Dietician Digest: The Benefits of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle

by Christi Bowling, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD

There is a lot of talk these days about the anti-inflammatory diet and its benefits on the body and disease prevention. Inflammation is not always a bad thing—it is just the body trying to protect itself from further illness or injury by increasing the immune response (white blood cells) to the area being threatened by bacteria or injury. Chronic inflammation, however, is a different story. There are several chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, cancer, allergies, heart disease, IBS, and diabetes that can trigger the immune system to hit overdrive and start to attack healthy tissues. The good news is that a person with a chronic inflammatory disease can reduce inflammation by simply making changes to their diet and lifestyle.

The Telehealth Care Coordinators at MetaPhy help counsel patients on both an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. An anti-inflammatory diet is high in antioxidants, which are reactive molecules in food that kill off free radicals in the body. Free radicals are molecules in the body that may cause damage to cells and increase the risk of disease. The Mediterranean Diet, for example, is a great anti-inflammatory diet because it emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish (omega-3 fatty acids), healthy fats, and nuts/seeds. There are also specific herbs and spices that have been shown to alleviate inflammation such as turmeric, ginger and garlic. This type of diet should provide a healthy balance of macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates), as well as meet the body’s needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.  

Multiple research studies have been conducted confirming the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet on several disease states. A study published in the British Journal of Nutritionin 2017 assessed the association between dietary inflammation (measured by a dietary inflammatory index) and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the arteries) in women over the age of 70. Researchers found that the dietary inflammatory index scores were associated with subclinical atherosclerosis and heart disease-related death. Another study published in Endocrinein 2016 monitored people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes who were following either the Mediterranean Diet or a low-fat diet. After one year, C-reactive protein levels (an inflammatory marker in the blood) fell by 37% in the people on the Mediterranean Diet but remained unchanged in those on the low-fat diet.  

Just as there are foods that reduce inflammation, there are also foods that can increase inflammation, which can increase risk for certain diseases and make existing chronic inflammatory diseases worse.   These foods include refined sugars, refined grains, processed meats, trans fats, soybean and canola oil, artificial sweeteners, MSG and other preservatives, and excess alcohol. 

In conclusion, here are some tips on following an anti-inflammatory diet:

  • Eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Replace red meat with healthier protein sources such as lean poultry, fish, and legumes.
  • Instead of refined grains, choose fiber-rich whole grains like oats, farro, quinoa, brown rice, and breads and pasta that list a whole grain as their first ingredient.
  • Rather than using seasonings with preservatives such as MSG and extra sodium, try using fresh or dried herbs and spices like garlic, ginger and turmeric.
  • Replace margarine and canola oil for healthier fats found in olive oil, avocado oil, or nut/seed oil.  

Additional lifestyle factors such as not getting enough sleep and having an inactive lifestyle that includes a lot of sitting can also play a role in increasing inflammation. So along with the anti-inflammatory diet, simple lifestyle changes can be made to reduce inflammation even further. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night and 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week can improve inflammatory markers, possibly reduce disease risk, and improve overall quality of life.

Christi Bowling is the Director of Nutrition Services for MetaPhy Health. Every quarter she provides her unique perspective and valuable expertise on all things diet and nutrition relative to chronic disease management.

Bondonno NP, Lewis JR, Blekkenhorst LC, et al.  Dietary inflammatory index in relation to sub-clinical atherosclerosis and atherosclerotic vascular disease morality in older women. Br J Nutr. 2017 Jun; 117(11): 1577-1586

Maiorino MI, Bellastella G, Petrizzo M, Scappaticcio L, Giugliano D, Esposito K. Mediterranean diet cools down the inflammatory milieu in type 2 diabetes: the MEDITA randomized controlled trial. Endocrine. 2016 Dec;54(3):634-641.

Fletcher, J.  Anti-inflammatory diet: Food list and tips. 2017 Dec. Medical News Today.  

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