What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
Inflammation is a term that is often used when discussing health and wellness. It can be an intimidating concept and cause people to be fearful of many foods that are said to cause inflammation. However, many people don’t know what inflammation actually is, moreover, what an anti-inflammatory diet looks like!
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is actually a protective process that supports your body in fighting injury and infection. It’s when inflammation becomes chronic that it can have negative effects. As part of the inflammation process, your body produces additional white blood cells, immune cells, and other substances to help fight the infection.
There are two types of inflammation: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation. With acute or short-term inflammation, there is often pain, redness, heat, or swelling. For example, if you bump your knee, the surrounding area starts to swell, bruise, and can become painful. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is inflammation that is long-lasting and typically doesn’t have visual symptoms. It has been found to lead to health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.1
So if that’s what inflammation is, what does it mean for a food to be anti-inflammatory? Foods that are considered anti-inflammatory provide nutrients that are thought to counteract or prevent the effects of chronic inflammation. These foods tend to contain substances called antioxidants. Antioxidants have been found to defend the body against free radicals, which are substances that can increase inflammation in the body and cause long-term damage. Additionally, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to help reduce levels of free radicals in the body.
An anti-inflammatory diet is based on a variety of whole, nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. It ideally provides a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods such as:
- Healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, and olives)
- Fatty fish
- Dark chocolate
- Spices (turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon)
- Green tea
While it is often most helpful to place a focus on what you could be adding to your diet rather than restricting, there are some foods that are limited in an anti-inflammatory diet. These include highly-processed foods, refined sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, and alcohol. Additionally, diets high in omega-6 fatty acids have been found to increase inflammation.
The Omega-6 Controversy
There is often confusion as to whether omega-6 fatty acids are a part of an anti-inflammatory diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are actually essential for human health and since the body doesn’t produce them, we have to get them through our food. Similar to omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6s are vital for brain function, growth and development, skin and hair growth, bone health, and regulating metabolism.
While there is still no conclusive research, when it comes to a healthy diet, variety and balance are key. This means that a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids would likely be best. The standard American diet tends to be much higher in omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Beginning to add in more of the foods rich in omega-3s is a great place to start!2,3
Lifestyle factors are also an important aspect of managing inflammation. It is important to get adequate sleep, movement, and manage stress levels.
- Sleep: Although many of us experience trouble maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, quality sleep is important for the basic functioning of the body, particularly for the brain. Some findings for long-term effects of sleep deprivation included chronic conditions, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, and weight-related issues.5
- Movement: A sedentary lifestyle has been shown to be a risk factor for many diseases associated with systemic inflammation. Whether it’s going for a walk, lifting weights, or doing yoga, moving your body is a helpful way to combat inflammation.6
- Stress: Chronic, unmanaged stress can actually lead to chronic inflammation, which in turn can lead to various health conditions. By managing your stress, you may also be able to prevent your risk of conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.7
Didn’t have time to read the entire blog? Here is what you need to know. An anti-inflammatory diet is filled with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to help defend the body against free radicals. Lifestyle factors are also an important aspect of managing inflammation. It is important to get adequate sleep, movement, and manage your stress levels.
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1. Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, et al. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2021 Sep 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
2. “Omega-6 Fatty Acids.” Mount Sinai Health System, https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/omega-6-fatty-acids.
3. Innes JK, Calder PC. Omega-6 fatty acids and inflammation. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2018 May;132:41-48. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2018.03.004. Epub 2018 Mar 22. PMID: 29610056.
4. Bosma-den Boer, M.M., van Wetten, ML. & Pruimboom, L. Chronic inflammatory diseases are stimulated by current lifestyle: how diet, stress levels and medication prevent our body from recovering. Nutr Metab (Lond) 9, 32 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-9-32
5. Medic, G., Wille, M., & Hemels, M. E. (2017). Short-and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nature and science of sleep, 9, 151.
6. Roberto Carlos Burini, Elizabeth Anderson, J. Larry Durstine, James A. Carson, Inflammation, physical activity, and chronic disease: An evolutionary perspective, Sports Medicine and Health Science, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020, Pages 1-6, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smhs.2020.03.004.
7. Vogelzangs, N., Beekman, A., de Jonge, P. et al. Anxiety disorders and inflammation in a large adult cohort. Transl Psychiatry 3, e249 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2013.271