Last updated on May 22nd, 2023 at 05:48 pm
Learn how to eat to reduce inflammation in the body fast by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet! There are more causes for chronic inflammation than what you eat, but your eating habits are a great place to start when you want to improve your health.
Therefore I’m sharing these healthy eating tips for beginners that will help you get started with the anti-inflammatory diet in order to heal, reduce pain and feel your best.
Inflammation, more importantly, low-grade chronic inflammation, is a big deal these days, and let’s face it, most of us probably have it at this point.
I know I do. I have a number of health issues associated with inflammation – from allergies, to joint pain, to thyroid problems…the list is too long for someone who’s just her 30s.
And let’s make it clear: I don’t drink, smoke or eat croissants and pasta every single day. And hey, I don’t even think I stress a lot or don’t sleep enough. Yet. Chronic inflammation is apparently there, making me feel and look worse than I could for my age without it.
Signs You Might Have Chronic Inflammation
Now I can’t tell you if you have chronic inflammation, but if you
1) are feeling tired even though you’ve slept enough,
2) are overweight,
3) have an allergy or autoimmune disease,
4) have chronic pain or
5) have red itchy skin
then it’s very likely you have chronic inflammation as well. In this case, the most obvious, helpful, easiest thing we can do is to change the way we eat.
Actually, some studies show that when we eat a certain way chronic inflammation goes away (and that rhymes!). If it doesn’t completely go away, at least it will be reduced when you eat better. They call that an anti-inflammatory diet.
Why do we need to reduce chronic inflammation?
Inflammation is a totally normal, healthy reaction that helps your body heal from damage. That’s the simplest way to put it, really. Whether that damage is caused by a physical injury, mental stress, bacteria or a virus inflammation comes in order to help your body to overcome these and to restore health.
Now, the tricky thing is that at the end of the healing process, inflammation needs to completely resolve. It should not keep going once the damaging factor is gone. And this seems to be the problem. It seems we’ve now come so far away from nature with the stressful and polluted environment we live in, the fake food we eat, the pills we take for everything (whether they’re supplements or not), all the media we consume, that there’s always something coming up that prevents that small inflammation flame from going out. And it is constantly sizzling in our bodies. We don’t necessarily feel it, we don’t notice it, because over time we’ve kinda become numb to it, but it is there.
The reason we want to reduce this chronic inflammation is that in the end it leads to the damage and loss of functionality of our organs. Our bodily tissues. Which is not a good thing.
Chronic inflammation is the common denominator for many diseases. For example, cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, depression, arthritis, acne and psoriasis are all diseases that are associated with increased levels of inflammation in the body.
Whether inflammation is the root cause or just a “symptom” of all these diseases is not clear, but it’s definitely not helping.
Now even if you don’t have any of these health issues currently, these anti-inflammatory diet tips for beginners will still help you reduce chronic inflammation in the body and ultimately, help you stay healthy and feel and look great for longer.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet: How To Eat To Reduce Inflammation In The Body
If you research the anti-inflammatory diet using the internet, you’re very likely to get very confused. Some sources say you should eat whole grains and plants, others say we should only eat meat, or go paleo or keto, but eating to reduce inflammation is about something different.
To summarize it – it’s about nourishing your body with the things that it needs while getting rid of all the fluff and things your body doesn’t actually need.
So the strategy to reduce inflammation in the body through diet will be to stuff our plates with anti-inflammatory foods and eliminate pro-inflammatory foods from our diet.
Makes sense right?
Here’s a little outline, of what’s gonna happen in this post:
- We’ll start with the anti-inflammatory foods – the foods we need to make sure we eat every day in order to reduce inflammation in the body
- Then we’ll see which are the pro-inflammatory foods – the foods we need to avoid. Now, some people will simplify inflammation to just your gut, but systemic inflammation goes beyond local inflammation that you might have in your gut. It’s definitely true you need to avoid foods you’re allergic or intolerant to, no doubt about it. But for all of us – even those without any food allergies or intolerances, there are a number of foods that can cause inflammation. Here we’ll take a look at those foods.
- Finally, we’ll talk about something, I feel gets ignored when it comes to anti-inflammatory diet – cooking methods and eating habits that can cause chronic inflammation. These two are just as important as what you actually eat.
These are the three groups of foods you need to eat more often in order to reduce inflammation:
- Foods high in omega-3’s
- Polyphenol-rich foods
- Herbs and spices
Now let’s take a look at each one of them.
1. Yes: Foods high in omega-3’s
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for us humans. They’re important for fetal growth and development and in adults for brain, cardiovascular, and skin health. They’re shown to be important in the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disease.
Another magic trick omega-3 fatty acids are capable of is reducing inflammation.
They do this in part by competing with the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids for the “love” of 2 enzymes involved in inflammation. When there are enough omega-3’s in the body they can win this competition, when there aren’t…well omega-6’s win, which leads to increased inflammation.
Where can you find omega-3’s?
The problem with omega-3 fatty acids is that they’re rare to find. I’ll probably be more successful digging out truffles from dirt in the park than finding good food sources of omega-3’s in the supermarket.
However, if you consume daily flaxseed, chia seeds or hemp seeds you should be able to raise your omega-3 levels, while keeping your omega-6 levels lower.
Now. It’s important to know that these plant sources provide only ALA (alpha linolenic acid) – the shorter among the omega-3 fatty acids. We actually don’t utilize ALA that much in the body. What we use are her longer omega-3 friends EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). And we can make them both out of ALA, but unfortunately to a limited extent. I read somewhere (and I don’t remember anymore where <- having a minor panic attack here) that if the consumption of ALA is high enough we might be able to make enough of the functional omega-3’s EPA and DHA. So if you’re vegan – make sure to eat more flax and chia seeds.
If you’re not, you can get EPA and DHA directly from your diet. These two fatty acids are not found in plant food sources but are present in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. Because fish is not toxin-free these days, it’s recommended to have fish twice a week (so not every day).
So to summarize: To reduce inflammation in the body, eat omega-3-rich foods like salmon/mackerel twice a week and flaxseed and chia seeds daily.
2. Yes: Polyphenol-Rich Foods
Say that out loud: Polyphenols. Sounds so chemical, I’m getting a headache.
Okay, I’m lying. I was just trying to play unedicated – it’s actually easy to pronounce and luckily for us, these amazing molecules are also super easy to find.
In fact when we eat a “balanced diet” (whatever that means) we can get up to 1g per day, which is about 10 times higher than vitamin C and 100 higher than beta carotene intake. This is a good thing as polyphenols have tons of health benefits.
Polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-aging properties and are shown to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes and allergies. Plus let’s not forget the reason we’re here: they’re also anti-inflammatory.
Polyphenols are literally in every plant food you can imagine. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes – they all have them. And for those of us who love olive oil and wine – they are there as well.
Now before you start drinking wine with breakfast, lunch and dinner, consider your other choices as well and know that too much wine can actually suppress your immune system. Make smart choices.
Some of the best polyphenol-rich foods include broccoli, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, arugula, parsley, mint, red peppers, lemons, apples, strawberries, cranberries (seriously any berries) and many many many more.
The point is, to reduce inflammation in the body: Eat as many raw vegetables as you can.
You can add some fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains as well. Most of these foods are also sources of the vitamin E & C, zinc and fiber – all shown to be anti-inflammatory as well. But the base of your diet should be vegetables.
Tip: Another great way to get some extra polyphenols that cost almost no money and no calories is drinking tea. Great choices are green tea, rosehip, ginger, nettle, peppermint or even cinnamon tea – all these are anti-inflammatory.
3. Yes: Spices and herbs
These kinda go under the polyphenol-rich foods, but spices and herbs are in another category in my book. They’re very powerful antioxidants, have detoxifying, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s no wonder people have been using them as healing medicinal plants for thousands of years.
Adding some garlic, cinnamon, ginger, mint, rosemary, basil, turmeric and many others to your diet is easy and can really make a difference for your health. Plus these herbs and spices can make any dish taste really good. For example, you can add some cinnamon to your breakfast, some ginger to your smoothies, some fresh herbs & turmeric to your dinner…possibilities are really endless.
These are the groups of foods you definitely need to avoid in order to reduce inflammation in the body:
- high-glycemic foods
- omega-6 foods
- foods rich in saturated fats
- foods that cause allergies / sensitivities
1. No: Foods with High Glycemic Load
Carbs. We all have a love/hate relationship with them. We love their taste, but we hate how they make us feel. I personally love them, pizza is my best friend. Not just on rainy days, always. 4eva. Can eat pizza all day every day.
But. They cause inflammation. Big time inflammation.
Foods that contain grains (like white flour), potato products, sweet fruit and sweets in general have a high glycemic load. You can find a good list of the glycemic index foods here. In general, anything below 55 is considered low-glycemic.
High-glycemic foods were shown to increase the levels of C-reactive protein in middle-aged women (source). If you have ever done a blood test you might have noticed the C-reactive protein (or CRP) in your results. This protein is made in the liver and is a marker of inflammation. This means the levels of C-reactive protein rise when inflammation increases.
Now, a lot of people will tell you to eat no carbs at all and that’s the only way to survive this life.
Let’s be clear. Carbs, as in carbs in whole foods are not bad. They come with all the fiber, antioxidants, some protein, some fat and are not harmful.
The fiber in those kinds of carbs (vegetables, fruit, legumes) is what the good bacteria in your gut loves. Those bacteria need this kind of food to grow. Which leads to what? Improved digestion and immunity. Not inflammation.
2. No: Foods High In Omega-6’s
Remember how I told you, we need omega-3’s for brain health and fetal growth and development? Well, omega-6 fatty acids are similar to omega-3 fatty acids in that. We need them for brain health and also to look pretty as they’re important for skin health and hair growth.
Now the good news is that omega-6 fatty acids are available abundantly in our food, so you’re probably getting enough of them without even knowing or trying.
The bad news is…there are just too many of them in that damn “Western” diet.
So many that you’re probably getting much more than enough. In fact, some statistics suggest we are consuming up to 6 times more linoleic acid than we should (that’s the omega-6 fatty acid found in most foods).
And no wonder, those fatty acids are everywhere – in red meat, vegetable and seed oils (corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil), nuts, seeds, whole grains and most fast foods.
Okay, so you’re getting too many of those omega-6s big deal! Nobody would judge you if you’re getting too much vitamin C, right? What’s the harm in getting too many omega-6’s?
Well, the bad part about this is that consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids makes your body produce increased amounts of pro-inflammatory molecules. When you produce these pro-inflammatory molecules all the time (by naively eating way too many omega-6’s daily) you develop chronic inflammation.
Now it’s true that not all omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory. But most of them are. The one thing, that’s more important than how many omega-6’s you’re getting is their ratio to the omega-3’s you’re eating. You want to keep that ratio low. Meaning you get enough of both of them, but not way too many omega-6’s and too little omega-3’s.
That’s why walnuts, which I’ve considered a healthy food for many years, should not be on your weekly menu if you’re going to reduce inflammation with an anti-inflammatory diet. They’re very rich in omega-3’s, yes, but they’re much higher, extremely high in omega-6s (source).
3. No: Saturated fats
Just when saturated fats started getting some good publicity I’m doing this. Horrible person, I know. But I just can’t keep this information to myself anymore.
Saturated fats are found in red meat, milk and dairy foods like cheese, butter, the holy coconut oil and anything that’s made with them. To illustrate it, foods rich in saturated fats are the fatty foods that get solid when cold and melt when warm. Those are also fatty foods known to increase the risk of heart disease and colon cancer.
And it turns out saturated fats are all also pro-inflammatory, even if not as pro-inflammatory as the omega-6’s.
Now saturated fats work in a different way than the omega-6’s. While omega-6’s can themselves be converted to pro-inflammatory molecules, the saturated fats can trigger a response in certain immune cells which then start making pro-inflammatory molecules.
This means – one type is very straightforward (omega-6), the other one takes a little detour, but it still reaches its goal (saturated fats).
The point is: reduce the intake of saturated fats. Just because something is not as bad as we thought, doesn’t mean it’s good for us and we should go crazy.
Not to Forget: Common allergens
I have always wondered why so many people avoid gluten. I seriously never got it – most of them don’t even have gluten intolerance! However, I do think it’s a good idea now, for one reason: to find out whether or not you have ANY reaction to gluten.
Because if you eat constantly a food that you’re allergic to/can’t tolerate, then your immune system is constantly on guard, fighting against something (gluten) that is actually not harmful. And then those attacks go against the body’s own tissues.
So without realizing it, you might also have a mild food allergy/intolerance that is making you feel miserable. Avoiding the most common allergens like gluten, soy, dairy, eggs and peanuts for a few weeks might help you discover which foods are causing you problems.
If you don’t know whether or not you have a food intolerance, stay away from that food for 30 days. Then introduce it back into your diet. If you notice you feel different or worse – just cut those foods out of your diet. Substitutions are easy.
Eating And Cooking Habits That Cause Inflammation
When you want to reduce inflammation in the body, there’s more to the anti-inflammatory diet than what you eat. How you cook and how you eat is also important for the development and prevention of chronic inflammation.
Now you know what you need to eat and you’re already imagining how you’re going to be blending green smoothies all week long.
But after a while when you decide to come back to the real world and eat food again, here is the one tip you need to keep in mind: Avoid cooking at high temperatures.
More importantly, avoid cooking without water.
Anything that makes water disappear from your food is bad news. Grilled meat? French fries? Baked potatoes? All bad news.
Not only because nutrients disappear into a mysterious land and never come back. The reason is that when we cook at high temperatures (you know those that make your food nicely crisp and brown) a ton of harmful molecules are formed in our food. Among those: Advanced glycation end-products.
These can be formed inside the body when we eat high-glycemic foods, but also outside the body when we overcook. When advanced glycation end-products enter the body they cause oxidative stress and inflammation plus a number of other damages. So when you change what you eat, change the way you prepare it as well.
The best ways to prepare your food are: steaming or eating more raw foods. In general, any food preparation that keeps the food moisture in would be better than direct/dry heat like frying, grilling or even baking.
How MUCH you eat
Last, but definitely not least: avoid overeating.
Remember: Whatever you don’t spend as energy, you will metabolize and store as fat. This process alone increases the amount of free radicals, which in turn causes inflammation. So even if you only ate spinach, if you eat too much of it, your inflammation might not go down. That’s a great example, I know. But you get the point. Whatever you eat – don’t overeat, this is key!
How To Eat To Reduce Inflammation: The Summary
If you’ve been taking some notes you’d notice that to reduce inflammation with diet you need to eat mostly nutrient-dense foods with fewer calories, that are also low in sugar (yes, I’m talking about vegetables). Add the flaxseeds and then eat other foods like fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, lean meats/fish and add some olive oil and wine (in very small amounts).
If you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease or any inflammatory disease that needs immediate action, make sure to check out Dr. Brooke Goldner. She has a Youtube channel which I’ve discovered a few months ago and her healing protocols seem to be the closest to what I’ve researched.
She recommends a raw vegan diet with huge daily green smoothies based on chia seeds / flaxseed and cruciferous vegetables as well as large quantities of water. It might seem extreme, but depending on how bad your condition is, it might be the right and necessary thing to do. It could be life-saving. So make sure to check out her tips and live streams.
Whatever your condition and diet, the point is to start somewhere and to stick to it long-term. If you can’t follow all the advice, at least start eating more green vegetables with every meal and adding some flaxseed to your daily diet.
More About The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
If you need more tips and help with the anti-inflammatory diet and information about how to eat to reduce inflammation in the body, check out these articles as well:
- 5 “healthy” diet foods that are inflammatory
- 5 anti-inflammatory foods to eat daily
- 3-day anti-inflammatory detox
- 10 daily habits to boost your immune system
- 10 Foods That Cause Inflammation
- 8 Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Spices To Eat
- Bioactive compounds and cancer (Book)
- So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? (Article)
- Polyphenols in Human Health and Disease. (Book)
- Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet. (Article)
- Obesity, inflammation and cancer (Book)
- Wild type food in health promotion and disease prevention (Book)
- Metabolic Syndrome and Complications of Pregnancy (Book)