Nutrition

What Is Anti-Inflammatory Diet and How to Do It

Evidence Based Article 📄
This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

In the world where new diets pop up every minute, today most people wonder what anti-inflammatory diet is and why international nutritionists follow it.

The key role of this type of diet is to fight inflammation within the body and thus prevent an array of illnesses and diseases.

What’s inflammation? Inflammation is actually a natural process that promotes the healing of the entire body and increasing its defensive function. Oftentimes, inflammation runs wild and becomes chronic, causing a serious harm to the body. Chronic inflammation can last for weeks, months, and even years and can even lead to fatal diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even certain types of cancer.

The high stress levels, foods of poor quality, mental disorders, chronic fatigue, and sleep deprivation can highly contribute to chronic inflammation. Today, we’re going to discuss all the aspects of an anti-inflammatory diet and how you can do it at home.

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Where Does Inflammation Come From?

Inflammation comes from various sources. Just take your immune system as an example. It plays a critical role in your health. Your immune system protects your body from the foreign invaders, antigens. Antigens tend to take a shape as any food you’re sensitive to that triggers itching and hives, the pollen that causes allergies, or the bacteria in the nail that causes soreness and swelling.

The response to all antigens comes from your immune system and this is exactly what it has to do: combat the foreign invaders and return your body to a normal condition. Your immunity does it by producing cytokines that respond to infections and trigger inflammation. Swelling or soreness, for instance, is the body’s function to prevent an injury, sparing the other cells around it.

Defense mechanisms develop during the process of inflammation. Once the foreign invaders are “dead,” the inflammation is resolved. Moreover, you have antigens, human leukocyte antigens (HLA), which live within you. They’re best friends with your immunity so they are never attacked.

Sometimes, your immune system can backfire and respond too little or too much, or views a slightly harmless substance as a very deadly threat. This way, your “normal” inflammation turns into a chronic or systemic version. When the inflammation keeps working when it shouldn’t, it can lead to a number of chronic conditions. It happens in the joints, arteries, gut, and the brain. That’s why it’s important to control inflammation.

Even though chronic inflammation is typically treated with the help of medications such as aspirin that works by blocking the body mechanisms causing inflammation, nowadays experts have created a special anti-inflammatory diet that can be adjusted to suit everyone’s body’s needs.

Does Anti-Inflammatory Diet Really Work?

A growing number of studies prove that a well-planned anti-inflammatory meal plan may play a crucial role in many health conditions. For example, a recent research published in 2017, in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed the link between atherosclerosis (a build-up of the plaque in the arteries) and a dietary inflammation (in accordance with a dietary inflammatory index) in females over 70. The study showed that the dietary inflammatory index (DII) scores were linked to heart failure and subclinical atherosclerosis.

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According to a 2016 study published in Endocrine, following an anti-inflammatory meal plan helps to decrease the levels of some inflammatory markers, including a substance named C-reactive protein in individuals with the type 2 diabetes. The study involved individuals who were newly diagnosed with the type 2 diabetes. Two groups of them were asked to follow a low-fat diet or the Mediterranean diet. In a year, an experiment indicated that the C-reactive protein levels remained unchanged in people who followed a low-fat diet and fell by around 37 percent in those on the Mediterranean eating plan.

Despite these two studies and many others, there’s still no scientifically proven fact that an anti-inflammatory diet works for everyone with no exception. Moreover, some people believe this type of diet is weight-loss friendly, while in reality, an anti-inflammatory diet isn’t actually a diet that can help you drop weight. It’s rather a kind of the healing eating that will help you improve your overall health.

What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation?

Remember, inflammation is a key part of the healing process, so you should be worrying about it only if it turns into a chronic condition.  If you didn’t have an inflammatory response, you would be in trouble. Inflammation promotes wound healing and it’s a useful mechanism for fighting invading microorganisms. It lets helpful antibodies enter the space and improves the function of other vital parts of the immune response to promote healing. So don’t be at war with inflammation.

But if you live an unhealthy lifestyle, be sure you watch out for the following symptoms of chronic inflammation:

  • Frequent mood issues;
  • Gum disease;
  • Fatigue;
  • Sleep disorders;
  • Rashes;
  • Joint pain;
  • Digestive issues, including constipation and bloating;
  • Brain fog and frequent headaches;
  • Eating disorders;
  • Weight gain;
  • Weak immunity.

Whichever health issues you have, make sure you see your doctor and check your dietary inflammatory index score.

Is It Possible to Do an Anti-Inflammatory Diet at Home?

While it’s always recommended to consult a nutritionist or a doctor to create an eating plan that will help you keep your inflammation at bay, you can create your own diet plan in case you don’t have an opportunity to meet an expert. Don’t go overboard, though. Your body still has to get the right amount of nutrients and antioxidants to function properly. Here are the major principles of an anti-inflammatory diet that will help you create your own eating plan:

1.Start naturally sweetening and flavoring your meals

This one is perhaps the most challenging rule of an anti-inflammatory diet. Avoid adding sugar to your morning oatmeal, tea or coffee, and other meals that usually require sugar. Opt for fruits like apricots, peaches, and apples, as well as berries to sweeten your dishes.

Salt is another big no-no. There’s a host of evidence that claims that a high-sodium diet is associated with the higher biomarkers of chronic inflammation. Consider flavoring your savory meals with spices that boast powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Some of them are thyme, sage, ginger, rosemary, turmeric, cinnamon, and cloves. Your meals will start tasting a lot tastier and healthier!

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2.Eliminate trans fats

Grocery stores are overloaded with the foods high in trans fats. Let’s not forget about fast food too. Trans fats are among the major culprits for chronic inflammation, thus your anti-inflammatory diet should exclude them.

A study conducted in Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that people who consumed foods that contained large amounts of trans fats had the higher levels of C-reactive protein, which is a biomarker for inflammation.

Margarines, vegetable shortenings, cookies, and crackers are just several examples of the foods high in trans fats. Always read the labels and avoid food items that contain the words “partially hydrogenated oils” or “hydrogenated.”

3.Reduce your consumption of processed foods

Unless you stick to a raw food diet, it’s impossible to avoid eating processed foods. But reducing your consumption of it is possible.  Processed foods contain high-fructose corn syrup, refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and too much sodium, which all contribute to chronic inflammation throughout your body.

The dangers of regular consumption of processed foods include the increased uric acid levels, high insulin resistance that can contribute to type-2 diabetes, a higher risk of fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, and many more.

The rule of thumb when choosing the less harmful processed foods is to read the labels and avoid those that contain the words that you can’t spell.

4.Have a healthy snack twice a day

An anti-inflammatory diet is all about reducing the pressure put on your digestive system and detox your body, so overeating is its enemy. If you’re a frequent snacker, you should learn to snack twice a day – incorporate one anti-inflammatory snack between your breakfast and lunch and the second one between your lunch and dinner.

The examples of anti-inflammatory snacks include popcorn seasoned with anti-inflammatory herbs and spices (oregano, rosemary, paprika, turmeric, etc.), plain yogurt with berries, walnuts, pistachios, and almonds.

5.Swap your vegetable oil for the one rich in healthy fats

Vegetable oils, such as safflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, and peanut oils, are affordable and don’t taste awful, but they’re chock full of unhealthy fats. Expeller-pressed canola oil and extra-virgin and virgin olive oil are the healthiest options for people on an anti-inflammatory diet. If you’re on a tight budget, opt for a high-oleic, expeller-pressed version of safflower or sunflower oil.

6.Eat low-fat fish 2 to 3 times a week

If you’re not vegan, include low-fat fish such as flounder and sole in your weekly meal plan. If this sounds too expensive, opt for cold-water fish such as herring, salmon, trout, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids – healthy fats that are particularly vital for your brain health.

Not only do omega-3 fatty acids treat and ward off chronic inflammation, but also help to prevent chronic diseases like arthritis, cancer, and heart disease – the conditions that typically have an increased inflammatory process.

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7.Munch on nuts

If you don’t eat or like fish, nuts might be your best option. Walnuts are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but they must be eaten in moderation. Eating a handful of walnuts a day will provide your body with around 90% of a recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, helping to reduce blood pressure, lower stroke and coronary artery disease risk, and ward off prostate, colon and breast cancers.

8.Avoid meat

There’s a valid reason why so many people switch to a meat-free diet – be it a vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. Meat, especially the red one, contains the toxic compounds that increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. Consuming meat regularly also leads to chronic inflammation. If you can’t give up meat, at least reduce its consumption to once per week.

9.Consume a weekly average of 4 servings of crucifers and alliums

Crucifers are just vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and mustard greens. Alliums are leek, scallions, onion, and garlic. Both crucifers and alliums are known for their potent antioxidant properties that help to treat and prevent numerous health issues, including chronic inflammation. When creating your weekly anti-inflammatory diet plan, make sure you include 4 servings of crucifers and alliums in it.

10.Eat more fruit and veggies

Aim to eat at least 4 servings of fruit and 4 to 5 servings of veggies each day to reduce inflammation and boost your immune system. One serving means a cup of raw leafy vegetables and a half a cup of a cooked vegetable or fruit. Try to buy organic fruit and vegetables or grow your own ones.

11.Watch your fiber intake

An anti-inflammatory diet requires at least 25 grams of fiber daily. The anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found in fiber-rich foods help you maintain health and reduce the likelihood of illnesses. Blueberries, bananas, onions, eggplants, oatmeal, barley, and other whole fruit, veggies, and whole grains are the perfect sources of fiber.

12.Eliminate foods that cause allergies

If you’re lactose or gluten intolerant, don’t make yourself eat these foods believing they’re healthy. Studies have found that gluten has horrible inflammatory side effects, especially on people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity or an autoimmune condition called celiac disease.

On the other hand, dairy products are high in omega-6 fatty acids that boost the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body. That’s why it’s better to eliminate milk, butter, cheeses, and ice creams from your anti-inflammatory diet.

Although inflammation has the ability to protect your body, when your immunity is overactive or faulty it can take a huge toll on your body, leading to an autoimmune disease. Don’t wait for your immune system to get out of control and cause chronic inflammation, try creating an anti-inflammatory meal plan that will keep you healthy and satisfied. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of chronic inflammation and some of them are getting worse, visit your doctor asap.

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