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When your body produces white blood cells and similar substances to protect you from infection, it is experiencing inflammation. While inflammation has negative connotations, it is important to remember that it is an essential component of the healing process. 

The problem with inflammation arises when diseases, such as arthritis, sends false signals to the immune system. In this case, the body over produces white blood cells and begins to attack its own tissues. For those suffering from arthritis or other chronic inflammatory diseases, like asthma, active hepatitis, or Crohn’s disease, among others, an anti-inflammatory diet may help to alleviate symptoms. 

Anti-Inflammatory Diet 101

With the goal of minimizing inflammatory responses in the body, the main idea of the diet is to cut out sugar and refined foods. Instead, you’ll begin to consume whole foods packed with healthy nutrients. The diet also stresses the importance of food rich in antioxidants. Packed with vitamin C or E, antioxidants help protect our cells from damage by ridding the waste—toxic molecules known as free radicals—found in our cells. Free radicals have also been linked to increasing the risk of certain diseases.

Doctors and other medical specialists typically recommend the anti-inflammatory diet for those who have conditions that cause chronic inflammation, or to those who have diseases that are negatively affected by prolonged inflammation. These diseases include:

  • asthma
  • Crohn’s disease
  • colitis
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • lupus
  • Hasimoto’s disease

Doctors have also recently discovered that an anti-inflammatory diet can reduce one’s risk of developing certain cancers. The diet is typically used in conjunction with other medical treatments, and should not be used alone to treat any of the above conditions. 

What to Eat and What to Avoid

Eating to reduce inflammation isn’t as restrictive as you may assume. In fact, a number of popular diets, like the Mediterranean Diet, have anti-inflammatory principles. Since the basis of the diet is sticking to whole foods, it remains accessible and easy to follow. There isn’t a whole lot you can’t eat, as long as it’s not chocked full of sugar, gluten, trans fat, or has been overly processed. A few of the anti-inflammatory approved favorite foods include:

  • antioxidant-packed berries
    • blueberries, cherries, and blackberries
  • beans and lentils
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • dark chocolate
  • avocado and coconut
  • nutrient-rich vegetables
    • broccoli and cauliflower

What’s more, the anti-inflammatory diet allows moderate amounts of dry, red wine given the amount of antioxidants it contains! However, keep in mind that other acidic foods and drinks, or foods in the nightshade category, can exacerbate inflammatory responses. Try eliminating tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes from your diet for a few weeks to determine whether or not you’re affected.

In addition to nightshade foods, some researchers have found that a diet high in carbohydrates, whether they’re healthy or not, may increase inflammation. Many doctors and nutritionists recommend that anti-inflammatory diets should be relatively low-carb.

Getting Started

As with any diet, it’s important to talk to your doctor before changing your eating habits. Many medical conditions have dietary restrictions, so it is important to ensure that the anti-inflammatory diet is right for you and your needs. 

Beginning a diet can always be daunting, but there are a few simple tips to increase your chances of success. In general, staying away from fast and processed food, planning out your meals and shopping list, and carrying approved snacks can help you stay on track!