Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Road to Good Health?

If you have a condition that causes inflammation, it may help to change your eating habits.

While medication and other treatments are important, many experts say that adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may help, too. If you have, say, rheumatoid arthritis, changing what's on your plate won’t be a magic cure -- but it might lessen the number of flare-ups that you have, or it may help take your pain down a few notches.

An anti-inflammatory diet is widely regarded as healthy, so even if it doesn't help with your condition, it can help lower your chances of having other problems.

What to Eat

In a nutshell, anti-inflammatory foods are those that any mainstream nutrition expert would encourage you to eat. They include lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins (like beans and nuts), fatty fish, and fresh herbs and spices.

Fruits and veggies: Go for variety and lots of color. Research has shown that vitamin K-rich leafy greens like spinach and kale curb inflammation, as does broccoli and cabbage. And the substance that gives fruits like cherries, raspberries, and blackberries their color is a type of pigment that also helps fight inflammation.

Whole grains: Oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and other unrefined grains tend to be high in fiber, and fiber also may help with inflammation.

Beans: They're high in fiber, plus they're loaded with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory substances.

Nuts: They have a healthy kind of fat that helps stop inflammation. (Olive oil and avocados are also good sources.) Stick to just a handful of nuts a day; otherwise, the fat and calories will add up.

Fish: Put it on your plate at least twice a week. Salmon, tuna, and sardines all have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation.

Herbs and spices: They add antioxidants (along with flavor) to your food. Turmeric, found in curry powder, has a strong substance called curcumin. And garlic curbs the body's ability to make things that boost inflammation.
 

What Not to Eat

Anything highly processed, overly greasy, or super sweet isn’t a good choice for you if you have inflammation.

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Refined starches and sugary foods: They're not dense in nutrients, and they're easy to overeat, which can lead to weight gain, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol (all related to inflammation). Sugar causes the body to release inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Soda and other sweet drinks are main culprits. Anti-inflammatory diet experts often say you should cut out all added sugars, including agave and honey.

High-fat and processed red meat (like hot dogs): These have a lot of saturated fat, which can cause inflammation if you get more than a small amount each day.

Butter, whole milk, and cheese: Again, the problem is saturated fat. Instead, eat low-fat dairy products. They’re not considered inflammatory.

French fries, fried chicken, and other fried foods: Cooking them in vegetable oil doesn't make them healthy. Corn, safflower, and other vegetable oils all have omega-6 fatty acids. You need some omega-6s, but if you get too much, as most Americans do, you throw off the balance between omega-6s and omega-3s in your body and end up with -- you guessed it -- more inflammation.

Coffee creamers, margarine, and anything else with trans fats: Trans fats (look on the label for "partially hydrogenated oils") raise LDL cholesterol, which causes inflammation. There's no safe amount to eat, so steer clear.

Wheat, rye, and barley: The focus here is gluten, and this one's a controversial maybe. People who have celiac disease need to avoid gluten. But for everyone else, the science is solid that whole grains are beneficial.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on January 16, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Inflammation and Diet."

Arthritis Foundation: "The Connection Between Gluten and Arthritis," "Eight Foods That Can Cause Inflammation," "The Ultimate Arthritis Diet."

Cleveland Clinic: "The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: A Way to Manage Chronic Pain," "9 Diet Tips to Help You Fight Inflammation," "Why You Should Pay Attention to Chronic Inflammation."

Harvard Women's Health Watch: "Foods That Fight Inflammation."

Mayo Clinic Online Health Letter: "Buzzed on Inflammation."

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