Pamela Malo, MHS, RD, Arivale Coach
Inflammation is a normal immune system response to illness and injury (think a sore throat or a bruised knee). However, some of our daily habits can trigger a small inflammatory response too. Elevated blood sugar, environmental toxins, and even certain foods may cause chronic low-grade inflammation.1-3
Chronic inflammation is hard on the body. Studies show it is closely linked to a number of serious health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.(4) Some people with low-grade, chronic inflammation may have symptoms, such as vague feelings of unwellness and fatigue.5,6 But for many, chronic inflammation doesn’t present any noticeable symptoms—making it easy to go undetected.
Your diet plays a major role in both causing and combatting chronic inflammation. If you know or suspect your inflammatory markers are high, or simply want to proactively keep inflammation at bay, following an anti-inflammatory diet pattern is key. While there’s no exact prescription for an anti-inflammatory diet, in general, it emphasizes plant-based foods, healthy fats, and fiber-rich complex carbohydrates. Here are the nine anti-inflammatory “rules” our team of Registered Dietitians recommends following.
1. Focus on fiber.
There are many possible reasons fiber lowers inflammation. Fiber acts as our intestine’s “street sweeper”—helping promote gut bacteria diversity and a healthier intestinal environment, which in turn helps prevent inflammation. In addition, fiber can help reduce other inflammatory triggers, like elevated blood sugar and cholesterol. Fiber is also helpful for weight loss, as it helps keep the body fuller longer. (Excess weight can cause chronic inflammation.)7,8
If you’re following a healthy, balanced diet, it’s likely you can get all the fiber you need (and more) without supplementation. Fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates are filled with both soluble and insoluble fiber. Some of our dietitians’ favorite fiber sources are lentils, oats, chia seeds, beans, flaxseed, avocados, fresh fruits, and split peas. Anytime you’re increasing your fiber intake, be sure to also increase your water intake to help mitigate digestion issues.
2. Cut back on refined grains and sugars.
Our bodies aren’t built to process large amounts of refined grains and sugars, which get rapidly digested and absorbed. When we consume them in excess on a regular basis, we’re more likely to have chronic, low-grade inflammation.9
Cutting back on refined grains and sugars can be difficult—especially because they’re so prevalent in the typical American diet. Our dietitians recommend keeping track of what you’re eating and identifying some common sources of refined grains. Then, try swapping an item out with an anti-inflammatory alternative. For example, if you eat a lot of white bread, by switching to a healthier alternative (like sprouted wheat bread), you’ll get more fiber and nutrients—and eliminate one pro-inflammatory food from your plate.
3. Choose animal products high in omega-3’s and low in saturated fat.
Omega-3 fats are important for fighting inflammation, while diets high in saturated fat are associated with higher levels of inflammation.10,11 Certain fish like salmon are excellent sources of protein because they happen to be high in omega-3 fats and low in saturated fat. Meat and eggs, on the other hand, are relatively high in saturated fat. If you do choose to eat them, go for grass-fed meat and free-range eggs, which can have higher amounts of omega-3’s.
4. Eat the rainbow.
Eating a variety of lots of colorful fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods is the best way to make sure you’re benefitting from the wide array of anti-inflammatory compounds, such as polyphenols. Studies show that the more brightly-colored plants you eat, the lower your inflammation.12 Specifically, the mediterranean diet, which is rich in diverse polyphenols, can help reduce chronic inflammation.13
5. Swap out saturated and trans fats for healthier fats like fish oil, nuts, and avocados.
As mentioned above, when it comes to inflammation, what kind of fat you’re eating matters. Trans fats, which are found in many processed foods, are pro-inflammatory—as are saturated fats. In contrast, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids—like flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and cold water fish—help lower inflammation.14,10 Other foods that contain healthy fats include avocados, nut and seed butters, and olive oil.
6. Swap out sugary drinks for water.
Regularly drinking sweetened beverages is linked with higher inflammatory markers.15 Instead, go for plain old water (or sparkling water if that’s too boring). Not only is water a healthy, sugar-free alternative, but proper hydration can also can be helpful for weight loss and keeping your gut happy—both of which can have a positive effect on your inflammatory markers.16
7. Spice up your meals.
Curcumin, a polyphenolic compound or antioxidant, is perhaps the most-studied component of the spice turmeric, and rightly so. It’s very effective for combatting inflammation.17
These days, curcumin is available for supplementation. You can also experiment with adding turmeric to the foods you’re already eating. Many processed foods rely on sugar or salt to create flavor, so adding spices to your home cooking is a great way to boost taste and combat inflammation.
8. Decrease your alcohol intake.
No good things come without sacrifice. Drinking more than the recommended daily limit of alcohol for men (2 drinks) and women (1 drink) can be tough on the body and cause chronic inflammation.20
9. Develop a tea habit.
There’s a bit of controversy here, but some studies do show that drinking tea—including both black and green—is linked with lower levels of inflammation.21,22
Pick up on a theme here? Preventing and combatting inflammation goes hand in hand with living a healthy lifestyle. When we’re not eating, sleeping, or moving right, our bodies take damage. The fix for chronic inflammation isn’t going to be as simple as a curcumin supplement here and cutting out cookies there—it’s going to be sustaining long-term, positive habits. And hopefully, these nine rules give you a good place to start.
- Aronson D, Bartha P, Zinder O, Kerner A, Shitman E, Markiewicz W, Brook GJ, Levy Y. Association between fasting glucose and C‐reactive protein in middle‐aged subjects. Diabetic Medicine. 2004 Jan 1;21(1):39-44. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1464-5491.2003.01084.x/full
- Thompson AMS, Zanobetti A, Silverman F, et al. Baseline Repeated Measures from Controlled Human Exposure Studies: Associations between Ambient Air Pollution Exposure and the Systemic Inflammatory Biomarkers IL-6 and Fibrinogen. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2010;118(1):120-124. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2831955/
- Tabung FK, Smith-Warner SA, Chavarro JE, et al. Development and Validation of an Empirical Dietary Inflammatory Index. The Journal of Nutrition. 2016;146(8):1560-1570. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4958288/
- Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration. C-reactive protein concentration and risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and mortality: an individual participant meta-analysis. The Lancet. 2010 Jan 15;375(9709):132-40. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673609617177
- Raison CL, Lin JM, Reeves WC. Association of peripheral inflammatory markers with chronic fatigue in a population-based sample. Brain, behavior, and immunity. 2009 Mar 31;23(3):327-37. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159108004261
- Cho HJ, Seeman TE, Bower JE, Kiefe CI, Irwin MR. Prospective association between C-reactive protein and fatigue in the coronary artery risk development in young adults study. Biological psychiatry. 2009 Nov 1;66(9):871-8. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322309007616
- Kaczmarczyk MM, Miller MJ, Freund GG. The health benefits of dietary fiber: beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism. 2012 Aug;61(8):1058. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399949/
- Ajani UA, Ford ES, Mokdad AH. Dietary fiber and C-reactive protein: findings from national health and nutrition examination survey data. The Journal of nutrition. 2004 May 1;134(5):1181-5. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/134/5/1181.short
- Schulze MB, Hoffmann K, Manson JE, Willett WC, Meigs JB, Weikert C, Heidemann C, Colditz GA, Hu FB. Dietary pattern, inflammation, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in women. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2005 Sep 1;82(3):675-84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16155283
- Li K, Huang T, Zheng J, Wu K, Li D. Effect of marine-derived n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on C-reactive protein, interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor α: a meta-analysis. PloS one. 2014 Feb 5;9(2):e88103. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0088103
- Neale EP, Batterham MJ, Tapsell LC. Consumption of a healthy dietary pattern results in significant reductions in C-reactive protein levels in adults: a meta-analysis. Nutrition research. 2016 May 31;36(5):391-401. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27101757
- Vitale M, Vaccaro O, Masulli M, Bonora E, Del Prato S, Giorda CB, Nicolucci A, Squatrito S, Auciello S, Babini AC, Bani L. Polyphenol intake and cardiovascular risk factors in a population with type 2 diabetes: The TOSCA. IT study. Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Nov 14. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261561416313164
- Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G. Mediterranean dietary pattern, inflammation and endothelial function: a systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention trials. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2014 Sep 30;24(9):929-39. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0939475314001094
- Lopez-Garcia E, Schulze MB, Meigs JB, Manson JE, Rifai N, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Consumption of trans fatty acids is related to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. The Journal of nutrition. 2005 Mar 1;135(3):562-6. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/3/562.long
- Hert KA, Fisk PS 2nd, Rhee YS, Brunt AR. Decreased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages improved selected biomarkers of chronic disease risk among US adults: 1999 to 2010. Nutr Res. 2014 Jan;34(1):58-65. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24418247
- Parretti HM, Aveyard P, Blannin A, Clifford SJ, Coleman SJ, Roalfe A, Daley AJ. Efficacy of water preloading before main meals as a strategy for weight loss in primary care patients with obesity: RCT. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Sep;23(9):1785-91. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oby.21167/abstract
- Derosa G, Maffioli P, Simental-Mendía LE, Bo S, Sahebkar A. Effect of curcumin on circulating interleukin-6 concentrations: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pharmacological research. 2016 Sep 30;111:394-404. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043661816303929
- Mazidi M, Gao HK, Rezaie P, Ferns GA. The effect of ginger supplementation on serum C-reactive protein, lipid profile and glycaemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Food & nutrition research. 2016 Jan 1;60(1):32613. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/fnr.v60.32613
- Serafini M, Peluso I. Functional Foods for Health: The Interrelated Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs, Spices and Cocoa in Humans. Current pharmaceutical design. 2016 Dec 1;22(44):6701-15. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/ben/cpd/2016/00000022/00000044/art00009
- Bell S, Mehta G, Moore K, Britton A. Ten‐year alcohol consumption typologies and trajectories of C‐reactive protein, interleukin‐6 and interleukin‐1 receptor antagonist over the following 12 years: a prospective cohort study. Journal of internal medicine. 2017 Jan 1;281(1):75-85. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/joim.12544/full
- Bahorun T, Luximon-Ramma A, Gunness TK, Sookar D, Bhoyroo S, Jugessur R, Reebye D, Googoolye K, Crozier A, Aruoma OI. Black tea reduces uric acid and C-reactive protein levels in humans susceptible to cardiovascular diseases. Toxicology. 2010 Nov 28;278(1):68-74.
- Chun OK, Chung SJ, Claycombe KJ, Song WO. Serum C-reactive protein concentrations are inversely associated with dietary flavonoid intake in US adults. The Journal of nutrition. 2008 Apr 1;138(4):753-60.