The anti-inflammatory diet is an eating plan designed to reduce chronic inflammation, a key factor in a host of health problems and several major diseases.
Uses for the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
In chronic inflammation, the immune system continually releases chemicals that are typically responsible for combating harmful substances like viruses and bacteria. Often resulting from lifestyle factors like stress and lack of exercise, chronic inflammation occurs even when there are no foreign invaders to fight off.
Since nutrition can also influence inflammation, the anti-inflammatory diet is thought to curb chronic inflammation and help prevent or treat the following conditions:
- Alzheimer's disease
- heart disease
- inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease)
- irritable bowel syndrome
Foods to Include in the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Research suggests that people with a high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, healthy oils and fish may have a reduced risk for inflammation-related diseases. In addition, substances found in some foods (especially antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) appear to possess anti-inflammatory effects.
Foods high in antioxidants include:
- berries (such as blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries)
- dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale, spinach, and collard greens)
- sweet potatoes
- nuts (such as pistachios, almonds, and pecans)
- beans (such as red beans, pinto beans, and black beans)
- whole grains (especially oats)
- dark chocolate
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- oily fish (such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and tuna)
- omega-3-fortified foods (including eggs and milk)
Foods to Avoid in the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Omega-6 fatty acids (a type of essential fatty acid found in a wide range of foods) are known to increase the body's production of inflammatory chemicals. Since omega-6 fatty acids help maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and promote brain function, you shouldn't cut them out of your diet altogether. However, it's important to balance your intake of omega-6 fatty acids with your intake of omega-3 fatty acids in order to keep inflammation in check.
Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids include:
- dairy products (such as milk, cheese, butter, and ice cream)
- vegetable oils (such as corn, safflower, soybean, peanut and cottonseed oil)
Additionally, studies show that a high intake of refined grains (such as those found in white bread and many processed foods) may rev up inflammation.
Benefits of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Although the health effects of the anti-inflammatory diet have not yet been extensively studied in clinical trials, the available research indicates that following an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce levels of certain inflammatory markers (such as a substance called C-reactive protein). Furthermore, there's some evidence that the anti-inflammatory diet may help manage chronic inflammation-related conditions like diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
Tips for Following an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Eat five to nine servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables each day.
- Limit your intake of foods high in omega-6 fatty acids while increasing your consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as flaxseed, walnuts, and oily fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring).
- Replace red meat with healthier protein sources, such as lean poultry, fish, soy, beans and lentils.
- Swap out margarine and vegetable oils for the healthy fats found in olive oil, nuts and seeds.
- Instead of choosing refined grains, opt for fiber-rich whole grains like oats, quinoa, brown rice, breads and pastas that list a whole grain as the first ingredient.
- Rather than seasoning your meals with salt, enhance flavor with anti-inflammatory herbs like garlic, ginger and turmeric.
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