Reduce the level of chronic, simmering inflammation—at the root of chronic diseases—through the power of your diet. Learn how to create an anti-inflammatory kitchen with this grocery list and cooking tips.
A strategy of eating your way to lower inflammation levels has entered the modern lexicon. A recent Google search for “anti-inflammatory diet” yielded more than 96 million hits. Scientists recognize that inflammation can fuel the major chronic disease killers of our time.
While acute inflammation, the body’s natural reaction to an injury or assault, is good, chronic inflammation is not. When the body’s inflammatory reaction fails to shut off or becomes activated when there is no real trigger—sometimes lasting for days, months, or even years—chronic inflammation results. This underlying inflammation can become the root of many diseases, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and neurological degeneration.
Tune in to the research on diet and inflammation and discover ways to infuse more anti-inflammatory ingredients into your lifestyle. The recipes included throughout promote an anti-inflammatory cooking style.
Support for Anti-Inflammatory Living
Strategies to Calm Inflammation
A growing body of evidence links particular foods and eating patterns with lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers. Both epidemiological studies and intervention trials support a link between diet and a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, and experts believe that the diet-inflammation connection might be one explanation.
In a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, scientists found that diets high in refined starches, sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids appear to turn on the inflammatory response. But a diet rich in whole foods, including healthful carbohydrates and fat and protein sources, along with regular exercise and not smoking, seems to cool down inflammation.
Weil points out that epidemiological evidence links traditional dietary patterns such as the Japanese and Mediterranean diets with lower disease rates. Both diets have characteristics linked with lower inflammation levels. The traditional Japanese diet is low in fat, sugar, flour, and dairy and high in fish, vegetables, sea vegetables, rice, green tea, fruit, and soy foods, while the Mediterranean diet is low in meat and sugar and high in fish, whole grains, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables.
“You can go through life with an anti-inflammatory lifestyle or you can go through life with a proinflammatory lifestyle. Diet has a huge impact on inflammation. People should stop eating refined, processed, manufactured foods and eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables that are high in phytonutrients that protect against cancer and other diseases and focus on high-quality vegetable proteins such as legumes, nuts, grains, and soy foods,” stresses Weil.
Scientists are also exploring the benefits of individual foods on inflammation. While a dietary pattern rich in plant foods appears to be at the root of lower inflammation, particular foods such as berries, tomato products, walnuts, turmeric, and red wine appear to be especially promising, according to recent research. Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD, MS, director of nutrition at the National Center for Food Safety and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, reports that the modern Western diet—high in calories, fat, and sugar and low in nutrients—is proinflammatory. In fact, obesity is a proinflammatory state. But individuals can fight this inflammatory status with diet, she says.
Burton-Freeman explains that phytonutrients in plant foods reduce disease risk through multiple inflammation-related pathways. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled 12-week crossover trial that Burton-Freeman led (and was published in 2010 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition), a strawberry beverage reduced overweight men’s and women’s inflammatory response to a high-fat meal. In another study that Burton-Freeman presented at FNCE, tomato paste blocked meal-induced inflammation in healthy-weight men and women.
“There are dietary strategies that can combat inflammation,” she says. “The effect of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can be seen even at a single meal. Consider a lifetime of meals unprotected from inflammation or a lifetime of meals protected.”
A Portrait of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Scientific evidence is moving forward to paint a picture of an anti-inflammatory diet that looks something like this:
- rich in a variety of foods to provide a rainbow of nutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds
- low in processed, refined, low-nutrient foods
- packed with fruits and vegetables to provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds
- balanced in calories to promote optimal weight
- emphasizes healthful carbohydrates that are less refined, are high in fiber, and have a low glycemic index
- moderately low in animal proteins (except for fish)
- focuses on plant proteins such as legumes, soy foods, and nuts
- includes healthful fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, and avocados and minimizes saturated and trans fats
- includes omega-3 fatty acids from fish and plant sources such as walnuts and flax
- generously flavors foods with antioxidant spices and herbs such as garlic, green herbs, ginger, and turmeric
- encourages frequent tea consumption
- promotes moderate consumption of red wine (if alcohol is consumed)
- allows small amounts of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) as a treat.
Healthful and Delicious
An anti-inflammatory eating style happens to blend in with an overall optimal dietary pattern recommended by numerous health experts and organizations. Even the Dietary Guidelines advises an eating pattern that shares much in common with this dietary style.
With its emphasis on whole, antioxidant-rich plant foods, healthful fats, flavorful herbs and spices, seafood, and moderate wine and chocolate consumption, it may be not only a healthful lifestyle but also a delicious one.
Anti-Inflammatory Shopping List
To help create an anti-inflammatory kitchen, use this grocery shopping food list.
Fish and Shellfish (vegetarians and vegans may omit)
- Sardines (canned in olive oil or water)
- Tuna (light, canned in water)
Fruits (fresh, frozen, or canned without sugar)
- Dried plums (prunes)
Herbs and Spices (fresh or dried)
Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds
Vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned without salt)
- Bell peppers (green, red, orange, or yellow)
- Brussels sprouts
- Cabbage (green or red)
- Corn (sweet yellow)
- Green beans
- Onions (green, red, white, or yellow)
- Potatoes (red or white)
- Squash (summer or winter)
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
- Red wine (in moderation)
- Tea (green, white, or black)
— Author compiled list using multiple resources. This list is not exhaustive.
Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Try these anti-inflammatory recipes:
Pomegranate Avocado Quinoa Salad
Southwest Stuffed Bell Peppers with Black Beans and Quinoa
Pistachio Turmeric Rice Power Bowl
Image: Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables and Beans with Za’atar, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
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