One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes from the grocery store. Choose the right anti-inflammatory foods, and you may be able to reduce your risk of illness. Consistently pick the wrong ones, and you could accelerate the inflammatory disease process.
What does an anti-inflammatory diet do? Your immune system becomes activated when your body recognizes anything that is foreign—such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. This often triggers a process called inflammation. Intermittent bouts of inflammation directed at truly threatening invaders protect your health.
However, sometimes inflammation persists, day in and day out, even when you are not threatened by a foreign invader. That’s when inflammation can become your enemy. Many major diseases that plague us—including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s—have been linked to chronic inflammation.
To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet. If you’re looking for an eating plan that closely follows the tenets of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils.
An anti-inflammatory diet should include these foods:
- olive oil
- green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
- nuts like almonds and walnuts
- fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
- fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
- spices, especially ginger, turmeric, and cayenne
- green tea contains antioxidant compounds known as catechins, which reduce inflammation
The health risks of inflammatory foods
Not surprisingly, the same foods on an inflammation diet are generally considered bad for our health, including sodas and refined carbohydrates, as well as red meat and processed meats.
Unhealthy foods also contribute to weight gain, which is itself a risk factor for inflammation. Yet in several studies, even after researchers took obesity into account, the link between foods and inflammation remained, which suggests weight gain isn’t the sole driver.
Foods that cause inflammation
Try to avoid or limit these foods as much as possible:
- refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
- French fries and other fried foods
- soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
- red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
- margarine, shortening, and lard
In addition to lowering inflammation, a more natural, less processed diet can have noticeable effects on your physical and emotional health.
The impact of strength training
Strength training also improves chronic inflammation. Strength training’s positive effects on chronic inflammation are probably part of why it is shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes. To maximize your health gains, train with challenging weights and get adequate rest between your workouts.
Exercise regularly and recover completely. Exercise decreases levels of TNF (tumor necrosis factor) and CRP (C-reactive protein), both of which are involved in systemic inflammation. The key to reaping the benefits of exercise and avoiding chronic inflammation is making sure that you allow enough time for the body to recover after every strenuous session.