What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet? Here, we dive deep into the meaning and causes of inflammation, plus get a list of anti-inflammatory foods and learn how to balance gentle nutrition with Intuitive Eating and trusting your body's innate wisdom.
**This post originally appeared in November 2015. It was updated in July 2017 to reflect new information, tips, a list of anti inflammatory foods and a helpful quiz.
You may have read Alysha's story about when she was first diagnosed with PCOS and Leaky Gut, and at the time her doctor recommended that she eat an anti-inflammatory diet. For most people they honestly have no idea what that is–or what inflammation even means, for that matter.
If you love a good book and an easy one to reference as you start to make changes, then definitely check out the amazing Clean Cuisine Book for help. It will open your eyes, and even if you follow it for as little as 1 week you will notice amazing improvement in your digestion, you'll feel less bloated and you will truly feel lighter!
Now you may be worried that this will be just another diet that forces drastic changes in order to achieve results BUT that is not the case at all! You absolutely do not have to completely cut out entire food groups to reduce inflammation in your body.
Instead, you'll learn, it's about nourishing your body with health-promoting nutrients. Think about what you can ADD IN instead of what you have to CUT OUT. Yay to that concept!!!!
It's time to stop thinking about things are good or bad but rather the concept of ensuring your include certain foods into your daily routines to nourish your body INSTEAD of focusing on what you need to cut out or avoid.
Everyone's body is different, we have likes and dislikes, food preferences and difficult cultures and background that all affect what we choose to eat. BUT, fundamentally we all need the same basic nutrition to help our bodies function optimally. So going back to the our last point, there are certain nutrients that everyone should include in their diet. However, that doesn't mean these nutrients must come from the exact same foods.
Food does not have to be so black and white, and there absolutely is NO ‘one size fits all’ approach to health and wellness, not even the anti-inflammatory diet.
Now, before we get into the specifics of the anti-inflammtory diet. I want to talk about diet themselves. The fundamental meaning of the term diet is quite simply a word to represent what an individual chooses to consume on a regular basis. Your ‘diet' is unique to you. Unfortunately, over time, the word diet has become synonymous with something people do for weight control. I prefer to call an intake that is focused on weight loss a controlled dietary intake but for most that's a ‘mouthful' (pun unintended) to say or understand so I will continue to use the term ‘diet' loosely for simplicity sake.
I also want to point out that controlled dietary intake, or Diets, do not work in the long run.
There are literally hundreds of studies that show that not only are diets not a long-term solution, but they also often result in people gaining back more weight than they lost and creating other health problems from the yo-yo dieting and stress of it all.
So, yes, the anti-inflammatory ‘diet' is an amazing tool to start your healing journey and ideally you will incorporate pieces of it that become regular habits and part of your normal unique ‘diet.
Something to consider is that any diet that starts to create a sense of guilt, shame or fear around eating is no longer serving you and it's time to re-assess. If you can follow a controlled way of eating and use tools like the 80-20 rule–to maintain a healthy relationship with food then fantastic but if not it's time to make a change. Mental health is just as important as physical health so if you have any questions or concerns, or just need an opinion, please reach out anytime to email@example.com. We have years of professional experience that we can offer and help lead you in a direction that is right for you!
We have a bit more to offer about intuitive eating and the role stress plays in diet further on in this article, so read on if you're interested in that. But now, let's get back to the specifics on the anti-inflammatory diet.
Ready? Let's go….
What Is the Definition of Inflammation?
You've likely heard the term inflammation thrown around before, but if (like me), you're not sure what inflammation means, this section is for you.
The best way I heard inflammation described was to think of how your body swells and becomes red and hot when you cut or burn yourself. That's inflammation. It's simply your body's immune response to protect it from harm and begin healing.
While acute inflammation (think infections, sore throats, cut, viruses, and other temporary conditions) is a GREAT thing, there is another type of inflammation. It's what millions of Americans have : chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation, meaning your body is constantly inflamed, can cause a host of diseases and debilitating conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, digestive disorders (from IBD and IBS to Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), asthma, ulcers, sinusitis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, hay fever, active hepatitis, diabetes, Alzheimer's and even cancer. (source)
Acute inflammation symptoms include pain, redness, immobility, swelling and heat, chronic inflammation symptoms are a little more complicated but there are some early signs of inflammation you can watch for. We've created a handy quiz here to help you figure out whether or not your body is inflamed! Click the image below.
What Causes Inflammation?
While it's hard to pinpoint exactly what causes inflammation (it can be a whole host of things and/or a combination of things), we know that harmful bacteria and pathogens, injury, infections with some types of viruses, lack of quality sleep, smoking, chronic stress (my guess is this may be one of the BIGGEST factors in those struggling with chronic inflammation), persistent foreign invaders (i.e. food that doesn't make our body feel good), and overactive immune system reactions all play a role.
NOTE: Again, this is a reminder that it's not ONLY about the food. There are a lot of things that can cause inflammation, some of which are out of our control.
While I used to recommend avoiding foods like deep-fried junk, refined, white flour, excessive caffeine and alcohol, and processed food, I now believe the stress of this kind of deprivation may be even worse for our bodies than the food itself. So instead, I now recommend a more balanced and realistic approach you can sustain for the long-term.
That being said, if you have a legitimate food allergy and you continue eating that food, you are going to feel the negative repercussions of that food; so in the case of allergies, I do recommend removing the food trigger from your diet.
If you don't have a food allergy, I recommend instead focusing on adding in more nourishing foods to your diet that will reduce the inflammation in your body, and thus reduce any symptoms caused by inflammation and ultimately your risk for chronic disease. YES!
What Foods Reduce Inflammation?
Ok before I give you a list of anti-inflammatory foods, let's quickly go over the basics of the anti-inflammatory diet.
In short, an anti-inflammatory diet is chockfull of fresh fruits and vegetables. It's also rich in good fats (like almonds and avocados), lean protein (think beans and fish) and fiber-rich carbs (like veggies and whole grains), much like the Mediterranean diet.
In fact, what I found after 3+ years of eating this way, is that reducing inflammation in your body isn't about cutting out entire foods groups and following some restrictive, depressing diet.
Instead, it's centered around this basic concept: eat more good.
A LIST OF ANTI INFLAMMATORY FOODS TO EAT MORE OF:
- Fruits and vegetables: The key component to reducing inflammation is nourishing your body with phytonutrients from a rotating, rainbow assortment of fiber- and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. I aim to incorporate at least one serving of either fruits or vegetables into every single meal, including snacks. Easy ways to do this: drink green smoothies, eat lots of salads and grain bowls, mix in veggies to stir-fries and pastas and even hamburgers (mushrooms are such an easy way to do this!). I try to get a wide range of colors into my diet, so that I'm maximizing my nutrient intake and giving my body plenty of variety. And I do buy organic as much as possible to avoid toxic chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides that can cause inflammation.
- Whole grains: Don't be afraid of carbs! Our bodies NEED them in order to function. I like brown rice, oatmeal, barley, millet, quinoa and amaranth.
- Healthy fats. Don't fear fat, either! Omega-3s (that's the good-for-you fat), like salmon, avocados, olive oil and nuts and seeds, like walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Nuts make a great snack, while flax and chia are perfect for smoothies and salads.
- Fermented foods, which are rich in probiotics. Apple cider vinegar, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso are some of my favorites, and they're incredibly nourishing for your gut, too!
- Bone broth. Bone broth is a nutritional powerhouse that is incredibly rich in minerals (notably calcium and magnesium) and amino acids (protein). Thanks to the gelatin (collagen) and cartilage from the animal bones being simmered over a long period of time, anti-aging bone broth reduces inflammation, heals the gut and boosts immunity. Here's a recipe to make your own, or pickup my fav brand Kettle & Fire that's made from 100% organic, free range chicken bones or grass-fed beef, vegetables and seasonings – that's it! No fillers, additives, etc. Use the code BONE15 to get 15% off your order from Kettle & Fire!
- Beans and legumes. Full of protein and fiber, beans and legumes are a great way to reduce inflammation. I look for BPA-free cans and containers.
- Spices and herbs. The most flavorful dishes are usually full of fresh herbs and spices. Some of the most anti-inflammatory options include ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, chiles, and aromatic herbs like basil, mint, parsley, thyme and cilantro.
What Foods Cause Inflammation?
I used to include a section here about foods that cause inflammation, but I've decided to remove it because short of a sensitivity, intolerance or allergy to a specific food, I truly believe there is room for ALL foods in a balanced diet.
Of course, I don't recommend subsisting solely on fast food, refined sugar, soybean oil, caffeine and alcohol. There's nothing balanced about that!
But life requires we make space for pizza on Friday night family game night, or some margaritas and tacos when you’re out with your friends, or convenient fast food during a road trip if you’re craving some Chick-Fil-A.
This is life and we need to ENJOY it, not stress about it. How liberating is that?!
No matter what you eat, be sure to wash it all down with plenty of good old fashioned water–staying hydrated is another key component to reducing inflammation.
It's important to note that we all have bodies that are unique with personalized microbiomes, food sensitivities, medical history, unique genes, etc. While the list above is a great guideline, the best way to really get to know what foods are best for you is to do some testing to get to the bottom of any physical issues you may be experiencing in your body.
A couple of my favorite companies that provide you with affordable tests you can take at home are Viome for gut tests and EverlyWell for food sensitivities test (EverlyWell also has awesome hormonal tests, vitamin + mineral deficiency tests and more). For more details, read about my first hand experiences with Viome in Metabolism + Microbiome Testing From Your Couch, and with EverlyWell in the posts The Best At Home Health Tests and Women's Health Tracking Tools to Track Periods, Increase Fertility + Balance Hormones.
What Is More Important Than The Actual Food You Eat?
I’ve seen firsthand the role stress plays in my own life, and the more I’m learning about it and discovering new research, along with my own empirical evidence, I’m now convinced of this:
More important than the actual food is
HOW we think and feel about food.
This includes our mindset, our stress levels, our emotions, and our energy towards how we approach food–and ultimately–how we approach life at large.
We should first listen to what our bodies are saying, what are they asking for, what do they need, what makes us feel good, and decide what we eat based on that, rather than arbitrary rules someone else put in place.
YOU are the expert of your own body, nobody else, no matter how many degrees or certifications they might have.
Our bodies truly do have their own wisdom, and it’s our job to slow down and get into a receptive mode so we can hear what they have to say. Now that sound kinda fou fou, but for example, forcing yourself to eat a massive plate of chicken and broccoli to hit your “protein macros” for the day when you're body is CLEARLY saying, I'm not hungry, makes no more sense than feeling absolutely starving and lightheaded and NOT eating food because you've hit some arbitrary calorie amount for the day. If you're body is trying to tell you something….LISTEN.
NOT to what the latest fad diet is preaching, NOT what your friend swore made her lose 10 pounds, NOT even what some blogger (cough cough) promised reversed her PCOS or cured her digestion woes.
Food is ONE piece of the puzzle and yes it can account for a huge chunk of taking care of your overall health and wellness but so can how much movement you incorporate into your lifestyle, how you practice self-care, what kinds of medications and supplements you take, where your stress levels are, what kind of spirituality you may or may not have, what kinds of products you use on your skin, in your home, and what is happening in your environment. Not to mention those pesky genes. Hello!
Bottom Line: If something doesn't resonate with you along the way, that's okay. TRUST YOURSELF! You know what makes your body feel good.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet + Intuitive Eating
Technically, those two phrases don't belong together. Intuitive Eating is the opposite of a diet. And while I am a proponent of gently nourishing your body with “healthy” foods, I also am a firm believer that it's healthy to let loose and not constantly worry about every bite you put into your mouth.
Everything in moderation, including moderation.
It's one of my all-time favorite quotes, and I truly believe balance is the secret to living a long, healthy and happy life. So while I do try to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods onto my plate, I've also learned to let go and celebrate life, too.
Life isn't worth living without the pleasure food provides, but it's no fun living with chronic disease, either. Find the balance that works best for YOU. Cheers!
If you want to learn more about intuitive eating and the anti-inflammatory diet, I highly recommend the following books:
Likewise, food isn't the only way to help reduce inflammation. There are also natural supplements and herbs you can take, stress-reducing lifestyle changes you could employ, and the detoxing of your products and environment that can help you reduce inflammation in your body and put yourself on the fast track to your best.
As always, feel free to reach out anytime to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To finding your unique path to wellness with a little less inflammation!
Sarah & The Root + Revel Team.