What is chronic inflammation? Usually, when your immune system detects a foreign invader — pollen, viruses or bacteria, and chemicals — your body’s defenses send antibodies and increased blood flow to the trouble spots to assist with healing. But for some people, that defensive response gets stuck in high gear, even after the threat is gone. This leaves the body in a perpetual, stressed out “fight” mode, which can lead to serious illness.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to a range of debilitating conditions and diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and depression. But doctors are increasingly learning that the foods we eat can make a difference. Certain foods appear to have properties that combat inflammation, while others may heighten the body’s inflammatory response. If you struggle with chronic inflammation, here are the foods to eat (or avoid) to give you the best chance of reducing inflammation and feeling your best.
What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods?
An anti-inflammatory diet should emphasize these foods, among others:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
- Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
- Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
- Olive oil
These foods make up a big part of the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fish, fresh vegetables, and olive oil, and is highly recommended by the Arthritis Foundation for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. But this diet also has been recommended by many medical professionals because of research showing it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other common illnesses where inflammation often plays an underlying role.
Other powerful anti-inflammatory foods to consider are:
- Turmeric, which can be added to soups and salad dressings. Its absorption can be boosted by using it along with black pepper.
- Ginger slows the production of cytokines, which can trigger chronic inflammation. It can be added to sauteed vegetables and fish, or made into ginger cookies.
Kick Off Your Day —Not Your Inflammation
When you think of breakfast, foods that combat inflammation might not immediately come to mind — but they’re out there. Here are some ingredients to substitute or add to breakfast staples that will help you to start off your day and keep inflammation to a minimum.
- Fruits, especially strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and acai berries. Consider adding these to superfood smoothies or stirring them into oatmeal.
- Flax and hemp seeds.
- Avocado. Make avocado toast or eat separately with black pepper and olive oil.
- Chili peppers. Consider adding them to an omelet or frittata.
- Tea. Green/black tea contains flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Which Foods Should Be Avoided?
Studies have shown that certain foods and beverages are associated with a higher risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and may contribute to inflammation. This is hardly a surprise since these are the usual suspects linked to numerous chronic illnesses and diseases.
As much as possible, limit the following:
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, and pastries
- Fried foods, including French fries
- Red meat (burgers and steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage, and deli meats)
- Soda and other sugary beverages
- Margarine, shortening, and lard
Remember, keep a positive attitude toward trying new foods. Instead of feeling deprived, adopt a “reach for this, not that” approach. Instead of a sugary cappuccino with whipped cream from the drive-thru, stock your cabinet with flavorful teas. Figuring out how to add anti-inflammatory ingredients to your cooking and baking can be an adventure. That hot cup of tea and delicious ginger cookie can be your friend!