When you cut your finger or get injured in the gym, your body responds with soreness, swelling, redness and throbbing pain. That’s inflammation and it’s how your body heals itself.
On the flip side, is the real threat—chronic inflammation. You can’t see it, but it’s slowly wreaking havoc on your body and your health.
Inflammation is linked to nearly every disease and condition— diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and even anxiety. Stress, allergies and environmental toxins can all cause inflammation, but one of the largest culprits— and fixes— is diet.
Here, experts weigh in with the best ways to fight inflammation with the foods you eat.
1. Fill your plate with veggies.
Vegetables alkalize the body to combat over-acidity, which significantly contributes to inflammation, said Cherie Calbom, a nutritionist and author of “The Juice Lady's Anti-Inflammation Diet.” Cruciferous types like broccoli, cauliflower and greens are some of the best you can eat. In fact, according to a recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chinese women who ate the most had significantly less inflammation than those women who ate the fewest.
2. Go gluten-free.
In the past 50 years, wheat has been hybridized and genetically modified to make it fluffy, but our bodies were never meant to handle this type of super gluten, Calbom said. “It’s wrecking the guts of people and many times they don’t know it.”
What’s more, even if you don’t have celiac or GI symptoms, gluten can slowly contribute to the amount of inflammation in your body over time. Instead, choose grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff and gluten-free breads.
3. Cut down on sugar.
Our bodies run on glucose, but if we eat too much we can’t utilize it. When the body is managing extra sugar and extra body fat, it creates inflammation, said Dr. Doni Wilson, a naturopathic doctor and author of “The Stress Remedy.” Read labels for added sugars and sneaky sources of sugar.
4. Enjoy fruit, in moderation.
Fruit also reduces inflammation but if you’re eating it all day long, the fructose could have the reverse effect. Limit your servings and choose fruits that have a low glycemic load like blueberries and raspberries.
5. Nix the bag, box and drive-through.
Processed, packaged and fast foods are not only calorie bombs, but the preservatives and dyes can cause inflammation in the body and the brain and may lead to ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
6. Reduce meat.
The fat in animal protein sources can lead to inflammation. Limit your intake to 4 to 6 ounces a day and choose organic, grass-fed varieties without antibiotics or hormones. What’s more, a plant-based diet that includes fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds has been shown to reduce inflammation.
7. Ditch dairy.
Dairy is a well-known cause of inflammation. Plus, “it’s very mucus-forming in the body and mucus itself can contribute to inflammation,” Calbom said. Look for non-dairy alternatives like almond or coconut milk instead.
8. Add spices.
All herbs and spices are anti-inflammatory because plants are filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin (turmeric) is an ancient inflammation remedy but it’s best absorbed as a supplement than when added to food, Wilson said.
9. Choose healthy fats.
Foods that contain healthy fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, combat inflammation. Excellent sources include salmon, mackerel, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives and olive oil, coconut oil, and flaxseed oil.
10. Drink up.
“If you’re lacking on water, your body is going to be stressed in some way and that makes inflammation more likely,” Wilson said. Men should aim for 3 liters and women should have 2.2 liters of purified water every day. Drink more when you exercise.
11. Have some soy.
Studies show that soy foods can reduce inflammation. Soy is fine in moderation,but since 90 percent of soy is genetically modified, always choose whole, organic and non-GMO soy foods like tofu and tempeh. Also read labels carefully because soy can sneak its way into many products and simply be labeled “vegetable protein,” Calbom said.
12. Eat regularly.
Since imbalanced blood sugar levels create inflammation, it’s not only important to make wise food choices, but to eat those foods in small portions throughout the day.
13. Have a treat.
A small glass of wine with dinner, a piece of dark chocolate for dessert, and plenty of green and black tea all will provide antioxidants. You can even add coconut oil to your morning coffee or afternoon tea for a delicious treat.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.