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Anti-inflammatory Diet: Road to Good Health?

Experts discuss the potential disease-fighting benefits of diets that try to reduce inflammation.

Anti-Inflammatory Diets: What Do You Eat? continued...

An anti-inflammatory diet is the Zone diet with fish oil, says Sears, who wrote The Anti-Inflammation Zone and whose popular Zone diet recommends low-fat protein, carbs, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Specifics vary from diet to diet, but in general anti-inflammatory diets suggest:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Minimize saturated and trans fats.
  • Eat a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish or fish oil supplements and walnuts.
  • Watch your intake of refined carbohydrates such as pasta and white rice.
  • Eat plenty of whole grains such as brown rice and bulgur wheat.
  • Eat lean protein sources such as chicken; cut back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods.
  • Avoid refined foods and processed foods.
  • Spice it up. Ginger, curry, and other spices can have an anti-inflammatory effect.

As one example of a day's worth of anti-inflammatory eating, Cannon suggests a breakfast of toasted steel-cut oatmeal with berries, yogurt, or other topping and coffee or green tea. Lunch could be tuna salad on 7-grain bread and a smoothie with seasonal fruits. For a snack, try an ounce of dark chocolate and about four walnuts. Dinner could be spaghetti with turkey meat sauce, spinach salad with oranges and walnuts, and apple cranberry pie made without butter.

The diets don't promise weight loss, but weight reduction does often occur. And that makes sense, given the makeup of the diet, says Greenfield.

"When you are talking about cutting back on red meat, dairy, fats and trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, highly processed carbs -- and eating healthier protein like fish, eating more fruits and vegetables -- odds are that people are going to lose at least a little bit of weight."

Where Is the Proof That Reducing Inflammation Works?

Can a diet really affect inflammation?

Proponents say it can, but they acknowledge that the anti-inflammatory diet needs to be studied more extensively to prove that it actually reduces disease such as heart problems.

"But a related diet, the Mediterranean diet, has been and is associated with improved cardiac outcomes," Cannon says.

Greenfield agrees. "There is ample evidence [of disease risk reduction] on the Asian-style diet and the Mediterranean-style diet," he says. "When you take a look at the components [of those diets], they could easily be called anti-inflammatory diets."

And eating a diet high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 is associated with increasing levels of cytokines -- proteins released from cells that trigger inflammation -- according to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Omega-3, in doses of 3 grams or more per day, has been found effective for those with rheumatoid arthritis, reducing morning stiffness and the number of joints that are tender or swollen, according to a review of the research on omega-3 fatty acids and health in American Family Physician.

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