Last updated on November 25th, 2023 at 09:40 am
Improve your quality of life and reduce inflammation by following the tips and recipes in this simple guide to the anti-inflammatory diet for beginners!
Why Start An Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
The goal of eating this type of diet is to reduce chronic inflammation.
See acute inflammation is a pretty normal process that helps your body heal. For example, when you hit your toe somewhere, you get the classic 4 signs of inflammation, as your toe gets:
That’s your body, your immune system reacting to an injury. It is the first step in your body healing itself by repairing that tissue. And then after a day: you don’t even know you’ve hit your toe. Inflammation did its job and now it’s done.
Now the problem is, when inflammation doesn’t go away. Then you’ve got chronic inflammation and it’s slowly attacking your own body. You might not be noticing the 4 signs that much, because it’s a low-grade inflammation. It just lingers, it’s quiet.
Chronic inflammation naturally increases when we get older and has been linked to cardiovascular, autoimmune, and neurological diseases, mental disorders, obesity and cancer.
One of the most useful ways to reduce inflammation and take action to improve your health is to eat a more anti-inflammatory diet.
Who Can Benefit From An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Many people look for an anti-inflammatory diet for beginners when they experience digestive issues or when they have an inflammatory condition like arthritis.
For different cases, there might be a specific type of diet that can be considered anti-inflammatory. For example, certain foods can be anti-inflammatory for someone with IBS, but they might cause inflammation in others who have GERD. So these are very specific cases and ones that might need to be supervised by a doctor or a dietician.
But since systemic inflammation is linked to almost every type of chronic and systemic disease out there, beyond just those affecting the GI tract an anti-inflammatory diet can benefit most people in our world.
For example, one inflammatory disease is depression. Another one is cancer. And then, there’s diabetes. These are all linked to increased inflammation inside the body. It’s not known what comes first – the inflammation or the disease, but we can use an overall anti-inflammatory diet to reduce inflammation and to improve your condition. This does not happen overnight, but within a month or two you should be feeling so much better.
Benefits of the anti-inflammatory diet
There are many pro’s to enjoying an anti-inflammatory diet. A big one is that it can reduce oxidative stress, which can damage your cells, protein and DNA. Oxidative stress is what causes us to age prematurely and to get sick.
Now, here are some of the great benefits of eating to reduce inflammation:
- slow down aging and prevent premature aging
- prevent and improve cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- prevent and improve cancer
- improved skin health
- weight loss
- prevent and improve neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease
- improve autoimmune disease
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet For Beginners
The anti-inflammatory diet is pretty simple.
Why do you need to do that? Here are some reasons:
1. Reduce Oxidative Stress
Because both, polyphenols and omega-3s reduce oxidative stress and the inflammatory response in the body. See, even the simple action of consuming food comes with oxidative stress, because it’s a natural part of the metabolism that needs to happen. So, you better start eating antioxidant-rich foods.
2. Build A Healthy Microbiome
The foods that naturally contain polyphenols and omega-3’s help to feed the good bacteria in your gut. These bacteria help to build your immune system, make and extract nutrients from food and build a barrier that is impermeable to toxins.
A lot of the inflammation in the body comes because of a damaged gut microbiome. This can happen for example through the use of antibiotics or eating crappy food for a while.
Even if you don’t notice any digestive issues, if you have an inflammatory disease – you probably need to improve your gut health. Because much like the skin, the gut represents a barrier between the inner organs and the outside world. If that barrier isn’t sound, it can leak toxins into the blood circulation.
That’s what they call a leaky gut. But eating these healthy foods in their natural form can help to change your gut microbiome, which can help to heal it over time.
In order for your body to heal, it needs nutrients. Polyphenol-rich foods and omega-3 rich foods are in general extremely nutrient-dense and thus can fill most nutritional gaps in your diet.
When you’ve got all three – the essential nutrients, the extra antioxidants, as well as your good gut bacteria happy and thriving, your body will get the opportunity to heal itself! Give your body that opportunity!
Something that’s very important to know is that an anti-inflammatory diet needs to have a low glycemic load. Which means: Don’t eat too many carbs. You do need carbohydrates in your diet, however foods like bread, pasta, pancakes, whole grain snacks and chips can add up quickly, even if they’re the healthier choice. So when eating carbs, make sure they’re cooked rather than baked or fried. For example: Quinoa porridge is a better choice than pancakes made with quinoa flour.
What If You Don’t
On the contrary, if you feed your body omega-6-rich foods, foods that are poor in essential nutrients and polyphenols, foods that are high in carbs and saturated fats (like fast food and processed foods for example), you can ruin your microbiome, increase oxidative stress and deplete your body of nutrients, while oversupplying it with unnecessary calories. Those calories then, get stored as fat.
When you think about this, you realize it’s no wonder chronic inflammation is associated with all kinds of chronic diseases – type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and a multitude of autoimmune diseases.
If you’d like to know more about how to cook and eat to reduce inflammation, I wrote a another guide a while ago that you can find it here.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet In Practice
Now what does the anti-inflammatory diet for beginners look in practice? How do you build an anti-inflammatory recipe or, even better, an anti-inflammatory meal plan?
Well, you start looking for foods that are rich in nutrients, pack a ton of polyphenols and are rich in omega-3’s as well, while simultaneously being low in omega-6’s, simple carbs and saturated fats.
Eat. There aren’t many of them, but here’s a good list of anti-inflammatory foods to start with:
- Flaxseed (omega-3’s)
- Chia seeds (omega-3’s)
- Broccoli, spinach, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radishes, cabbage, arugula, parsley, basil
- Berries – blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries
These foods need to make the base of your diet in order for it to be anti-inflammatory.
Add. Other foods that can work well on an anti-inflammatory diet are whole foods that aren’t anti-inflammatory per se, but are nutrient-dense and have a neutral omega-3/omega-6 ratio (about 1) or are low in omega-6’s. These foods include beans, lentils (not chickpeas or tofu), salmon, mackerel, mango, bananas, green beans, peas, shrimp, octopus, cherries, lettuce, butternut squash, papaya, zucchini, cucumbers, garlic, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and so on and so on.
Avoid: In general, you need to keep in mind that grains, nuts, seeds, soy products, chickpeas, eggs as well as chicken are rich in omega-6’s. Coconut oil, butter, dairy and red meat are rich in saturated fat, which should be avoided as well.
Now it doesn’t mean that these foods are super unhealthy, but if you’re dealing with inflammation and chronic disease, it’s better to stay away from them for a while to allow your body to heal.
Things To Consider
If you have a condition linked to chronic inflammation, it’s a good idea to do some blood work and check for any deficiencies. The most common ones are vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron. If you lack any of those, your body will have a hard time recovering. So ask your doctor for a test and if needed take a supplement as recommended.
Other things to consider are food allergies and intolerances. If you eat an anti-inflammatory diet, as described above you’ll get rid of some of the major food allergens like eggs, gluten, dairy, soy and nuts. However, it’s good to know whether you should also avoid other foods. Some people can’t tolerate nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes or eggplant. It doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy – they’re just not for everyone. For example, a test showed me I can’t have most of the vegetables and fruit I was eating – like kiwi, cabbage, tomatoes, strawberries and peppers. You can do a test or eliminate these foods from your diet if you’re eating them and not noticing any improvement over the next two weeks.
Easy Anti-Inflammatory Recipes
Now, I know this guide to the anti-inflammatory diet for beginners might seem like a lot, but there are some good recipes to start with. The main change you will need to make is using flax oil in place of the olive oil.
Arugula, Avocado and Tomato Salad (use flax oil)
Salmon Lettuce Wraps (omit the sunflower cream cheese)
Broccoli and Red Lentil Soup (drizzle some flax oil when serving)
The Best Green Smoothie (double the recipe and add 3 tbsp of chia or flaxseed and some more spinach!)
Easy Chia Pudding (omit the maple syrup and nut butter and serve with 1/2 banana and berries)
A great simple change for a truly anti-inflammatory diet is to drink more green smoothies with flax or chia seeds in them. Drink a few throughout the day and your body will start improving. If you wish, you can check out Dr. Goldner’s website for some tips and recipes to make a good anti-inflammatory smoothie. She advocates for an even stricter, raw vegan diet, which might be necessary if you’re really sick – make sure to check her out.
More About The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
I hope you enjoy this introduction to the anti-inflammatory diet for beginners! To learn more about inflammation, make sure to also check out these:
- Inflammatory Food List: 10 Foods That Cause Inflammation
- How To Eat To Reduce Inflammation
- 5 Simple Anti-Inflammatory Foods
- 1 medium onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/3 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
- 1.5 cups broccoli
- 1/2 cup red lentils
- some mint leaves (5-10)
- some cilantro (optional)
- 1 red chili pepper (optional!)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp flax oil
- Soak lentils for 30 min-1 hour. Prepare the rest - peel garlic and onion, wash herbs and vegetables and chop broccoli, onion, chili (optional), cilantro (optional), mint leaves.
- In a small cooking pot add 1 tbsp olive oil and saute the garlic and onions at medium-high for about a minute. Add the spices (turmeric, ginger, cumin and opt. cardamom). Stir and add a few tbsp of water, so that the spices don't burn.
- Stir again and add chopped broccoli, lentils, 1/2 tsp salt (approx. I'm still struggling with measuring salt, I usually pinch), and 2-3 cups of water (so that everything is covered).
- Cover the pot with the lid and cook for 8-10 min or until lentils are tender and everything else is cooked.
- Add the herbs (mint and optionally cilantro). Take off the heat.
- With your hand blender blend the soup. I didn't blend all the way through as I like soups chunky. If you'd like - blend all the way through until smooth (won't affect taste, just texture). Add 1 tbsp flax oil and stir in. Salt to taste, add water if too thick (shouldn't be).
- Optionally: Slice red chili pepper and add at the end.
- Serve hot and if you'd like top with some hot paprika flakes and cumin.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 239Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 174mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 10gSugar: 6gProtein: 9g