Chronic inflammatory diseases have now been recognized as the leading cause of death in the world today, with more than 50 percent of all deaths attributed to inflammation.1 These inflammatory diseases include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as autoimmune and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. While infections, lack of exercise, environmental conditions, and genetic predisposition can all contribute to inflammation, diet is also an important factor.2 Find out how an anti-inflammatory diet can help you stay healthy as well as foods to avoid if you’re trying to reduce inflammation in the body.Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.
What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?Learning how to reduce inflammation by choosing select foods and avoiding others is the best strategy for reducing long-term disease risks. Dr. Anthony Weil’s describes the anti-inflammatory diet as “a way of selecting and preparing anti-inflammatory foods based on scientific knowledge of how they can help your body maintain optimum health.”3 In addition to influencing inflammation, the anti-inflammatory diet is designed to provide steady energy and the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, and the protective phytonutrients your body needs. The diet shouldn’t be seen as a temporary solution to inflammation or a weight loss method either. It’s a long-term approach that helps you look at nutrition as a crucial component to your health.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet TipsFollowing an anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t have to be drastic. The following diet tips will help you adjust your current dietary choices, which may even include updating your favorite recipes with anti-inflammatory alternatives.
- Eat fresh: Choosing fresh foods over processed and fast foods is ideal because whole foods retain their natural nutrients, meaning they offer more vitamins, minerals, fiber and less added sugar, sodium or unhealthy fats.
- Choose a variety of foods: Eating foods from various food groups means you are consuming a wider array of nutrients. This is crucial for a balanced diet. Some even suggest “eating the rainbow,” which means choosing vegetables and fruits of various colors to benefit from their various phytonutrients.4
- Watch your calories: Weil suggests consuming between 2,000 and 3,000 calories a day, noting that smaller and less active people need fewer calories, while bigger and more active people need more calories.5
Foods that Reduce InflammationIn addition to eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, Weil suggests eating plenty of whole grains like brown rice and bulgur wheat, incorporating beans and sweet potatoes into your diet, and getting your omega-3’s from salmon, sardines, and eggs. Doctors at Harvard have also documented these foods as anti-inflammatory:6
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- Extra virgin olive oil
- Green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach
- Nuts, especially almonds and walnuts
- Fruits, especially strawberries, blueberries, oranges, and cherries
Foods that Can Cause InflammationYou may already avoid the inflammatory foods listed below because of their notoriety when it comes to wreaking havoc on your health. Foods you should minimize or cut out completely when following the anti-inflammatory diet include:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread and pastries
- High fructose corn syrup
- Saturated fats like butter and cream
- Fried foods
- Red meats and processed meats
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