Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response. Acute inflammation, which occurs in response to an injury, protects your body and helps it heal. The problem begins when inflammation persists, day in and day out. Chronic inflammation in the body has been linked to everything from type 2 diabetes, allergies, autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, cancer and stroke. There is also emerging research looking at the link between inflammation and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
Diet and lifestyle choices are closely linked to inflammation. Certain foods can cause or worsen chronic inflammation if they are eaten too frequently. On the other hand, many foods can help to combat inflammation in the body.
Foods that Cause Inflammation
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread or bagels and pastries. Studies have found that a diet high in refined carbohydrates can have a proinflammatory effect in the body.
- Fried food, like french fries or fried chicken. Saturated fats and trans fats play a role in the inflammatory process by stimulating the release of proinflammatory molecules in the body.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda or soft drinks. Similar to refined carbohydrates, sugar-sweetened beverages cause an increase in body sugar that is associated with increased inflammatory molecules.
- Processed meat, like hot dogs and sausage. Red meat, specifically processed meat, has been linked to higher levels of inflammation.
Not only do these foods cause inflammation, but they are also related to a higher chance of being overweight or obese. “Diets that are high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and excessive amounts of trans and saturated fat can contribute to obesity, which in and of itself is a proinflammatory state,” says Isabel Smith, Registered Dietitian and owner of Isabel Smith Nutrition.
The good news is that there are many foods that can help decrease inflammation in the body. A diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, omega-3 fats and antioxidants is your best defense against inflammation. Here are 11 foods to add to your plate.
- Fatty Fish. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats decrease the production of proinflammatory molecules in the body, while stimulating production of anti-inflammatory compounds called eicosanoids. Choose fatty fish as your protein source at least two to three times per week.
- Whole Grains. These grains have more fiber per serving than their refined grain counterparts. A high fiber diet is associated with lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers in the body. Try a variety of whole grains like quinoa, farro, barley, brown rice, or oatmeal and aim for at least two to three servings per day.
- Green Leafy Vegetables. Vitamin E plays a role in protecting the body from proinflammatory molecules called cytokines. One of the best sources of vitamin E is dark leafy green veggies, like broccoli, kale, spinach, and collard greens.
- Red ripe tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant that has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Cooked tomatoes have an even higher concentration of lycopene than raw, so try cooking them down in a rich sauce.
- Sweet Potatoes. These orange beauties are high in vitamins C and E and carotenoids, nutrients linked to lower levels of inflammation in the body. Try other orange foods for similar benefits, like pumpkin, apricots, carrots and cantaloupe.
- Olive Oil. This heart-healthy oil is a good source of polyphenols, a group of compounds that have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Try using olive oil with your salad or vegetables or in salad dressings.
- All nuts are packed with antioxidants, particularly almonds, which are rich in vitamin E, and walnuts, which have high amounts of the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid. Try adding one ounce of nuts per day as part of a meal or snack.
- While all fruits can lower inflammation, berries especially have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties due to the high content of anthocyanin, a powerful phytonutrient.
- Tart Cherries. Similar to berries, tart cherries are rich in anthocyanins, however they contain even higher levels of two different types of anthocyanins.
- Animal studies have shown that probiotics can decrease the activity of proinflammatory compounds while increasing levels of anti-inflammatory markers, all from within the gut. Look for yogurts that include “live and active cultures”, and limit those with too much added sugar.
- Tea. Green, white and black teas provide high doses of the polyphenol catechin. Brewed hot tea leaves contain the highest concentration over instant tea mixes or ready-to-drink teas.
Though diet plays a significant role in regulating inflammation in our bodies, it isn’t the only lifestyle factor we can control. Along with a balanced diet, aim to reach a healthy weight, get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and participate in regular physical activity.