Your immune system attacks anything in your body that it recognizes as foreign—such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. The process is called inflammation.
Although acute inflammation is important and vital for our healing process, chronic inflammation leads to a number of illnesses. Chronic inflammation can cause diseases such as atherosclerosis, arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, food intolerances, diabetes, fibromyalgia, heart disease and in some cases even cancer. It also accelerates the aging process.
Many people suffer from chronic inflammation due to the modern diet and lifestyle. Processed food, sugar, hydrogenated and trans fats, stress, malnutrition, obesity, pollution, heavy metals and excessive exercise cause this condition, because they cause overactivity in the immune system, that can lead to joint pain, fatigue, and damage to the blood vessels.
Foods That Inflame
Not surprisingly, the same foods that contribute to inflammation are generally considered bad for our health, including sodas and refined carbohydrates, as well as red meat and processed meats.
Some foods have an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which is also associated with excess inflammation. This is not surprising, since inflammation is an important underlying mechanism for the development of diseases.
Unhealthy foods also contribute to weight gain, which is itself a risk factor for inflammation. Yet in several studies, even after researchers took obesity into account, the link between foods and inflammation remained, which suggests weight gain isn’t the sole driver. Some food ingredients have independent effects on inflammation over and above increased caloric intake
Try to avoid or limit these foods as much as possible:
Refined Carbs: White bread, pastries, pastas, flours & rice
French Fries and other fried foods
Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
Red Meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
Margarine, shortening, and lard
Foods That Fight Inflammation
Nutrition is a very powerful way to protect your cells from inflammation. If you want to combat inflammation in your body, here are some foods that you should include into your die.
Oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation. To get the benefits, you need to eat fish several times a week, and it should be cooked in healthy ways like baked or boiled. FYI, a diet that is too high in omega-6 fatty acids (found in processed foods and vegetable oil) cause inflammation. If you're not a fan of fish try fish-oil supplements.
Dark Leafy Greens
Studies show that vitamin E plays a key role in protecting the body from pro-inflammatory molecules. One of the best sources of this vitamin is dark green veggies, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and collard greens. Dark greens and cruciferous vegetables also tend to have higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, and disease-fighting phytochemicals, than those with lighter-colored leaves.
Healthy fats is nuts—particularly almonds, fight inflammation as well. Nuts are also rich in fiber, calcium, and vitamin E, and walnuts, which have high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fat. All nuts are also packed with antioxidants, which can help your body fight off and repair the damage caused by inflammation. Nuts (along with fish, leafy greens, and whole grains) are a big part of the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce inflammation in as little as six weeks.
Most foods that fit into a heart-healthy diet is probably also good for inflammation, and that includes healthy, plant-based fats like olive oil. In fact, a 2010 Spanish study found that the Mediterranean diet’s myriad health benefits may be largely due to its liberal use of olive oil, especially the extra-virgin kind. The compound oleocanthal, which gives olive oil its taste, has been shown to have a similar effect as NSAID painkillers in the body.
Consuming most of your grains as whole grains, instead of white, refined bread, cereal, rice, and pasta can help keep harmful inflammation at bay. That’s because whole grains have more fiber, which has been shown to reduce inflammation in the blood, and they usually have less added sugar.
One thing to keep in mind is that a 2013 Harvard study found that not all products labeled “whole grain” are much healthier than their refined counterparts. To be sure you’re getting the benefits, look for foods with a whole grain as the first ingredient, with no added sugars.
All fruits can help fight inflammation, because they’re low in fat and calories and high in antioxidants. But berries have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties due to their anthocyanins, or powerful chemicals that gives them their rich color.
Studies have shown, for example, that red raspberry extract helped prevent animals from developing arthritis; that blueberries can help protect against intestinal inflammation and ulcerative colitis.
Studies have found that tart cherry juice can reduce the inflammation in lab rats’ blood vessels by up to 50%; in humans, meanwhile, it’s been shown to help athletes improve their performance and reduce their use of anti-inflammatory pain meds.
Experts recommend eating 1.5 cups of tart cherries, or drinking 1 cup of tart cherry juice, a day to see benefits. Be sure they’re tart, as sweet cherries just don’t seem to have the same effects.
Garlic & Onions
There’s good reason why these pungent vegetables are known for their immunity-boosting properties. In test-tube and animal studies, garlic has been shown to work similarly to NSAID pain medications such as ibuprofen, shutting off the pathways that lead to inflammation.
Onions contain similar anti-inflammatory chemicals, including the phytonutrient quercetin and the compound allicin, which breaks down to produce free radical-fighting sulfenic acid.
Several studies showed that isoflavones, or estrogen-like compounds found in soy products, can help lower inflammation levels in women, and a 2007 animal study published in the Journal of Inflammation found that isoflavones also helped reduce the negative effects of inflammation on bone and heart health in mice.
You must be sure to avoid heavily-processed soy whenever possible, which may not include the same benefits and is usually paired with additives and preservatives. Instead, aim to get more soy milk, tofu, and edamame into your regular diet.
Certain Dairy Products
Milk products are sometimes considered a trigger food for inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, because some people have allergies or intolerances to casein, which is the protein found in dairy. But for people who can tolerate it, certain dairy items are important sources of nutrients. Foods with calcium and vitamin D, such as Greek yogurt are good for most people. Greek yogurt can also contain probiotics, which reduces gut inflammation.
In addition to their anti-inflammatory properties, it is important to get enough calcium and vitamin D for bone strength, and the reduction of cancer and other health risks.
Colorful vegetables are part of a healthier diet, as opposed to white potatoes or corn. Colorful peppers, tomatoes, squash, and leafy vegetables have high quantities of antioxidant vitamins and lower levels of starch. Bell peppers are available in a variety of colors, while hot peppers (like chili and cayenne) are rich in capsaicin, a chemical that’s used in topical creams that reduce pain and inflammation.
Peppers, however, are nightshade vegetables, and some doctors believe they can exacerbate inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis. What helps one person may be harmful to another, so you just need to pay attention to your diet and your symptoms, and stick with what works for you.”
Tomatoes are another nightshade veggie that also may help reduce inflammation in some people. Juicy red tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which has been shown to reduce inflammation in the lungs and throughout the body. Cooked tomatoes contain even more lycopene than raw ones, so tomato sauce works too, and a 2012 Iranian study found that tomato juice consumption was also beneficial.
This vegetable’s brilliant red color is a tip-off to its equally brilliant antioxidant properties. Beets and beetroot juice have been shown to reduce inflammation, as well as protect against cancer and heart disease, thanks to their hearty helping of fiber, vitamin C and plant pigments.
Ginger & Turmeric
These spices have been shown in various studies to have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric, the ingredient that gives curry its yellow color, and works in the body to help to turn off the process of inflammation. Ginger has been shown to reduce inflammation in the intestines when taken in supplement form.