Feeling worn down, sluggish and generally unwell? There may be myriad reasons for this, including chronic inflammation.
The foods we eat can either promote or reduce inflammation. Evaluate your daily eating patterns. Are you eating a calorie-dense diet high in processed foods, unhealthy fats and refined sugars? These eating habits can contribute to chronic inflammation. Alternatively, a diet based on whole foods and nutrient-dense, plant-forward meals can help reduce inflammation and support overall health and wellness.
Here’s the kicker: You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet to make progress toward reducing inflammation. Taking small steps and focusing on progress, not perfection, is a healthy and realistic approach to managing your health.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is how our immune system responds when it senses a need to protect and heal itself, whether from irritants, harmful substances or injuries. It’s our body’s natural and necessary defense mechanism.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is our body’s short-term or immediate response to injury or illness, and aids in the healing process. Chronic inflammation is the body’s long-term or extended response to illness, irritants, infections, autoimmune disorders, environmental factors and even stress and obesity. Simply put, chronic inflammation can make us feel sick and sluggish.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on the basics of chronic inflammation as it pertains to diet. It’s important to note that inflammation is a highly complex topic that the medical and research communities are avidly working to better understand. If you’re interested in learning about the basics of inflammation, check out this guide by Cleveland Clinic: Inflammation: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. If you have questions or concerns about inflammation and your health, reach out to your physician to discuss your specific medical needs.
How Does Diet Impact Inflammation?
Our body is triggered by how we fuel it, through the foods and drinks we consume and the supplements we take. We’ve all heard the adage, “You are what you eat,” and that couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to inflammation. Our diet has a direct impact on inflammation. Ultra processed foods high in unhealthy fats, refined sugars and empty calories can all contribute to chronic inflammation. One the other hand, foods that are healthy, whole and high in antioxidants, fiber and essential nutrients can help reduce inflammation.
This means our diet is either working for us or against us – and we have the power to do something about it.
How to Fight Inflammation with Food
Eat the rainbow.
Filling your plate with a diverse variety of colorful fruits and vegetables not only supports overall health and wellness, it’s also a great way to feed your body foods that help reduce inflammation. There’s science to back the concept of “eating the rainbow” – the colors in fruits and vegetables indicate the essential vitamins and minerals. For example, purple foods are known to be high in anthocyanins, which boast a broad spectrum of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Green vegetables are high in chlorophyll, which aids in detoxification, among other benefits.
Make It Happen
Aim to fill your plate with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables by adding berries to your breakfast bowl, bulking up your lunch salad with brightly colored vegetables and snacking on fresh produce like sliced carrots and bell peppers throughout the day. Check out our Purple Goddess Powerful Bowl for a creative way to diversify your plate.
Fill up on fiber.
Fiber-rich foods like whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and cruciferous vegetables play an important role in fighting inflammation. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble – both of which have anti-inflammatory properties. Fiber supports a healthy gut and helps regulate the immune system’s response to chronic inflammation. What’s more, fiber-rich foods promote a healthy body weight, which is key to combating chronic inflammation.
Make It Happen
Increase your daily fiber intake by incorporating more fiber-dense foods into your diet. Swap the granola bar for an apple or pear, add chia seeds, flaxseeds and nuts to your salads, oatmeal or yogurt, and try cooking with legumes and whole grains instead of refined pastas and white rice. This fiber-filled Moroccan Carrot and Lentil Soup recipe packs a nutritional punch and is perfect for meal prep.
Spice things up.
We’re not talking about upping your intake of cayenne pepper – though cayenne contains an anti-inflammatory property called capsaicin that’s something of a super nutrient. A range of spices are recognized for their anti-inflammatory properties, including cinnamon, ginger, rosemary and turmeric. While the jury is still out on the level to which spices can contribute to a reduction in inflammation, research indicates that adding spices to your daily diet may give your body an extra boost.
Make It Happen
A dash here, a sprinkle there – a little spice can go a long way. Try adding cinnamon to your oatmeal, fruit or toast in the morning, with a sprinkle of rosemary to your soup or salad at lunch. Cooking dinner recipes with ginger and turmeric is a great way to get your daily dose as well. Our Butternut Squash Curry with Chickpeas is a delicious way to start! Bonus that this fiber-forward recipe also includes cinnamon and an array of filling veggies.
Drinking water and staying hydrated is essential to managing the body’s ability to function in ways that optimize our energy and overall wellness. Hydration also impacts inflammation, among many other functions including blood circulation, joint health and digestion. Water also plays an important role in immune function through the lymphatic system, which is responsible for helping our body get rid of toxins and internal waste.
Make It Happen
Aim to drink water periodically throughout the day, starting in the morning, and tune in to what your body is telling you as you move through your day. If you struggle to drink water, try adding all-natural flavor enhancers, such as lemon, mint, cucumber or apple slices. You can also keep your body hydrated by consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables that have a naturally high water content, such as this Basil Berry Salad or broth-based soups like our Spring Minestrone Soup.
Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing inflammation. However, taking proactive steps to control what we can, like eating well and staying hydrated, gives our body the best opportunity to keep us well. By providing the body with what it needs to function at its absolute best, we are enabling it to work for us – not against us.
It’s important to note that chronic inflammation is also associated with a broad range of medical conditions – some of which are completely outside of our control. That’s why it’s critical to work with your physician and/or a registered dietitian if you are experiencing inflammation or have questions or concerns about inflammation in relation to your personal health.
Resources for Further Reading
We’ve barely scratched the surface about how to fight inflammation with food. For more information about the connection between inflammation and diet, see the below resources:
- American Society for Nutrition: What Is It, and How Can My Diet and Behavior Affect It?
- Baylor, Scott & White Health: Is an anti-inflammation diet right for you? Plus, an RD’s top foods
- Brigham and Women’s Hospital: Defending Against Disease with an Anti-Inflammation Lifestyle
- Cleveland Clinic: Inflammation: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
*Medical Disclaimer: All content and information on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Sweet New Roots, LLC is not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this website