Your body does all sorts of amazing things every day, including protecting itself from harm and healing itself when necessary. And that’s exactly the role of inflammation. Inflammation is a normal process that occurs in the body as part of the body’s immune response to infection or an injury. Inflammation is either classified as acute or chronic.
Acute inflammation occurs when the body tries to protect and heal itself after a physical injury or infection. The classic signs of acute inflammation are skin redness, warmth, swelling, and sometimes pain. It usually develops quickly, and symptoms may last for a few days.
Chronic inflammation is a slow, long-term form of inflammation that lasts for several months to years. It means your body is consistently in a state of high alert. This can cause the immune system to go into overdrive and attack healthy tissues. Chronic inflammation can result from a more serious infection, an environmental irritant, or an indicator of a more severe condition.
The good news is there are steps you can take to help reduce the risk of inflammation. This article discusses the “anti-inflammatory” diet and other tips to maintain a healthy immune system.
Is There Any Truth Behind the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
The answer is, possibly. The “anti-inflammatory” diet is an eating plan to help prevent or reduce inflammation. The anti-inflammatory diet closely resembles the Mediterranean diet which emphasizes the importance of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.
Here are a few suggestions on how to change your diet and fill it with “anti-inflammatory” foods:
- Fill your plate with colorful vegetables and fruits every day. Aim for 5-7 servings daily and aim to eat the rainbow. Choose varieties that are deep green, orange, yellow, and purple in color. Sprinkle a mix of berries over your oatmeal, slice up some colorful bell peppers to dip in hummus, or pop a bag of mixed vegetables in the microwave to serve with dinner.
- Add fish to your weekly meal choices. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat at least eight ounces of seafood per week. Fatty fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help support a healthy immune system. Good choices are salmon, albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, mackerel, and sardines – make sure you check out this chart from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make informed decisions when it comes to seafood.
- Choose whole grains whenever possible. Try to make at least half of your grains whole. Jumpstart your day with oatmeal for a fiber-filled breakfast, opt for whole wheat bread for your sandwiches, and swap white rice for brown rice at dinner.
- Start your day with a glass of tart cherry juice. Tart cherries are a rich source of polyphenols (plant nutrients) and vitamin C, which both offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While you probably won’t find fresh tart cherries, they’re usually readily available in frozen, dried, and juice forms. Research suggests that drinking tart cherry juice may help support healthy C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, an important blood marker of inflammation.
- Incorporate some beans or lentils into your weekly meal plan. Beans, lentils, and other legumes are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Try swapping meat for one of these plant-based proteins a few times per week. If you’ve been stuck in a recipe rut, freshen up your dinner routine with one of these tasty plant-based meal ideas.
- Snack on a small portion of nuts. Nuts provide fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Because nuts are energy- and nutrient-dense, a small portion goes a long way. A serving of nuts is typically one ounce, which equals about 23 almonds or 14 walnut halves.
- Opt for olive oil. Olive oil is a heart-healthy fat rich in polyphenols and other powerful plant nutrients that may lend anti-inflammatory benefits. When cooking, swap butter for olive oil,mix olive oil with balsamic vinegar for a simple salad dressing, or use it in marinades for chicken or fish.
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages. Choose water or other zero-calorie beverages to stay hydrated. Try fruit-infused water, sparkling water, or unsweetened tea with lemon for a burst of flavor.
- Spice it up with ginger and or turmeric. Studies have shown that ginger offers natural anti-inflammatory benefits. Grate some fresh ginger over your cooked salmon, or steep in hot water to make a soothing tea. Turmeric is a spice common in Asian cuisine that comes from the root of the turmeric plant. This spice contains curcumin, a compound known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Consider adding a teaspoon of ground turmeric to your soups or smoothies.
Lifestyle Tips for Inflammation
In addition to adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, there are other steps you can take to keep your body healthy.
Achieve or Maintain a Healthy Weight
Achieving a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well-being. Excess weight may increase your risk for inflammation. The relationship between weight status and inflammation still isn’t completely clear, and researchers are still working to understand the connection.
Focus on small, gradual changes. Work with your healthcare team to determine what lifestyle changes are realistic for you. Most importantly, don’t give up. Surround yourself with support from friends and family to keep you going when you feel discouraged.
The benefits of exercise are endless. In addition to bone strength, mental health, and heart health, moderate exercise may also help suppress inflammation in the body. One study found that as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise daily can stimulate the immune system, producing an anti-inflammatory response. Moderate exercises include going for a brisk walk or bicycle ride.
You don’t have to become an all-star athlete overnight. Start small and take every opportunity to get in a few more steps. Break up long periods of working at your desk or sitting in front of the TV with a short walk, even if it’s just a lap around your office or living room. Some people find a pedometer or activity tracker helpful to keep them motivated, but sometimes all you need is a workout buddy. Ask a friend or coworker to join you for a stroll through the park (or parking lot), a fitness class, or an impromptu yoga session.
Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight are the first steps towards staying healthy.