The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Basics: What are the Different Types Out There?
- The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What It Is and the Different Types Out There
- The Mediterranean Diet
- The Low Sugar Diet
- The Pescatarian Diet
- Conditions Cured by the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid
- Watch a Relevant Video
- Look at the contents of the next article – Coming Soon.
We all know that what and how you eat can play a major role in the functioning of your body, but in the case of chronic inflammation, that impact is multiplied several times over.
There are various foods that can promote or inhibit your body’s inflammatory response, and without the knowledge of which foods to choose or avoid, trying to eat while inflamed can feel like navigating a minefield.
Though we’ll delve into the superfoods that you should be sure to include in your diet in the next article: The Top 13 Anti-inflammatory Foods, in this article, we will explore the overall role that nutrition and ingredients play in contributing to chronic inflammation issues. This will provide you with the knowledge to determine the appropriate dietary choices for you.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What It Is and the Different Types Out There
Anti-inflammatory diets come in a wide variety of forms. Many people swear by the Mediterranean diet, praised for its focus on lean proteins and unsaturated fat sources.
A proportion of individuals with chronic inflammation choose a low sugar diet in an attempt to combat health impacts such as insulin resistance and oxidative stress, which can exacerbate inflammatory conditions.
Others lean into pescatarians a form of vegetarianism that includes seafood—thanking the antioxidative properties of omega-3 fish oils for their reduction in symptoms. Still, like myself, more people simply try to make informed choices within the limitations of our own personal preferences.
You see, when you explore the many diets purported to improve chronic inflammation, there are several foundational principles which allow for a wide variety of choices in your own diet, all while helping to reduce inflammation.
There is no set nutritional plan for anti-inflammation, like a formal guide of what you should eat or how much to eat. You don’t have to eliminate all saturated fats, all sugars, or all meats to correct your inflammation levels. You simply need to make wise decisions informed by your body’s nutritional needs.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a healthy diet inspired by the eating practices of people who live near the Mediterranean Sea. It advises eating lots of fruits and vegetables and making use of olive oil. This diet does not reject the consumption of meat but rather recommends a limit to your meat consumption.
Several studies have explored and found evidence for benefits in using the Mediterranean diet as a supplement to medication for chronic inflammation. Symptoms of various chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases were found to become less severe when patients adhered to the Mediterranean diet.
Scientists presently understand the importance of good gut bacterial health and its links to a person’s overall health. However, what is not certain is how the Mediterranean diet seems to reduce the severity of inflammation in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases.
There have been a few suggestions as to why the Mediterranean diet is so helpful for various chronic diseases, including chronic inflammatory diseases. Firstly, the Mediterranean diet is naturally low in sodium, as opposed to the western diet.
Osmotic stress can induce the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from human mononuclear cells in culture (Tsigalou et al., 2020). Secondly, they say that oleocanthal in olive oil has been found to exhibit strong anti-inflammatory activity.
The omega-3 fatty acids associated with the consumption of fish in the diet have also been found to contribute to this phenomenon, as they influence the oxidative balance, enhancing a pro-oxidant state.
The Low Sugar Diet
Another diet that can be used to combat the severity of chronic inflammatory diseases is adopting a low sugar diet. Even if you choose to adopt the Mediterranean diet, it would also be helpful for you to reduce your sugar intake.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a sugar intake of less than 10% of your energy consumption daily to combat chronic inflammation. Those who eat a diet high in refined sugars for example, those who eat a lot of takeout are at risk of exacerbating their condition.
A high consumption of refined carbohydrates, as well as sugary drinks, places a large number of people on the path of developing serious chronic conditions.
The Pescatarian Diet
The pescatarian diet is a type of vegetarian diet with a twist. The diet advises you to eat all types of fruits and vegetables, with fish as your only meat intake.
The benefits of this diet for people with chronic inflammation are due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids due to the consumption of fish and other seafood.
Those who cannot commit to a vegetarian diet opt for the pescatarian diet as an alternative, and as a result, their consumption of omega-3 fatty acids increases as their fish consumption increases.
Conditions Cured by the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Illnesses caused by chronic inflammation vary in many ways. There are a number of such conditions recorded in medical books, and each of them affects the body and its organs differently. Below is a list of just a few of these inflammatory conditions.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the joint areas. People with rheumatoid arthritis experience joint pain most commonly in the hands and feet, caused by inflammation and swelling.
This condition can be terribly painful for some patients, depending on the severity of the case. When left on its own without treatment, the immune system can continue to attack its own cells, leading to bone corrosion and joint deformity.
The Mediterranean diet has been hailed for this condition in particular. The Mediterranean diet involves the consumption of olive oils, fruits, vegetables, and a range of whole grains that have been found to decrease the levels of pain and difficulty in physical activity.
Asthma affects the bronchial airways, causing them to become inflamed. This leads to difficulty in breathing as the airways swell and become narrow. The inflammation in the lungs exacerbates mucus production, which only worsens the condition.
But how can an anti- inflammatory diet be useful for an asthma patient? Well, the western diet that we’re all used to has been found to be pro-inflammation, whereas eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables has been found to noticeably improve inflammation.
Another key possibility is in the balance of gut micro bacteria, which aids in helping with immune response.
Psoriasis is a systemic inflammatory skin condition that results in the excessive buildup of skin cells on the joint areas as well as other parts of the skin, like the scalp. It’s an uncomfortable condition that causes itchiness and dry, scaly-looking skin.
Given the fact that all anti-inflammatory diets emphasize the consumption of large amounts of fruits and vegetables, people who are affected had found that their condition improved when their topical and oral treatments were supplemented by a healthy anti-inflammatory diet.
This is due to the fact that fruits and vegetables have many anti- inflammatory properties and also help to reduce the body’s oxidative stress.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that results in the inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract.
This condition can go undetected for several years until symptoms begin to show. These symptoms include weight loss, diarrhea, fatigue, and anemia. The condition can result in plenty of discomfort for sufferers and can lead to life-threatening complications.
Crohn’s disease, in particular, is another inflammatory disease whose symptoms can be eased with an altered diet. Dieticians usually recommend a diet that promotes a probiotic gut environment.
Esophagitis Eosinophilic esophagitis is an inflammatory disease caused by a faulty immune system response. This condition affects the esophagus.
Those affected experience difficulty swallowing, food particles getting stuck in the esophagus, and abdominal pain. This condition can affect both adults and children and can make eating an incredibly painful experience.
It is reported that people who have this condition in conjunction with many other inflammatory allergies find that the allergies exacerbate their condition. Allergies like hay fever, dust mites, and pollen cause the sufferer to become increasingly careful with the environments they find themselves in.
Because the condition is usually triggered by the consumption of certain foods, an allergy-specific anti-inflammatory diet is normally suggested.
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that results in the formation of ulcers and sores in the intestines and usually affects the internal part of the large intestine as well as the rectum. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic condition.
Its symptoms can be managed with surgery and medication. One other thing that can be of great help in soothing symptoms for sufferers is a change in diet. Ulcerative colitis is a severe condition that, if left untreated, can cause colon cancer.
If you contract ulcerative colitis, it is advisable that you find a remedy that works best for you. One of the best ways to treat ulcerative colitis is by avoiding foods that may cause flare-ups and by eating foods that are known to soothe flare-ups.
The following is a brief list of soothing foods that you can add to your diet:
- salmon and albacore tuna
- lean meats and poultry
- soy-based protein
- unsweetened applesauce
- instant oatmeal
- juice and smoothies
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that results in the immune system attacking the thyroid gland.
This attack of the gland initially results in the excessive production of the gland’s hormones (hyperthyroidism).
As the gland becomes overworked, this then leads to the reduction of the production of the gland’s hormones (hypothyroidism). The resulting physical ailments due to both conditions can be rather unfortunate.
Lupus is an inflammatory disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissue cells. Lupus can affect various parts of the body, the most commonly affected areas being the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.
An anti-inflammatory diet that focuses on plant- based foods, fish and seafood, legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables can aid in treatment.
Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid
Studies on the pathology of inflammation have shown that simply choosing a wide variety of fresh produce and including unblended oils with high smoke points such as avocado oil, sesame oil, and in particular, extra virgin olive oil can be enough to significantly reduce inflammatory symptoms (Stone et al., 2020).
Fresh, fiber- rich fruits and vegetables are packed with micronutrients such as vitamins B and C, which are vital to bodily functions such as immune response, thus playing a role in inflammation.
They also contain phytonutrients that, though technically nonessential, are hugely beneficial in preventing disease through antimicrobial and antioxidative properties, among others.
In fact, a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that increasing daily fiber intake by as little as 3.3g a day was enough to reduce patient inflammation levels by up to 54% in just two weeks (North et al., 2009).
Likewise, healthy oils are a key element of anti-inflammatory diets due to their multitude of monounsaturated fats.
The nutrients present in these oils help in the “modulation of immune cell function and subsequent inflammatory response” (Fritsche, 2015).
While having a high smoke point ensures that these fats remain in their unsaturated form during cooking, making the correct choice in oil is the first step to fighting high inflammation levels.
Studies have shown that the less refining and hydrogenation an oil goes through in its manufacturing, the more helpful it will be in reducing CRP levels (Galli & Calder, 2009).
On the flip side of this dietary coin are the pro-inflammatory foods, which should be avoided as much as possible. As is to be expected, these foods tend to be low in fiber and high in saturated trans fats.
Simple sugars such as soda and candy, as well as refined carbohydrates such as white bread, cause huge fluctuations in our blood sugar levels. This glycemic rollercoaster has knock-on effects for the rest of our body, one of which is a drastic uptick in inflammation.
Similarly, processed meats and foods high in saturated fats such as chips, fries, and so on, increase the body’s production of adipocytes.
Adipocytes are generally a healthy part of our ability to store fat-soluble vitamins, but they also contain a type of white blood cell which has been shown to produce cytokines, pro-inflammatory substances in the body.
With simple concepts of what to embrace and avoid, an anti-inflammatory diet can be very easy to implement and reap its rewards.
Diets based on these principles have been shown to be beneficial to individuals with a wide variety of conditions causing chronic inflammation.
A 2017 study published in the journal of Frontiers in Nutrition found that the vast majority of patients with rheumatoid arthritis were able to significantly decrease their pain levels through the use of an anti-inflammatory diet.
These dietary changes were discovered to be equally as effective as a 15 mg/day dosage of the synthetic steroid prednisolone. Subjects of this study achieved “remarkable decrease[s] in swollen and tender joints, pain, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and C-reactive protein (CRP)” (Khanna et al., 2017).
Likewise, research compiled in 2019 by the National Cancer Institute of Italy found that patients with colorectal cancer could reduce their CRP levels, and consequently their experienced gastrointestinal distress by marginally increasing their intake of unrefined whole-grain carbohydrates, high fiber fruit and vegetables, and extra virgin olive oil, even in a short period of time.
In the long run, eating according to anti-inflammatory principles was even found to contribute to the repression of genetic tendencies towards inflammation present in the DNA! This is most effective when such a diet is followed for a period of years, but even six weeks is enough to alter this activation of hereditary inflammation markers.
In this length of time, individuals with Crohn’s disease can experience “reduced markers of inflammation, normalize the microbiota and generate significant changes in gene expression” (Pasanisi et al., 2019).
More Info About inflammatory foods to avoid
These changes in gene expression can vastly alter your health throughout your life.
For instance, a study of over 68,000 adults found that even heavy smokers, who experience a high risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, can reduce their chances of death by 31% through the implementation of an anti-inflammatory diet (Kaluza et al., 2018).
An anti-inflammatory diet reduces the impact of age-related joint pain, decreases symptoms of autoimmune disorders, and aids in the development and recovery of athletic prowess.
On the other hand, however, ignoring these anti-inflammatory principles can have drastic health consequences.
Eating a diet made up of predominantly pro-inflammatory ingredients is linked with the development and mortality risk of conditions such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression, and stroke.
Relying on saturated fat sources and refined carbohydrates can double your risk of developing any form of cancer, with some forms of cancer carrying an even greater risk associated with these ingredients (Obón-Santacana et al., 2019).
Shockingly, a pro-inflammatory diet has even been shown to increase the risk of all-cause mortality by a whopping 23% (Garcia-Arellano et al., 2019).
That means that even without any underlying chronic inflammation issues, people who rely on foods like white bread, red meat, hot dogs, fries, and soda are 23% more likely to die for any reason than those who minimize their consumption of these pro-inflammatory foods.
Now consider how much more likely are they to die than someone following an anti-inflammatory diet? Including nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods drastically reduce the strain placed on your body, reducing your risk of all-cause mortality.
This means that when compared with an anti-inflammatory diet, pro-inflammatory foods increase your risk of death by a staggering 78%! But enough morbidity.
How do we go about avoiding these drastic health detriments? You know the basics—more fruits and veggies, more unsaturated fats—so let’s take a look at the details.
Why are unsaturated fats so important?
Well, fats also known as lipids are essential for any diet. They are our only source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, necessary for things such as immune function, healthy vision, and the absorption of calcium.
Because of this, the American Heart Association recommends that 20–35% of the calories in your diet should be coming from lipid-rich foods. But not all fats are created equal. Saturated and trans fats are the lipid sources that give all fats a bad name.
At a chemical level, saturated and trans fats have a different distribution of their hydrogen atoms, but don’t worry you don’t need a degree in chemistry or nutrition to understand the dangers they can pose.
These types of fats, though often delicious, are incredibly rich in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. That’s the ‘bad’ cholesterol that your doctor will be concerned about.
LDL cholesterol can build up on your blood vessels as plaque, leading to cardiovascular diseases, inflammation, and reduced metabolism. These fats can even have adverse impacts on your mental capacity (Melo et al., 2019).
Saturated fats can be included in your diet in moderation, provided that they come from sources rich in other nutrients such as iron-rich beef, vitamin A-rich butter, calcium-rich cheese, and so on.
Containing ‘bad’ cholesterol does not make any food product inherently ‘bad’ in itself.
In these cases, the density of mineral and vitamin components can, to some degree, make the risk of LDL cholesterol “worth it.”
However, trans fats are those truly villainous man-made lipids that should be avoided at all costs. Present in hydrogenated oils such as margarine, along with highly processed foods like chips, cookies, and cakes, trans fats are man-made lipids produced to increase shelf life and enhance flavor.
These fats are kryptonite for anyone with inflammatory symptoms. Trans fats not only provide that ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, but they also strip you of any chance of fighting that arterial plaque by removing the ‘good’ cholesterol from your system.
Perhaps you’re thinking, wait a minute, there’s ‘good’ cholesterol? Yes! Though it doesn’t quite get the public attention that LDL cholesterol gets, there is a second form of cholesterol: high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
HDL cholesterol is present in those ever-important unsaturated fats. This ‘good’ cholesterol actively collects and removes the ‘bad’ cholesterol from your system, increasing blood flow, improving blood pressure, and reducing your risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Unfortunately, however, it has recently been discovered that chronic inflammation—and in particular, an immune-related inflammation response—reduces the degree to which HDL cholesterol can perform this, along with other helpful functions (Bonacina et al., 2021).
Therefore, it’s vital that people with chronic inflammatory conditions consume a higher-than-usual intake of unsaturated fats to compensate for this reduction.
Additionally, certain medications including corticosteroids used in the treatment of inflammation also reduce HDL cholesterol levels.
Thus, any individual who is prescribed such steroids, or, for instance, beta-blockers, benzodiazepines, or birth control, should also consider increasing their intake of unsaturated fats.
Furthermore, many unsaturated fat sources are also rich in polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties, such as omega-3 fatty acids present in seafood.
Omega-3s are generally praised for their contribution to healthy mental functioning, but this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the helping hand that they can give our health.
This type of unsaturated fat acts as a more effective anti-inflammatory agent than the commonly used NSAID, ibuprofen (Zafari et al., 2011).
Similarly, the oleic acid present in extra virgin olive oil can be hugely beneficial when included in an anti-inflammatory diet.
This unsaturated fat contains the compound oleocanthal, which inhibits inflammation through chemical reactions similar to those used by NSAIDs.
Moreover, while NSAIDs often come with the unpleasant side effect of stomach upset, extra virgin olive oil is capable of providing similar pain relief while soothing rather than irritating the gastrointestinal tract.
Oleic acid also has antimicrobial properties, and can therefore prevent infection, thus reducing the likelihood of an exacerbation of preexisting inflammation.
For similar reasons, other sources of unsaturated fats, such as nuts and seeds, should also be included in an anti-inflammatory diet.
Other important ingredients which can contribute to anti-inflammation are plant-based proteins, such as chickpeas, lentils, soy products, leafy greens, whole grains, green tea, dark chocolate, and anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger and turmeric.
For your convenience, a list of foods to adopt and avoid has been included in Appendix B of the book, but please consider these as guidelines rather than strict rules.
The aim here is to discover and embrace the principles of anti-inflammatory nutrition, not to tie yourself down to a list of restrictions. In next article, we will take a deeper look at the most essential of these anti-inflammatory ingredients that ideally should be included when possible.
For now, the most important element of your healing journey is to prepare yourself for these dietary changes. Learning a new way of nourishing your body can feel daunting and even intimidating, but you deserve to experience relief from inflammation.
You can give your body that kindness. Eating healthy doesn’t have to feel like a punishment for being unwell. You can enjoy living and eating healthily, and a large part of that comes from the preparation.
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Watch a Relevant Video
The contents of the next article titled as How to Preparing for a Healthy Diet
- There Is No” Good Food” or” Bad Food”
- Ditch the Guilt
- Take It One Meal at a Time
- Tips to Prepare for a Diet Change