The term "anti-inflammatory diet" gets thrown around in nutrition conversations a lot these days. But why is inflammation bad for us, anyway? And what does food have to do with it?
Inflammation is a part of your body's normal response to infection or injury. It's when your damaged tissue releases chemicals that tell white blood cells to start repairing. But sometimes, inflammation is low-grade, spread throughout the body, and chronic.
This chronic inflammation can do damage to your body. It can play a role in the buildup of plaque in your arteries that can up your risk of heart disease and stroke. It's also associated with a higher risk of cancer, diabetes and other chronic conditions.
How your food can help or hurt
The choices you make at the grocery store can have an impact on the inflammation in your body. Scientists are still unraveling how food affects the body's inflammatory processes, but they know a few things.
Research shows that what you eat can affect the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP)—a marker for inflammation—in your blood. That could be because some foods like processed sugars help release inflammatory messengers that can raise the risk of chronic inflammation. Other foods like fruits and veggies help your body fight against oxidative stress, which can trigger inflammation.
The good news: Foods that are anti-inflammatory tend to be the same foods that can help keep you healthy in other ways, too. So eating with inflammation in mind doesn't have to be complicated or restrictive.
Simple rules of thumb for anti-inflammatory eating:
- Eat more plants. Whole plant foods have the anti-inflammatory nutrients that your body needs. So eating a rainbow of fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes is the best place to start.
- Focus on antioxidants. They help prevent, delay or repair some types of cell and tissue damage. They're found in colorful fruits and veggies like berries, leafy greens, beets and avocados, as well as beans and lentils, whole grains, ginger, turmeric and green tea.
- Get your Omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in regulating your body's inflammatory process and could help regulate pain related to inflammation. Find these healthy fats in fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, as well as smaller amounts in walnuts, pecans, ground flaxseed and soy.
- Eat less red meat. Red meat can be pro-inflammatory. Are you a burger lover? Aim for a realistic goal. Try substituting your lunchtime beef with fish, nuts or soy-based protein a few times a week.
- Cut the processed stuff. Sugary cereals and drinks, deep-fried food, and pastries are all pro-inflammatory offenders. They can contain plenty of unhealthy fats that are linked to inflammation. But eating whole fruits, veggies, grains and beans can be quick if you prep ahead for multiple meals.