worsen inflammation. Sugary or processed foods may do this, while fresh, whole foods are less likely to have this effect. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables. Many plant-based foods are good sources of antioxidants. Many popular diets already adhere to anti-inflammatory principles such as the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. Both of these include fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and fats that are good for the heart. I’ve included a 7 day meal plan below as an example, courtesy of Medical News Today.
What are some inflammatory foods?
Inflammatory foods can trigger or worsen inflammation and trigger the formation of free radicals. Sugar, processed foods, and fried foods may do this, while fresh, whole foods are less likely to have this effect.
Here are some examples of common inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods. I’ve included some suggestions as well that might help with shopping and preparing meals. It can be tough making a big change like attempting a whole new diet. So depending on the type of person you are, you may not need to follow a whole meal plan, but rather start with making different food choices or substitutions. Some people prefer to follow a strict diet plan with recipes and such, while others prefer to look at it as changing certain habits.
Inflammatory foods (Eat less of)
Processed meats and cheeses (deli meat, chicken nuggets/tenders, american cheese, Velveeta, boxed Mac and cheese, etc)
Refined carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, pastries, white flour, pizza dough, pasta, most well known brand cereals, etc)
Junk food (candy, chips, ice cream, etc)
Sugary beverages (soda, juice, etc) All natural juice with no additives is best if you love juice.
Fast food and fried foods
Anti-Inflammatory foods (Eat more of)
Green leafy veggies (kale, collard greens, spring mix, romaine, etc)
Berries, grapes, cherries
Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, etc)
Who can an anti-inflammatory diet help?
An anti-inflammatory diet may serve as a complementary therapy for many conditions that become worse with chronic inflammation.
The following conditions involve inflammation:
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Anti-Inflammatory Diet suggestions:
When shopping, look at the ingredient list on food labels. The longer the list, the more processed, typically. Also, stick to foods with natural ingredients. If a label has lots of chemical ingredients and/or dyes the more processed and unnatural it is.
You can substitute wheat flour (or another type of flour, almond, garbanzo, spelt, etc) for white flour. There are so many flour substitutes these days for pasta, doughs, etc. Might just take reading some labels and researching recipes. You can use brown rice or quinoa in place of white rice. Goat cheese or feta can be a good substitute for some cheeses. I like to use goat cheese in place of cream cheese.
If you love your soda and have a hard time cutting back, try adding a teaspoon or 2 of agave or honey to flavored seltzers. This way you have control over how much sugar is added.
So now for (drum roll) a week in the life of an anti-inflammatory/Mediterranean diet!
NOTE: Anti-inflammatory diets don’t focus on restricting calories as much as eating more nutrient and antioxidant rich foods, so if you feel you need to add an extra portion here and there that’s okay!
One pan-fried egg
For additional calories, add another egg or some sliced avocado to the toast
2 cups of mixed salad greens with cherry tomatoes and olives on top and a dressing of olive oil and vinegar
Whole-grain pita bread
2 ounces (oz) of hummus
Whole-grain pizza with tomato sauce, grilled vegetables, and low-fat cheese as toppings
For added calories, add some shredded chicken, ham, tuna, or pine nuts to the pizza
1 cup of Greek yogurt
Half a cup of fruits, such as blueberries, raspberries, or chopped nectarines
For additional calories, add 1–2 oz of almonds or walnuts
Whole-grain sandwich with grilled vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and onion
To increase the calorie content, spread hummus or avocado on the bread before adding the fillings
One portion of baked cod or salmon with garlic and black pepper to add flavor
One roasted potato with olive oil and chives
1 cup of whole-grain oats with cinnamon, dates, and honey
Top with low-sugar fruits, such as raspberries
1 oz of shredded almonds (optional)
Boiled white beans with spices, such as laurel, garlic, and cumin
1 cup of arugula with an olive oil dressing and toppings of tomato, cucumber, and feta cheese
One-half of a cup of whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce, olive oil, and grilled vegetables
1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese
Two-egg scramble with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes
Top with 1 oz of queso fresco or one-quarter of an avocado
Roasted anchovies (sub chickpeas or chicken if you don’t like anchovies) in olive oil on whole-grain toast with a sprinkling of lemon juice
A warm salad comprising 2 cups of steamed kale and tomatoes
2 cups of steamed spinach with a sprinkling of lemon juice and herbs
One boiled artichoke with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt
Add another artichoke for a hearty, filling meal
1 cup of Greek yogurt with cinnamon and honey on top
Mix in a chopped apple and shredded almonds
1 cup of quinoa with bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives
Roasted garbanzo beans with oregano and thyme
Top with feta cheese crumbles or avocado (optional)
2 cups of steamed kale with tomato, cucumber, olives, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese
A portion of grilled sardines or chicken, with a slice of lemon
Two slices of whole-grain toast with soft cheese, such as ricotta, queso fresco, or goat cheese
Add chopped blueberries or figs for sweetness
2 cups of mixed greens with tomato and cucumber
A small portion of roasted chicken with a sprinkling of olive oil and lemon juice
Oven-roasted vegetables, such as:
Toss in olive oil and heavy herbs before roasting
1 cup of whole-grain couscous or wild rice
Feel free to add in salmon or chicken for extra calories and protein
Whole-grain oats with cinnamon, dates, and maple syrup
Top with low-sugar fruits, such as raspberries or blackberries
Stewed zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and potato in a tomato and herb sauce
2 cups of greens, such as arugula or spinach, with tomato, olives, and olive oil
A small portion of white fish
Leftover vegetable stew from lunch
A small serving of nuts
Whole fruits, such as oranges, plums, and grapes
Dried fruits, including apricots and figs
A small serving of yogurt
Hummus with celery, carrots, or other vegetables
Avocado on whole-grain toast
I'll leave you with this:
An anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of some common health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Anyone who has a chronic health condition that involves inflammation should ask a healthcare professional about the best dietary options for them. There is no single anti-inflammatory diet, but a diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthful fats may help manage inflammation.
By: Dr. Laudeman
Chiropractor at ANH Wellness