What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods?

Jennifer Geer

What you eat can change your life

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Before we talk about how certain foods can reduce inflammation, it’s helpful to understand why you want to. Inflammation is the latest buzzword as the enemy of all things healthy. But inflammation is a perfectly normal and healthy immune system response.

Without it, we’d never heal after an injury or illness. It’s our body’s response to fight when something affects our immune system. Where things go wrong is when inflammation levels rise in your body and stay there.

So what causes inflammation to show up and linger in our bodies? Research has discovered, psychological stress can lead to chronic inflammation. And what have we all had a lot of this past year?

Stress. We’ve all had a lot of stress.

What inflammation does to your body

Chronic inflammation can trigger health issues from mild to more serious. Research has shown some severe consequences of long term inflammation include:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Chron’s disease
  • Heart disease

Those are the big ones, but there are milder conditions that can make your life miserable. You may be experiencing an overabundance of inflammation if you have the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue. Do you feel tired even after a full night of sleep? If your body is inflamed, you’re directing a lot of energy to your immune system to self-regulate.
  • Poor digestion. If you often experience bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, or abdominal pain, you may be suffering from inflammation. Even low levels can cause digestive issues.
  • Lower back pain. You may not realize it, but your back pain can stem from chronic inflammation attacking your spine.
  • Skin issues like rashes and psoriasis. Inflammation can attack your skin cells, causing all kinds of skin problems.
  • Constant stuffy nose. If you need to blow your nose or clear your throat often, you may have excess mucus in your airways caused by inflammation.
  • Dry eyes. When your eyes don’t have enough lubrication, they can feel painful and itchy. Chronic inflammation can affect the tear-flow system of the eye, resulting in dry eyes.
  • Brain fog. This is a feeling of mental sluggishness, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating.

What is the anti-inflammatory diet?

It’s probably best to think of it more as a lifestyle plan than a diet. Diets, especially ones that are over strict and contain a large list of forbidden foods, are often doomed to fail.

Rather than following a strict diet, you can begin to add in more foods that fight inflammation and limit the foods that trigger it.

Following a Mediterranean style of eating is a great place to start. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating whole foods, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, salmon, and whole grains. You can eat a moderate amount of chicken and dairy, and you should limit your amounts of processed foods, beef, white flour products, and sugar.

Foods that contribute to inflammation; avoid or eat in limited amounts:

  • Processed foods
  • Fried foods
  • Margarine
  • Corn oil
  • Trans fat
  • Simple carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, refined sugar, and high fructose corn syrup)

The best foods to fight inflammation:

  • Fruits. The antioxidants in brightly colored fruits like berries, cherries, and oranges help to reduce inflammation
  • Green leafy vegetables. The vitamin K in kale and spinach has anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Salmon, and other fatty fish. These fish contain heart-healthy anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Extra virgin olive oil. If you haven’t already switched over to using olive oil in your cooking, it’s time to start. And the extra virgin variety has been found to have more benefits than other types.
  • Dark chocolate. The flavanols in dark chocolate have incredible anti-inflammatory benefits. Look for chocolate with 70% or more cocoa to get the most benefits.
  • Tomatoes. Filled with vitamin C, lycopene, and potassium, tomatoes are a nutritional superfood. Also, cooking your tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene you absorb.
  • Avocados. A recent study showed that when people ate avocado with a hamburger, they had fewer inflammatory markers in their blood than participants who had the burger alone.
  • Brightly colored fruits and vegetables. The element that gives fruits and vegetables their bright colors reduces inflammation.
  • Whole grains. When you buy bread, look for whole wheat as the first ingredient. Oatmeal and quinoa are other examples of healthy whole grains that can fight inflammation.

Ideas for meals

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For some healthy meal ideas, try the following:

Breakfast: Blueberry Baked Oatmeal. Try this recipe. You can use milk alternatives like almond or soy milk if you want to avoid dairy.

Lunch: Sesame Salmon Rice Bowls. Here is a recipe that has simple ingredients and can be made ahead for an easy weekday lunch.

Dinner: 15 Minute Garlic Shrimp Zoodles. This recipe uses zucchini noodles instead of white flour pasta. You can sometimes find zucchini noodles precut at the grocery store or make your own with a spiralizer, mandolin, or potato peeler.

Snack Ideas:

  • Celery sticks with almond butter
  • Baby carrots with guacamole
  • Lightly salted roasted nuts
  • Bell pepper strips dipped in hummus

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If you want to be sure, doctors can test for inflammation markers with blood tests. Inflammation can cause a lot of trouble, but the good news is there are ways of controlling it.

Eating whole and nonprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be overlooked when we begin to have the symptoms that come with inflammation. But it can be as helpful, even more so, than medication and supplements.

Eating right, being active, reducing stress, and losing weight are all great ways to reduce inflammation. It won’t happen overnight, but if you take the time and effort to improve your lifestyle, you’ll find yourself feeling better with a lot more energy.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area.

Chicago, IL
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