Inflammation helps the body defend itself against illness-causing microbes (viruses, bacteria, and fungi) and repair of damage to muscles and other tissues. However, for many people, the inflammatory process becomes chronic, at which point it can trigger health problems such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, arthritis, asthma, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and diabetes.
There are a number of risk factors for chronic inflammation, including smoking, lack of exercise, exposure to toxins, stress, and a diet high in fast foods or processed snack foods. Many of these risk factors have become more common in recent years due to the shift from physical labor to office work, home-cooked meals to grab-and-go foods, and active leisure pursuits to relaxing in front of the television or computer.
Which foods reduce inflammation?
Making dietary changes can prevent or treat chronic inflammation because there are foods that have natural anti-inflammatory effects. Good choices include:
- Fish such as tuna, wild salmon, sardines, and herring
- Fruits and vegetables (especially those very high in antioxidants such as berries, cherries, broccoli, spinach, and kale)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts)
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats such as olive oil
- Fresh herbs
- Spices such as ginger and turmeric
- Green tea
The beneficial elements in these foods include fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.
As a general rule, fresh foods (especially fruits and vegetables) tend to reduce inflammation, whereas processed foods are inclined to trigger it. The ideal anti-inflammatory diet is made up of fresh, natural, plant-based ingredients that are eaten either raw or lightly cooked. Popular examples of anti-inflammatory diets include the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet.
Do vegetarian diets reduce inflammation?
Studies have shown that those who eat vegetarian diets tend to have lower concentrations of inflammation markers. This may be attributable to differences in their microbiota (gut bacteria), as researchers have found that meat eaters have intestinal environments more conducive to inflammation and insulin resistance. For more information on this, see the studies by Craddock et al. (2017), Franco-de-Moraes et al. (2017), and Glick-Bauer and Yeh (2014), which are cited in the reference list at the end of this article.
Which foods increase inflammation?
Some foods actually trigger or worsen inflammation. Inflammatory foods include:
- Red meat and pork (especially processed items such as hot dogs and hamburgers)
- Hydrogenated or trans fats (found in many processed foods and margarine products)
- Refined ingredients such as white sugar and white flour
- Deep-fried foods
- Alcoholic beverages
Dairy products are often included in lists of inflammatory foods. However, research has shown that while they can trigger inflammation in people who are lactose intolerant, they actually reduce inflammation in those who have no trouble digesting them (for more information on this, see the review of 52 clinical trials assessing inflammatory effects in response to dairy consumption, conducted by Bordoni et al. in 2017: “Dairy products and inflammation: A review of the clinical evidence.”).
Are there other things you can do to reduce inflammation?
Additional lifestyle changes that will often reduce inflammation include engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day and getting enough sleep. Drinking lots of water can also be beneficial because dehydration can trigger inflammation.
- Bordoni, A., Danesi, F., Dardevet, D., Dupont, D., Fernandez, A. S., Gille, D., Nunes dos Santos, C., Pinto, P., Re, R., Remond, D., Vergeres, G., & Shahar, D. R. (2017). “Dairy products and inflammation: A review of the clinical evidence.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 57(12), 2497-2525.
- Craddock, J. C., Neale, E. P., Peoples, G. E., & Probst, Y. C. (2019). “Vegetarian-based dietary patterns and their relation with inflammatory and immune biomarkers: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Advances in Nutrition, 10(3), 433-451.
- Fletcher, J. (Reviewed by Marengo, K.). (2020). “Anti-inflammatory diet: What to know.” Medical News Today, MedicalNewsToday.com.
- Franco-de-Moraes, A. C., de Almeida-Pititto, B., da Rocha Fernandes, G., Gomes, E. P., da Costa Pereira, A., & Ferreira, S. R. G. (2017). “Worse inflammatory profile in omnivores than in vegetarians associates with the gut microbiota composition.” Diabetology & metabolic syndrome, 9(1), 1-8.
- Glick-Bauer, M., & Yeh, M. C. (2014). “The health advantage of a vegan diet: exploring the gut microbiota connection.” Nutrients, 6(11), 4822-4838.
- Shulman, J. “The anti-inflammatory diet,” Canadian Living.
- The Mayo Clinic. (2019). “How to use food to help your body fight inflammation.” Nutrition and Healthy Eating, MayoClinic.org.
- Weil, A. “Anti-Inflammatory diet & pyramid.” DrWeil.com.
- Zelman, K. M. (2019). “Anti-inflammatory diet: road to good health?” WebMD, WebMD.com.