If you've ever torn a muscle or cut your hand, you've experienced inflammation. Inflammation is your body's natural response to injury and infection — it's a defense mechanism that triggers your immune system to start the healing process. The problem with inflammation is that it can last longer than it needs to — and the lingering symptoms can cause additional health concerns.
There are certain autoimmune disorders and other factors that can cause your body to experience long-term, chronic inflammation — causing your body to attack healthy tissue. Other common causes include exposure to toxins (such as pollution or industrial chemicals) and lifestyle factors (such as smoking, lack of regular movement and obesity). Luckily, you can often control and reverse inflammation through a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet. For each food that causes or worsens inflammation, there are some great alternatives that can do the opposite.
Foods that cause inflammation
- Refined carbohydrates. Foods like white bread, pastries, pasta, sweets, and breakfast cereals that contain refined carbs.
- Fried foods. Combining foods high in fat and high in carbohydrates can be a double whammy on your inflammatory response.
- Soda and sweetened drinks. Sugar is a quick way to increase inflammation, and soda is chock full of it.
- Red meat. Burgers, steak, and processed meats like hot dogs and sausage are high in saturated fats, which are known to cause inflammation.
- Trans-fatty foods. Chips, baked goods, popcorn, frozen pizza, and other similar foods often contain trans fats. Foods with trans fats increase the amount of harmful cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Inflammation can happen in response to several triggers. Some of which, like injury and pollution, are hard to prevent. However, you have much more control when it comes to your diet. To keep inflammation at bay, minimize your consumption of foods that trigger it.
- Berries. Berries — such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries — are full of vitamins and antioxidants called flavonoids that can help fight inflammation.
- Fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids — found in salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel and more — are part of a healthy diet associated with lower levels of inflammation.
- Olive oil. Virgin olive oil contains phenolic compounds that possess similar anti-inflammatory properties to over-the-counter solutions, such as ibuprofen.
- Tomatoes. Lycopene, a potent antioxidant that helps with inflammation, is found in tomatoes.
- Avocados. These are a great source of healthy monounsaturated fat and antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Mushrooms. Mushrooms are rich in anti-inflammatory components, such as polysaccharides, phenolic and indolic compounds, mycosteroids, fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamins and biometals.
- Peppers. Spicy peppers and sweet bell peppers contain the chemical compound capsaicin, which is known to help reduce inflammation.
- Green tea. Tea has antioxidants called catechins that reduce inflammation. Green tea contains EGCG, which is the most powerful type of catechin.
- Turmeric. The main active component of turmeric — curcumin — not only gives the spice its yellow color, but also has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Dark chocolate. Flavanols are responsible for chocolate's anti-inflammatory effects and (in moderation) help keep the cells that line your arteries healthy.
Even low levels of chronic inflammation can lead to disease. Luckily, you can reduce inflammation and its effects by adding a variety of different anti-inflammatory foods to your daily diet. The key is not waiting too long before making the change. Consult with a doctor to tackle inflammation once and for all.
This article first appeared in the March 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.