So, what is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet? No it’s not a fad diet or a weight loss diet. It is a diet that promotes increasing foods that help prevent and neutralize inflammation and free radicals, and avoiding those foods that are known to cause inflammation. In layman’s terms it’s a diet packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. When I use the term “diet” I don’t refer to it as “I am going on a diet,” but rather using it like it’s definition is intended “the sum of food consumed by a human or organism.”
Before we talk about an Anti-Inflammatory diet, we need to discuss what exactly inflammation is.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is an orchestrated biological process, induced by microbial infection or tissue injury (1). —-AKA you get sick or get hurt and then your body reacts to the cause.
What cause inflammation?
A major trigger of inflammation is the recognition of microbes by specific receptors of the innate immune system, which play a crucial role in the induction of early signals initiating and establishing the inflammatory setting (1).—Basically there is an intruder in our body and our immune system starts sounding alarms to rally the troops to kick the intruder out.
What is the purpose of inflammation?
A main function of inflammation is to resolve infection and to repair the damage in order to achieve homeostasis equilibrium (finding our body’s balance). Thus, the ideal inflammation response is rapid and destructive, yet specific and self-limiting (1). Key word IDEAL. We know things don’t always go according to plan. Unfortunately in some chronic infectious or inflammatory disorders, the inflammatory response causes more damage to the host (us) than the microbe (intruder) (1).
What happens when our immune system is over-stimulated?
Constant stimulation of your immune system can cause chronic infection or chronic inflammation due to an inefficient regulation or resolution or the inflammatory response (1).
Inflammation has been found to be involved in the development of several chronic diseases such as arteriosclerosis, obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease and even cancer (1). Studies indicate that an increase in the consumption of flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables is associated with a decrease in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and different types of cancer. This protective effect has been attributed in part to anti-inflammatory properties of flavonoids (1). Ah-Ha we are finally talking about food! And flavonoids to boot! I talked about them in my seminar. Mmmmmmm chocolate!
So what in the world are Flavonoids?
They are a family of substances whose members have many properties including anticancer, antimicrobials, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antithrombotic activities (1). Flavonoids are broken down into different classes based on their pigments. These include: flavones & flavanones, flavanols, flavonols, and other anthocyanins. Flavanols are then broken into proanthocyanidins, catechins and epicatechins (2).
Where are they found?
Flavonoids are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, spices, stems, flowers, CHOCOLATE, tea and red wine (1).
How are Flavonoids Anti-Inflammatory agents?
- They are Antioxidants and scavenge free radicals (they oxidize free radicals to make them more stable so they cause less damage to our cells). They also can inhibit LDL (low density lipoproteins) oxidation which may have preventative actions against atherosclerosis (1)
- They regulate cellular activities of inflammation-related (1)
- Some flavonoids display a remarkable array of biochemical and pharmacological actions that affect the function of immune and inflammatory cells such as T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, mast cells, or basophils (1)—-Huh? Does this sound familiar “Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” —-Hippocrates
- Several specifically affect enzyme systems critically involved in the generation of inflammatory processes, enzymes which are involved in signaling transduction and cell activation processes (1).
- Modulation of the activities of arachidonic acid metabolizing enzymes–Arachidonic acid release is a starting point for a general inflammatory response (1).
- Flavonols and polyphenols were found to inhibit the enzymes responsible for releasing arachidonic acid, reducing the release and metabolism of arachidonic acid and therefor diminishing the formation of inflammatory mediators (1)
- Modulation of the production of other pro-inflammatory molecules (1)
- Modulation of pro-inflammatory gene expression (1)
Now how do we apply this information to our daily lives?
Studies have suggested a strong associating between chronic infection, inflammation, and cancer
- Chronic inflammation predisposes to cancer
- Immune inflammatory cells and inflammatory mediators are found in cancer
- Deletion of inflammatory mediators inhibit development of experimental cancers
- Long term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents reduce the risk of some tumors
- Excessively and chronically produced pro-inflammatory mediators are thought to contribute to tumor promotion and progression
- Epidemiological studies have shown an inverse association between vegetable and fruits consumption and the risk of human cancers at many sites (1).
What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are dietary fats. They consist of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are from seafood sources and ALA is from plant sources (3).
Where are Omega 3 fatty acids found?
EPA and DHA are found in fatty and cold-water fish like salmon, herring, sardines and ALA are found in plant sources like flax and walnuts.
What do Omega 3 fatty acids do?
In human and animal studies Omega-3 FAs, primarily eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been shown to suppress inflammation and have a beneficial role in a variety of inflammatory human diseases, including diabetes, atherosclerosis, asthma, and arthritis (4).
They are incorporated in many parts of the body and play a role in anti-inflammatory processes and in the viscosity of cell membranes. EPA and DHA are essential for proper fetal development and healthy aging. DHA is a key component of all cell membranes and is found in abundance in the brain and retina (3).
What can I eat on an Anti-Inflammatory diet?
- Fruits and Vegetables (Preferably fresh or frozen without preservatives or additives) ***These are loaded with antioxidants. If you forgot what those are, re-read all of the information above (1)
- Whole Grains—avoid wheat, rye and barley if you are sensitive or allergic to gluten
- Beans and legumes–high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals
- Nuts (Walnuts, Seeds (especially flax-get whole and then grind as needed), Fatty Fish, Olive Oil, almond milk, nut butters (my favorite!) (3)
- Avoid dairy if you have a sensitivity, milk allergy or are lactose intolerant
- Eggs-choose flax fed and omega 3 enriched (3)
- Meat-you do not have to eat meat, but if you do stick to fatty/cold water fish like salmon and herring because they have higher omega 3 fatty acid concentrations (4)
- Try to avoid red meat, it has been linked to an increased risk of cancer (5)
- If you do not eat fish rich in omega 3’s, consider supplementing with fish oil. Aim for 2-3 grams of EPA + DHA per day for health benefits (3). These are the Fish Oil that I use.
- Drink tea daily- they are full of flavonoids (6)
- Avoid Trans Fats and partially hydrogenated oils
- Drink plenty of water
Who may benefit from an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome
- Cardiovascular disease
Anti-Inflammatory Diet Recipe Roundups
A quick note. This is not a fad diet nor a weight loss diet (to lose weight you must be in a calorie deficit—if you eat too many calories from lets say, only eating broccoli all day you will gain weight). This is simply intended to enlighten readers on how the foods we eat can have a positive effect on our bodies. I hope that providing this information that I can help clarify and bring to light the some of the health benefits that are associated with following an anti-inflammatory diet.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. The information provided on this blog is intended for general information only. Nothing on this website should be construed as medical advice or diagnosis. If you have a medical concern please consult with your doctor.
- Garcia-Lafuente, A., Guillamon, E., Villares, A. et al. (2009). Flavonoids as anti-inflammatory agents: implications in cancer and cardiovascular disease. Inflammatory Research, 58:537–552 .
- Pimentel, F., Nitzke, J., Klipel, C. and Vogt de Jong, E. (2010). Chocolate and red wine – A comparison between flavonoids content. Food Chemistry, 120: 109-112.
- Swanson, D., Block, R., & Mousa, S. (2012). Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life. Advances In Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 3: 1-7.
- Yan, Y., Jiang, W., Spinetti, T., Tardivel, A., Castillo, R., Bourquin, C., … Zhou, R. (2013). Omega-3 Fatty Acids Prevent Inflammation and Metabolic Disorder through Inhibition of NLRP3 Inflammasome Activation. Immunity, 1154-1163.
- Zur Hausen, H. (2012), Red meat consumption and cancer: Reasons to suspect involvement of bovine infectious factors in colorectal cancer. Int. J. Cancer, 130: 2475–2483.
- Hoensch, H., Oertel, R. (2012), [Anti-inflammatory effects of tea-flavonoids]. Dtsch Med Wochenschr, 137: 51-52.