Inflammation is a natural process that helps your body heal and defend itself from harm.
Unfortunately, it can sometimes run wild and become chronic.
Chronic inflammation can last for a long time --- weeks, months or years --- and may lead to various health problems.
On the bright side, there are many things you can do to reduce inflammation and improve your overall health.
This article outlines a detailed plan for an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is your body's way to protect itself from infection, illness or injury.
As part of the inflammatory response, your body increases production of white blood cells, immune cells and substances called cytokines that help fight infection.
Classic signs of acute (short-term) inflammation include redness, pain, heat and swelling.
On the other hand, chronic (long-term) inflammation is often silent, and occurs inside the body without any noticeable symptoms.
When doctors look for inflammation, they test for a few markers in the blood, including C-reactive protein (CRP), homocysteine, TNF alpha and IL-6.
Bottom Line: Inflammation is a protective mechanism that allows your body to defend itself against infection, illness or injury. It can also occur on a chronic basis, which can lead to various diseases.
An Unhealthy Lifestyle Can Drive Inflammation
Certain lifestyle factors can promote inflammation, especially when they occur on a regular basis.Vegetable oils used in many kinds of processed foods are another culprit. Consuming them regularly results in an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which leads to inflammation (21, 22, 23).
Bottom Line: Eating unhealthy foods, drinking alcohol or sugary beverages, and getting little physical activity all drive inflammation.
How to Reduce Inflammation With Your Diet
Base your diet on whole, nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants, and avoid processed products.
Antioxidants work by reducing levels of free radicals. These reactive molecules are created as a natural part of your metabolism, but can lead to inflammation when they're not held in check.
Your anti-inflammatory diet should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fat at each meal. Make sure you also meet your body's needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber and water.
Vegetarian diets have also been shown to help reduce inflammation (35).
Bottom Line: Choose a balanced diet that cuts out processed products and boosts your intake of whole, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods.
Foods to Avoid
Some foods are notorious for promoting inflammation.
Consider minimizing or cutting these out completely:
- Sugary beverages: Sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juices.
- Refined carbs: White bread, white pasta, etc.
- Desserts: Cookies, candy, cake and ice cream.
- Processed meat: Hot dogs, bologna, sausages, etc.
- Processed snack foods: Crackers, chips and pretzels.
- Certain oils: Processed seed- and vegetable oils like soybean and corn oil.
- Trans fats: Foods with "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredients list.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption.
Bottom Line: Avoid or minimize sugary foods and beverages, excessive alcohol and foods high in refined carbs and unhealthy fats.
Foods to Eat
Include plenty of these anti-inflammatory foods:
- Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.
- Fruit: Especially deeply colored berries like grapes and cherries.
- High-fat fruits: Avocados and olives.
- Healthy fats: Olive oil and coconut oil.
- Fatty fish: Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies.
- Nuts: Almonds and other nuts.
- Peppers: Bell peppers and chili peppers.
- Chocolate: Dark chocolate.
- Spices: Such as turmeric, fenugreek and cinnamon.
- Tea: Green tea.
- Red wine: Up to 5 oz (140 ml) of red wine per day for women, and 10 oz (280 ml) per day for men.
Bottom Line: Consume a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods that can reduce inflammation.
Sample Menu For an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
It's easier to stick to a diet when you have a plan. Here's a great sample menu to start from, featuring a day of anti-inflammatory meals:
- 3-egg omelet with 1 cup mushrooms and 1 cup kale, cooked in coconut oil.
- 1 cup cherries.
- Green tea and/or water.
- Grilled salmon on a bed of mixed greens with olive oil and vinegar.
- 1 cup raspberries, topped with plain Greek yogurt and chopped pecans.
- Iced tea, water.
- Bell pepper strips with guacamole.
- Chicken curry with sweet potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli.
- Red wine (5–10 oz or 140–280 g).
- Dark chocolate (preferably at least 80% cocoa).
Bottom Line: An anti-inflammatory diet plan should be well-balanced, incorporating foods with beneficial effects at every meal.
Other Tips to Reduce Inflammation
Once you have your healthy menu organized, make sure you incorporate these other good habits of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle:
- Supplements: Certain supplements can boost the anti-inflammatory effects of foods, including fish oil and curcumin.
- Regular exercise: Exercise can decrease inflammatory markers and the risk of chronic disease (36, 37).
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep is extremely important. Researchers have found that a poor night's sleep increases inflammation (38, 39).
Bottom Line: You can boost the benefits of your anti-inflammatory diet by taking supplements and making sure to get enough exercise and sleep.
The Rewards of an Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle
An anti-inflammatory diet, along with exercise and good sleep, may provide many benefits:
- Improvement to symptoms of arthritis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, lupus and other autoimmune disorders.
- Decreased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, cancer and other diseases.
- Reduction in inflammatory markers in the blood.
- Better blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Improvement in energy and mood.
Bottom Line: Following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle may improve markers of inflammation and reduce your risk of many diseases.
Take Home Message
Chronic inflammation is unhealthy and can lead to disease.
In many cases, our health behaviors drive inflammation or make it worse.
Instead, choose an anti-inflammatory lifestyle for optimal health and well-being.