Want to prevent and fight chronic disease? The anti-inflammatory diet is a way of eating that lowers inflammation, which can help manage chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. There is strong evidence that anti-inflammatory diets can lower the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
If you haven’t already, check out which foods and eating habits actually increase inflammation so you know what to cut back on and change.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet – Your Complete Guide
Redness, swelling, itchiness, heat, pain… these are all signs of inflammation. Sure, having a sore throat or a bug bite is one type of inflammation. It’s when the inflammation is chronic (lasts for weeks or longer) that we get concerned. When your body stays in an inflammatory state, healthy cells can’t work as they are supposed to, potentially leading to disease.
The foods we eat can either increase inflammation or reduce inflammation – we have the power to prevent disease. How incredible is that? And if you do have a chronic condition, you may even be able to manage it better with the right eating plan.
What can you eat to lower inflammation?
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These superhero fatty acids include EPA and DHA found in fish. These omega-3s prevent omega-6s from causing inflammation AND can prevent inflammatory signals AND they produce their own anti-inflammatory molecules. It’s a triple-pronged anti-inflammatory impact that goes the distance!
Eating oily fish such as salmon, trout or Arctic char at least 3 times a week can help lower inflammation. If you have type 2 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, talk to your healthcare provider about taking fish oil supplements. Research suggests they could lower inflammation for people with these conditions (1).
If you’re not a fish fan, you can get another type of omega-3s called ALA from vegetarian foods such as chia, flax or hemp seeds or walnuts. These are also anti-inflammatory but haven’t been studied as much as their fish-based counterparts.
Vitamins C and E
These vitamins are antioxidant megastars that protect cells from toxins, aging, you name it. Vitamins C and E boost the immune system and lower overall inflammation.
Get your vitamin C on from bell peppers, citrus fruit, guava, papaya, kiwis, strawberries, broccoli and cabbage. No need to take in lots from supplements. You’ll just end up peeing it out.
Vitamin E-rich foods include almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, peanuts, wheat germ and eggs.
Vitamin E supplements might help lower pain and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis (2). Before taking vitamin E supplements, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.
The anti-inflammatory power of some of your favourite foods might surprise you! Fruits and veggies, whole grains, coffee and tea, chocolate, olive oil, red wine, flaxseeds. Go for variety, go for produce in different colours to get the widest variety of phytochemicals (plant nutrients).
Vegetables and fruit are all around anti-inflammatory. They’re packed with nutrition and including plenty of them in your eating plan is shown to lower signs of inflammation in the blood and reduce the risk of a huge list of chronic diseases (3). Eat up!
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Both pre- and probiotics block the action of inflammatory cytokines and increase the action of anti-inflammatory compounds (4). Hurrah! Together, they form a dream team called synbiotics because they create synergy. They’re better together like peanut butter and banana or chickpeas and tahini.
Prebiotics act as food for the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract. When you eat a food that contains prebiotics, the prebiotics travel through to your intestines where they are fermented by the good bacteria, lowering the risk of colon cancer and otherwise making you healthier and happier. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that boost the immune system and are good for your digestive health.
Both prebiotics and probiotics act as an army that prevents intruders from entering the gut. Back off, fellas! No leaky gut here! Synbiotics are useful in irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), particularly pouchitis and possibly ulcerative colitis (5).
Prebiotics are found in onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole grain whole wheat.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as kefir and yogurt and supplements (although the amount and type of bacteria varies). Kimchi, sauerkraut and fermented soy foods like miso and tempeh are also sources of probiotics but it’s tough to know how much.
A high fibre, low glycemic index (low GI) diet has been shown to be better than a high GI diet or low carb diet for lowering inflammation (6). This is what I call a slow carb diet rich in whole grains and beans and lower in refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and sugary beverages and sweets.
The Mediterranean Diet
One of the best and most anti-inflammatory ways of eating in the world is the Mediterranean diet. Research suggests it may reduce belly fat and high blood sugar in people at risk for heart disease (7). It ticks all the boxes on our list of what makes an anti-inflammatory diet… and limits foods that promote inflammation.
Wondering what you should avoid eating if you want to lower inflammation? Here are the inflammatory foods and eating habits to change now!
Remember, it’s the big picture of what you’re eating rather than one meal that will determine your health. Eat well, friends!
- Calder PC. n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6 Suppl):1505S-1519S.
Devaraj S, Leonard S, Traber MG, Jialal I. Gamma-tocopherol supplementation alone and in combination with alpha-tocopherol alters biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation in subjects with metabolic syndrome. Free Radic Biol Med. 2008;44(6):1203-1208.
Root MM, McGinn MC, Nieman DC, et al. Combined fruit and vegetable intake is correlated with improved inflammatory and oxidant status from a cross-sectional study in a community setting. Nutrients. 2012;4(1):29-41.
Frei, R., Akdis, M., & O’Mahony, L. (2015). Prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, and the immune system: experimental data and clinical evidence. Current opinion in gastroenterology, 31(2), 153-158. http://journals.lww.com/co-gastroenterology/Abstract/2015/03000/Prebiotics,_probiotics,_synbiotics,_and_the_immune.12.aspx
Wasilewski, A., Zielinska, M., Storr, M., & Fichna, J. (2015). Beneficial effects of probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, and psychobiotics in inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel diseases, 21(7), 1674-1682.
Wolever TM, Gibbs AL, Mehling C, et al. The Canadian Trial of Carbohydrates in Diabetes (CCD), a 1-y controlled trial of low-glycemic-index carbohydrate in type 2 diabetes: no effect on glycated hemoglobin, but reduction C-reactive protein. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(1):114-125.
Estruch R. Anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean diet: the experience of the PREDIMED study. Proc Nutr Soc. 2010;69(3):333-340.