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Is an anti-inflammatory diet right for you? Plus, an RD’s top foods

As a dietitian, I frequently get asked about the latest “fad diets” and what diet is recommended to get rid of or fix x, y and z symptoms. When I evaluate different diets, I think about three key factors:

  • The specific rules (what’s being restricted compared to what’s allowed)
  • What impact will this diet makeshort term versus long-term
  • How is my patient mentally going to feel following this specific eating plan

Unfortunately, there’s not a one-size-fits-all diet. With a few exceptions, all foods are allowed on a nutritious, balanced diet. This can make it challenging when you are trying to figure out what foods are truly the best for you.

Lately, a question that seems to come up almost weekly is, what foods are good at reducing inflammation? Everyone is talking about the anti-inflammatory diet, but what does that even mean?

What is inflammation?

Before I get to the answer, let’s first talk about inflammation. You see, inflammation is a natural process that occurs when your body defends itself against illness, injury or infections. However, in autoimmune diseases like arthritis or lupus, your body may attack its healthy cells thinking they are causing harm to the rest of your body.

Inflammation can vary in the severity of symptoms. You may notice flu-like symptoms like loss of energy, body aches, fever and chills. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, you could experience swelling with redness, heat and pain to the touch. These symptoms can last a few hours or days, making them acute; or potentially last weeks, months or even years, making them chronic.

Battling inflammation is frustrating and other than constantly taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, or having steroid injections every so often, people commonly look for other ways to manage it.

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Along with illness, injury and infections, inflammation can also be impacted by lifestyle choices and even dietary influences. Inflammation thrives off excessive consumptions of highly concentrated sweets, fried foods, deli meats and high saturated fat containing foods (whole fat dairy products, fatty red meat, poultry skin and processed meats). It’s not necessarily that these foods need to be forbidden if you are battling inflammation. However, it may be beneficial to be mindful of how often you are consuming these foods and what changes may need to be made to reduce the frequency.  

The best anti-inflammatory foods

So, back to the original question—what foods are good at reducing inflammation?

Ideally, we want to consume a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. When you incorporate foods from every food group, you get a variety of macronutrients and micronutrients that your body needs to function properly.

Recommended foods

  • Fruit and vegetables (leafy greens, tomatoes, berries)
  • Whole grains
  • Fatty fish (salmon and mackerel)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and lentils
  • Low fat dairy products  
  • Herbs and spices (turmeric, ginger, garlic)

Fruits and vegetables

Incorporating fruits and vegetables into your daily regimen is a great start at reducing inflammation because they are packed full of vitamins, minerals, fibers, antioxidants and polyphenols that help our bodies fight inflammation.

Plant-based foods

In addition to fruit and vegetables, plant-based foods in general tend to aid in reducing inflammation. Healthy plant-based options consist of whole grains, beans, lentils, soy products, nuts and seeds.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have also been proven to reduce inflammation. The suggestion is to eat fatty fish, like salmon, 2-3 times per week. If you aren’t a big fish person, you can always consume omega-3 fatty acids through walnuts, flaxseeds or chia seeds. Still don’t feel like you are consuming enough? An omega-3 dietary supplement with a combination of EPA and DHA is another great option for reducing inflammation.

Foods to limit

  • Added sugars (cake, cookies, candies, sodas and other sweetened beverages)
  • Sandwich meats and hotdogs
  • Butter, whole milk and whole fat cheese
  • Fried foods
  • Fatty red meat
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Poultry skin

 5 tips for fighting inflammation

If you are or a loved one are battling inflammation, consider looking at your typical eating habits. Making changes to your eating habits can be intimidating. Just remember, consistency is key and little changes add up over time.

Here are a few simple changes that you can try to reduce inflammation.

  1. Utilize the plate method. Using a 9-inch dinner plate, aim to cover half of your plate in non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate as a lean protein and a quarter of your plate as a healthy carbohydrate. This could consist of 1-2 cups of colorful roasted vegetables with a 5-ounce serving of salmon and a small-sweet potato topped with a little cinnamon.  
  2. Add color to your plate through a variety of fruit and vegetables. Aim for five servings of fruit and vegetables daily, choosing items that are deep green, orange, yellow and purple since these have the greatest nutritional value. For example, add spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers and onion to your egg white scramble in the morning.
  3. Make the switch from refined grains (white bread, white rice, flour tortillas) to whole grains (whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa whole grain pasta). Have oatmeal topped with berries, cinnamon and walnuts for extra flavor and extra inflammatory fighters.
  4. Consume more plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Consider having a “Meatless Monday dinner.” Create a “Buddha Bowl” with a whole grain base topped with lentils, cooked vegetables, leafy greens and a tahini turmeric sauce.    
  5. Limit sugar sweetened beverages and focus on your water intake. Aim for a minimum of 64-ounces per day, which is equivalent to four regular size water bottles.

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About the author

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Jacie Slocum, RDN, LD, is a registered outpatient dietitian on staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

Is an anti-inflammatory diet right for you? Plus, an RD’s top foods