What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Why Should You Try It?
The term inflammation is used in medicine to describe a natural process in the body that occurs because of some injury or insult. More specifically, inflammation is defined as a set of 4 reactions that can occur in the body’s tissue:
Most of us can remember a time when we stubbed a finger or even sprained an ankle and saw inflammation in full effect. But keep in mind that this inflammatory response can be happening inside the body as well even though we may not be able to see it, including in the brain or digestive tract.
What’s the Big Deal Anyway?
Inflammation is no small ‘side effect’ of an injury—in fact, it’s thought to be at the root of many common health conditions we experience today.
Here’s a short list of diseases with an inflammatory origin:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Doctor’s note (and fun fact!): Any time you see a medical condition that ends with ‘itis,’ it means there is inflammation in that part of the body (i.e., gingivitis = inflammation of the gums, osteoarthritis = inflammation of the joints)
Is it Always a Bad Thing?
Let me clarify that all inflammation is not bad. To be completely honest, inflammation is meant to be a protective process in the body. It brings blood flow and immune cells to the injured site to help speed healing and repair. So inflammation in an acute, short-term context is not an issue and should be viewed as an integral part of the healing process.
That said, chronic inflammation (from daily insults to the body) is a problem that needs to be addressed. It can wear out your joints, prevent proper digestion, and cause a whole host of immune problems.
How Do I Know if Inflammation is Affecting Me?
The reality is, all of us are exposed to inflammation on a regular basis. One of the major sources is from the food we eat. There are dozens of chemicals and preservatives in food that our body doesn’t always know what to do with.
In small amounts, your body can keep up with clearing out any harmful inflammatory compounds. However, with too much inflammation, the body can have a difficult time maintaining balance. And this is where symptoms come into play. If you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition, chances are your body is experiencing some level of inflammation. Even if you only feel pain or discomfort in the body ‘sometimes’, trying to lower inflammation can make a world of difference to your overall health.
Can Diet Make a Difference?
Many people are shocked to learn that certain foods can actually cause inflammation within the body. This is due to the chemical reactions that occur in the digestive tract and within the bloodstream after the food has been absorbed. So by simply reducing your intake of inflammatory foods while increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory or healing foods, you can start to shift the internal signals from the inside out. In as little as 2-3 weeks on an anti-inflammatory diet, many people will notice less pain and stiffness, improved digestion, better immune system functioning, and less reliance on over-the-counter drugs to manage their symptoms. And the better you adhere to the removal of inflammatory foods, the better your results will be.
- Dairy (especially cow sources)
- Red Meat
- Gluten (especially wheat)*
- Processed sugar
- Processed vegetable oils (corn, canola, margarines)
- Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant)*
*These are especially important to avoid if you have an autoimmune condition
Anti-inflammatory All-Star Foods
- All vegetables (except nightshades)
- Fresh herbs
- Healthy fats (e.g., avocado, olive oil, coconut)
- Green or white tea
- Dark chocolate
Diet & Beyond
What if diet isn’t enough? The truth is, the longer you have been experiencing chronic inflammation, the harder it will be to turn the process around. Stay positive and maintain an anti-inflammatory diet at least 80% of the time. You may also wish to consider an anti-inflammatory supplement for more of a therapeutic effect. Look for highly-absorbable forms of curcumin or ingredients like Boswellia and bromelain.
Do you have experience with an anti-inflammatory diet? Let us know if it worked for you in the comments.
Dr. Laura Belus is a Naturopathic Doctor that focuses on detoxification and hormone balance for weight loss, stress management, and greater energy. She believes in making simple, yet powerful, changes to diet & lifestyle habits that create lasting results. She practices in Mississauga and Toronto.