Your body uses inflammation as a natural defense mechanism against environmental toxins and stress. Foods containing hydrogenated fats and sugars increase inflammation in the body, which leads to overactivity of the immune system. According to a 2004 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, trans fatty acid consumption increases inflammation, damages health and has a strong relationship to heart disease. The addition of anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, reduces inflammation, lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer and may provide benefits for conditions such as osteoporosis, age-related memory loss and macular degeneration.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and fall into two categories -- monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. According to Mayo Clinic.com, anti-inflammatory foods containing monounsaturated fats improve cholesterol levels, lower the risk of heart disease and, because they help control blood sugar, they may provide benefits for patients with type 2 diabetes. Anti-inflammatory foods containing monounsaturated fats include avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil.
Both types of unsaturated fats provide health benefits, but adding a higher percentage of polyunsaturated fats to your diet provides better protection for your heart, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil and flaxseed oil are high in polyunsaturated fats. Fish, such as salmon, halibut, sardines and herring are high in a type of polyunsaturated fat known as Omega-3 fatty acids. Besides lowering the risk of sudden cardiac death by reducing inflammation, Omega-3 fatty acids may also lower the risk of cancer and arthritis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Plant-based foods provide the highest dietary amounts of antioxidants and phenolics, substances, which give plants their anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatory plant-based foods include vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, bell peppers, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, garlic and onions. Anti-inflammatory fruits include blueberries, apples, oranges, strawberries, avocados, kiwi, papaya, raspberries, tomatoes and lemons. The American Chiropractic Association recommends the Mediterranean diet for its high content of plant-based foods.
Herbs and spices not only add to the flavor and enjoyment of your food, they also protect your health with their anti-inflammatory properties. Herbs and spices, such as cayenne peppers, cinnamon, cloves, basil, ginger, rosemary, parsley, mint, thyme, oregano and tumeric enhance the anti-inflammatory protection of your meals.
Anti-inflammatory drinks include water, white tea, green tea, oolong tea and diluted fruit juice.
Saturated fats and trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated oils, fried foods, butter, whole milk, full-fat dairy foods, such as cheese and ice cream, red meat and poultry with the skin left on. Limit saturated fats and choose mainly unsaturated fats, avoid trans fats, eat low-fat dairy, limit red meat consumption and replace it with beans, skinless poultry and fish.
Other pro-inflammatory foods include sugar, coffee, alcohol, refined carbohydrates found in foods such as bread and pasta, and high-glycemic foods. Substitute low-glycemic load carbohydrates, such as brown rice and whole grains for refined carbohydrates. WomentoWomen.com recommends taking a multi-vitamin daily to supplement any dietary deficiencies in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
- AJCN; Trans Fatty Acids and Inflammation; D. Mozaffarian, et al.; Dec 2004
- Mayo Clinic: Nutrition and Healthy Eating
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out With the Bad, In With the Good
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- American Chiropractic Association: Designing an Anti-Inflammatory Diet