The following blog post was written by Harmons dietetic intern, Jessica Fife.
What is inflammation and how can food decrease it?
When the body’s immune system is stimulated by something foreign, the body protects itself against the potential threat. This results in inflammation (1). While Inflammation usually gets a bad rep, it actually plays a really important role in our bodies! If you cut yourself, the inflammatory response protects you from infection and helps you to heal more quickly. The danger comes when inflammation persists for a long time. Many chronic diseases are associated with chronic inflammation, and—often times—chronic diseases develop because of chronic inflammation (2).
Good nutrition can be a powerful tool for everyone to decrease and prevent inflammation. But, for some people, medication may still be necessary in the management of disease and inflammation, so talk to your doctor to see if that’s for you! Nutritionally, start by avoiding excess calories—being overweight or obese has consistently been linked to inflammation and disease (3). Determining your daily calorie needs is a step in the right direction.
Fruit and Veggies
About five servings of fruits and/or vegetables are recommended per day. If you’re not there yet, this may be a good place to start! When more good things are added into your diet, other things tend to fall out. Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber essential for good health. They also contain antioxidants and polyphenols (compounds with anti-inflammatory properties found in some foods) associated with lowering inflammation (2).
Cut back on processed foods and instead look for whole grain options. Be aware of the added sugars you’re consuming and find ways to decrease those! Choose unsweetened foods and add whole fruit and spices for flavor. A diet rich in whole grains and low in added sugars has been associated with lower inflammation and associated diseases (2).
Protein & Dairy
Foods with a high amount of saturated fat should be eaten sparingly. Decrease intake of red meats, and choose more lean meats and plant proteins like chicken, beans, and nuts. Fatty fish and fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are precursors to anti-inflammatory compounds. Aim for getting fish in your diet a couple times every week! Walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil, and chia seeds also contain omega-3 fatty acids if seafood is not an option (2).
Dairy can be another great source of protein. Choose low-fat options to decrease your intake of saturated fats. Yogurt is a great source of probiotics (good gut bacteria), and there is some evidence that a healthy gut is related to less inflammation. Top it with some berries, which are rich in antioxidants! (2)
Oils are an essential part of a healthy diet and contain polyphenols. It may surprise you to know that red wine and chocolate also contain some polyphenols, so don’t be overwhelmed—many things can fit in an anti-inflammatory diet; it is all about eating in moderation (2).
You’ve got this! Work towards a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean protein, fish, and healthy oils. An anti-inflammatory diet can be nutritious and delicious. And ask your local Harmons dietitian for help if you have questions!
1. “Inflammation: What Is It, and how can my diet and behavior affect it?” https://nutrition.org/inflammation-what-is-it-and-how-can-my-diet-and-behavior-affect-it/
2. “Nutrition, Inflammation, and Disease” https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/020314p44.shtml
3. “Inflammation –Can’t Stand the Heat? Then Get in the Kitchen https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0118p12.shtml