What does the evidence say about anti-inflammatory diets?


An anti-inflammatory diet is rich in foods containing health-promoting antioxidants, polyphenols, and other immune-boosting compounds that have the potential to fight inflammation in the body.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and infection. However, experts establish a persistent link and chronic inflammation to insulin resistance and an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and many other chronic diseases.

Foods with anti-inflammatory properties include, but are not limited to:

  • herbs and spicessuch as turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, pepper and rosemary
  • fruits, including pineapple, papaya, mango, berries, and acerola cherry
  • vegetables, such as carrots, pumpkin, leafy greens, and zucchini
  • peas and beans, such as pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils, and black-eyed peas
  • fatty fish and other sources of omega-3s, including sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring, and fish oil
  • dairy products, such as yogurt
  • whole grains, such as corn, cornmeal, and whole-grain pasta, bread, and rice

According to researchseveral foods cause inflammation in the body, including highly refined carbohydrates and added sugars, red meat, trans and saturated fats, and salt.

Although there is no set anti-inflammatory diet, there are general recommendations for which foods to eat more and which to eat less to treat inflammation in the body.

Additionally, studies show that diets not designed as anti-inflammatory have beneficial effects in reducing inflammation, and health experts recommend them for overall good health.

For example, the mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension The diet – designed to reduce the risk of heart disease and blood pressure, respectively – are effective anti-inflammatory diets.

The goal of an anti-inflammatory diet is to eliminate pro-inflammatory foods and replace them with nutritionally adequate foods and herbs and spices rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, such as vitamin C.

For example, avoiding refined flour, excess salt from precooked foods, and sugary drinks, and increasing your daily intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are common recommendations.

Anti-inflammatory diets also promote gut health. As much as 70–80% immune cells are present in the gut, so optimizing gut health is integral to promoting immune health and eliminating chronic inflammation.

It is advisable to consume foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics daily, such as legumes and yogurt.

Here are some tips for starting an anti-inflammatory diet:

  • Replace sugary drinks, such as sodas and juice concentrates, with plain or fruit-infused water.
  • Increase your fiber intake by eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Eat oily fish, including sardines and salmon, twice a week.
  • Include more nuts, seeds, nut butter, avocado, and olive oil in your diet for healthy fats.
  • Stir in more herbs and spices.
  • Sip herbal teas, such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, or rosemary tea.

Less risk of disease

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, are the leading cause of death and disability in the United States.

Research demonstrates that anti-inflammatory diets reduce markers of inflammation in the body and the risk of chronic disease.

A 2016 review found that the Mediterranean diet reduced C-reactive protein – a test that indicates inflammation in the body – by 20% and the overall risk of heart disease by 30%.

The researchers suggest that the diet reduces the risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation in the walls of blood vessels and maintaining their health and resilience.

Adherence to the Mediterranean diet also has the potential to reduce the risk of development rheumatoid arthritis, although more studies are needed to explore this benefit.

Less serious symptoms

Symptoms of chronic conditions, such as muscle aches, swollen joints, itchy skin, fatigue, and mood swings, can become debilitating or disruptive, affecting a person’s quality of life and comfort.

Research on the effects of an anti-inflammatory diet in people psoriasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseand depression found an improvement in some symptoms and quality of life in some cases.

This means that for someone with a chronic disease, an anti-inflammatory diet can support better symptom management and improved quality of life.

Besides, other research notes that anti-inflammatory diets can reduce fatigue caused by chronic illness.

However, instead of focusing on just one nutrient, people should eat a balanced diet high in fiber, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids to manage fatigue.

Inconsistent results

Anti-inflammatory diets are an emerging science with conflicting results.

According to some research, tomato is a pro-inflammatory food that people should avoid and substitute with other vegetables, such as pumpkin. Still others results suggest that its lycopene content has anti-inflammatory properties.

These inconsistencies between published data may leave you confused as to which foods are right for you. Be aware of your allergies and consult a dietitian to develop an appropriate meal plan.

Cannot cure diseases

Several health-related websites offer the “best” anti-inflammatory diets to “cure” conditions such as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis.

Although anti-inflammatory diets are effective in reducing inflammation and improving symptoms, to say they are a cure for autoimmune and chronic diseases is an overstatement.

A person should adopt an anti-inflammatory diet to support proper medical treatment, not to replace it.

Lifestyle habits also play a role in the development of inflammation.

Research Associates bad sleep, lack of physical activityand psychological stress with increased inflammation, weakened immunity and increased risk of heart disease.

In addition to fueling your diet with anti-inflammatory foods, support lower levels of inflammation by:

  • aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep
  • exercise for 150 minutes per week including cardio, resistance and balance training
  • to try manage stress

Anti-inflammatory diets are rich in health-promoting antioxidants, polyphenols, and other immune-boosting compounds that reduce inflammation in the body.

Replace pro-inflammatory foods — such as highly refined carbohydrates and added sugars, red meat, trans and saturated fats, and salt — with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, herbs, and spices and healthy fats.

Although anti-inflammatory diets are effective in reducing inflammation and improving disease symptoms, they are not a cure for autoimmune and chronic diseases and should be an adjunct to proper medical treatment, not a replacement.

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