Prevent Illness with the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Research suggests inflammation may cause illness. Learn what to eat to reduce your body’s inflammatory response.

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet to avoid chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, that have been linked to chronic inflammation.

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Many years ago, in my work as a naturopathic doctor, it became evident to me that many of the foods we eat daily aren’t good for us. When my clients made dietary changes and no longer ate foods to which they were unknowingly sensitive or allergic, they invariably began to feel better. Through years of experience, and with the help of nutrition science, I was able to devise diets that helped most patients. From this evolved my anti-inflammatory diet recommendations.

People often get excited when they begin this diet because nearly everyone who follows it sees some positive change. The diet was developed with the idea of reducing overall inflammation so the body can work more efficiently. As naturopathic physicians, many of my colleagues and I recommend this diet to every patient. I have seen arthritis patients reduce their pain; people with allergies become allergy-free; and sufferers of chronic diseases receive hope—all from health improvements upon beginning this diet. In addition to improving health in general, the anti-inflammation diet can help other treatments work better because overall metabolism and bodily function improve. 

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Baked Mushrooms Recipe
Cold Asian Noodles Recipe with Smoked Salmon
6 Foods That May Contribute to Inflammation

Inflammation: What’s the Big Deal?

Inflammation is the immune system’s first response to infection or irritation. Acute inflammation is needed to help heal acute trauma, abrasions, broken bones or invasion of a foreign substance such as venom from a bee sting. The body reacts immediately to acute trauma with swelling, redness, pain and heat—important because they keep the body from doing further damage to the injury or wound. For example, if you break your wrist, the inflammation will force you to protect it from further damage that could occur if you used it or moved it too quickly.

On the other hand, chronic inflammation is an ongoing, low level of inflammation, invisible to the human eye, that usually occurs as a response to prolonged acute inflammation or repetitive injuries. We are now finding that chronic inflammation is associated with many diseases. Chronic inflammation leads to necrosis (tissue destruction) by the inflammatory cells and by certain other agents.

Researchers are finding more and more evidence linking chronic inflammation with chronic disease. We have seen a dramatic increase in noncommunicable diseases within the last decade, and that number is still rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seven out of every 10 deaths are attributed to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (e.g., heart attack and stroke), all of which may have a direct nutritional connection.

The role of the digestive system is to bring in food, break it down into usable energy and dispose of wastes that cannot be efficiently used. The higher the quality of food we eat, the more nutrients and energy we obtain from it. Adopting a healthy, balanced diet can begin to eliminate many of the problems associated with waste accumulation in the body. It also provides adequate nutrients essential to the body’s balanced equilibrium.

The Anti-Inflammation Diet: An Overview

In my experience, the best type of diet for many people to adopt to ensure optimal health and healing is an anti-inflammation diet. It eliminates many common allergenic foods that may promote inflammation in the body. It also reduces intake of pesticides, hormones and antibiotic residues. The diet is full of whole foods; it eliminates processed foods, sugars and other man-made foods such as hydrogenated oils; and it encourages ample vegetable intake for essential nutrients. By reducing the intake of toxins and other difficult-to-digest substances, the anti-inflammation diet promotes easier digestion. If the body is properly supplied with nutrients, and if foods that are difficult to digest or assimilate are eliminated, cellular function—in other words, metabolism—also improves. Therefore, the body is supported in ways that facilitate cellular regeneration rather than cellular degeneration, which can promote disease.

Please keep in mind: The anti-inflammation diet presented here is the most extreme form of the diet. If you are battling a chronic disease, transitioning to this version of the diet is the most likely way to see a difference in your health. But even partially adopting the diet will still promote positive changes. For example, eliminating all white flour, all white sugar and nonorganic meats while eating whole wheat, molasses and organic meats will improve health. Transitioning to an anti-inflammation diet doesn’t have to happen overnight; even gradually adopting the diet will improve health and decrease the chance for future chronic disease.

Another thing to remember: Not everyone will react negatively to all the “foods to avoid.” After following the anti-inflammation diet for four weeks, reintroduce foods one at a time in their most whole form (a whole tomato, for example, rather than tomato soup), and if you don’t notice adverse reactions, that food may be tolerated (but probably shouldn’t be consumed daily).

This abbreviated description of the anti-inflammation diet has been helpful for many of my patients, who post it on the refrigerator. The research supporting these dietary choices is discussed in great detail in my book.

• Eat organically grown foods to decrease pesticide exposure. Also, organic foods are not genetically modified; reduce the amount of additives and colorings consumed; and may increase the amount of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants consumed.

• There is no restriction on the amount of food you can eat, and there is no need to count calories. Pay attention to your body’s own satiety signals.

• The specific foods listed are examples of foods to eat, so experiment.

• Aim for this ideal meal composition: 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, 30 percent healthy fats.

• Do not eat any one food more than five times per week.

• Plan your meals ahead of time.

Vegetables

Vegetables are classified progressively according to carbohydrate content. Those in group 1 have the least amount of carbohydrates; those in group 4 have the most. Eat mostly lower-carbohydrate vegetables (those in groups 1 and 2).

Lightly steaming vegetables improves the use or availability of the nutrients. Include at least one to two servings of green vegetables per day, though more is preferred.

Foods to Eat
Group 1: Asparagus, bean sprouts, beet greens, broccoli, red and green cabbage, cauliflower, celery, Swiss chard, cucumber, endive, lettuce (green, red, romaine, mixed greens), mustard and dandelion greens, radishes, spinach and watercress

Group 2: String beans, beets, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, chives, collards, eggplant, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onion, parsley, red pepper, pumpkin, rutabagas, turnip and zucchini

Group 3: Artichokes, parsnips, green peas, winter squash and carrots

Group 4: Yams and sweet potatoes

Foods to Avoid
• Tomatoes and potatoes

Seafood

Wild (versus farmed) deep-sea, cold-water fish are an excellent source of essential fatty acids and should be eaten three to four times per week. Poach, bake or broil the fish.

Foods to Eat
• Wild salmon, cod, haddock, halibut, mackerel, sardines, tuna, trout and summer flounder

Foods to Avoid
• Shellfish, including shrimp, crab, lobster, clams and mussels

Beverages

Foods to Eat
• Minimum of half your weight in fluid ounces per day of filtered water
• Small amount of rice, oat, almond or soy milk
• Herbal teas (substitute for coffee and juice)

Foods to Avoid
• Coffee, soda, juice, caffeinated teas and alcohol

Butter and Oils

Mix 1 pound organic butter from grass-fed cows with 1 cup extra virgin olive oil to use as a spread. Store in refrigerator.

Foods to Eat
• A small amount of organic butter is OK.
• Use olive oil for cooking, coconut oil for baking, and nut or seed oils for salads.

Foods to Avoid
• Hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats)
• Avoid overheating oils, which in the process can convert to trans fats.

Spices and Herbs

Foods to Eat
• Use any favorite herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of your food.

Nuts & Seeds

Eat them raw or grind and add them to steamed vegetables, cooked grains, salads, cereals, etc.

Foods to Eat
• Flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds
• Most nuts and nut butters

Foods to Avoid
• Peanuts and peanut butter

Fruits

Eat only one to two servings of any fruit per day. Try to eat mostly fruits from the lower-carbohydrate categories (groups 1 and 2).

Foods to Eat
Group 1: Cantaloupe, rhubarb, melons and strawberries

Group 2: Apricots, blackberries, cranberries, papayas, peaches, plums, raspberries and kiwis

Group 3: Apples, blueberries, cherries, grapes, pears, pineapples and pomegranates

Group 4: Bananas, figs and prunes

Foods to Avoid
• Citrus fruits (lemon is OK)
• Limit your intake of dried fruits, and eliminate them if you are diabetic.

Grains

Include 1 to 2 cups of cooked grains per day, unless you want to lose weight.

Foods to Eat
• Amaranth, spelt, barley, buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, basmati or brown rice, rye and teff
• Rice crackers and Wasa brand rye crackers are OK.

Foods to Avoid
• All wheat products, including breads, cereals, whole-wheat flour, white flour and pasta that is made from wheat

Sweeteners

Use sweeteners only occasionally.

Foods to Eat
• Pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup, raw honey, agave syrup and stevia

Foods to Avoid
• Absolutely no sugar, Splenda, NutraSweet or any other refined or artificial sweeteners

Eggs & Dairy

Foods to Eat
• Organic eggs

Foods to Avoid
• Dairy products, including yogurt, cheese and animal milks (if you do eat these, choose organic)
• Commercial eggs

Legumes

Soak legumes overnight and cook them slowly the next day.

Foods to Eat
• Split peas, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, fermented soybeans (tempeh or miso), mung beans and adzuki beans

Foods to Avoid
• Tofu can cause reactions in some people. Experiment with both including it and eliminating it from the diet.

Meat

Eating protein with every meal helps regulate and maintain steady blood sugar and energy levels.

Foods to Eat
• Meat only (i.e., not the skin) of organic, free-range chicken and turkey
• Venison, elk and other wild game
• Organic, free-range lamb and buffalo

Foods to Avoid
• Pork
• Conventionally raised beef (small amounts of organic, grass-fed beef are OK)

Miscellaneous Foods to Avoid

• Corn products
• Processed foods
• Fried foods


Jessica Black received her medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. She runs A Family Healing Center in McMinnville, Oregon, with her husband and fellow naturopathic doctor, Jason Black.

tarapantera
6/2/2015 9:34:56 AM

I'm awfully surprised to see nuts, grains, eggs and legumes on this list...??? Look into http://autoimmune-paleo.com/ Personally, my inflammation kicks up with grains and dairy, but MANY people must avoid nuts, eggs and legumes as well if they have more serious inflammation (or an autoimmune disorder) than I do.


tarapantera
6/2/2015 9:22:13 AM

I'm awfully surprised to see nuts, grains, eggs and legumes on this list...??? Look into http://autoimmune-paleo.com/ Personally, my inflammation kicks up with grains and dairy, but MANY people must avoid nuts, eggs and legumes as well if they have more serious inflammation (or an autoimmune disorder) than I do.