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The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: 6 Foods That Promote a More Harmonic Immune Response

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to germs, toxins, injury, or infection. And while it’s a natural response (and if successful, the result of a healed body is fantastic), living in a state of inflammation is not. Below, six foods you need to add to your kitchen to create an anti-inflammatory diet.

anti-inflammatory-diet

Vogue Arabia, July/August 2022. Photo: Alain Egues

Inflammatory cells and cytokines (pro-inflammatory signal proteins that activate immune cells) are initially produced by the body to protect and can result in temporary pain, redness, and swelling. For some, chronic inflammation remains after the body’s initial response (a.k.a. in the absence of a threat) and may be signaled by fatigue, fever, depression, weight gain, and more. Should your body’s own processes be causing more harm than good, thoughtful changes to your daily diet can quell inflammation and boost your immune system.

What is an anti-inflammatory diet?

“Simply put, an anti-inflammatory diet focuses on foods to help reduce chronic inflammation in the body,” says registered dietitian Marisa Moore. Moore goes on to note that chronic inflammation is associated with health conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain cancers.

“Many people use the umbrella term to describe a diet that doesn’t exacerbate autoimmune conditions,” says Jessica Wilson, MS, RDN. A healthy diet that avoids processed options in favor of whole foods is usually enough to keep the body balanced. But should you suspect that internal inflammation is getting the better of you, a diet designated for its anti-inflammatory effects may be worth exploring.

“Many well-known diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, and Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, are linked to anti-inflammatory effects,” says registered dietitian Kylie Sakaida. “You’ll notice that anti-inflammatory diets emphasize fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, and seeds while limiting red and processed meats, sodium, and highly processed foods.” Antioxidant-rich foods play a major part in calming inflammation, neutralizing free radicals and suppressing the body’s pro-inflammatory processes for a more harmonic immune response.

In addition to eating the right things and avoiding the wrong ones, ensuring that you’re eating enough volume-wise also matters. “Not meeting metabolic needs in the forms of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals can create conditions in the body that can increase inflammation,” says Wilson.

Can supplements help?

Those who hope to reduce internal inflammation without overhauling their existing diet would do well to consider supplements. According to Wilson, while there is no single supplement to reduce inflammation, there are many potential anti-inflammatory compounds. As with your diet, you’ll need a personalized approach. “When it comes to supplements, you’ll need the right option with the best-quality and clinically effective dose,” she says.

“If eating certain foods is difficult, supplements can fill in the gaps,” agrees Wilson. “There are a wide variety of fiber supplements, from Metamucil to fiber sodas, fish-oil supplements from reputable companies like Nordic Naturals, and refrigerated/cold-storage probiotics.”

That said, changing up your eating habits and aiding those efforts with supplements (it’s all in the name) is the more holistic, and thus effective, approach. To help you on your healthy eating mission, here are six foods with the potential to lower inflammation.

Salmon and sardines

Fish, seeds, and nuts are anti-inflammatory essentials. “Omega-3 fatty acids can play a role in mediating (moderating and/or lessening) an inflammatory response in the body,” says Wilson. Fatty fish like mackerel and tuna—along with flaxseeds, chia seeds, and various nuts—can also provide your daily dose of omega-3. “Regular consumption of nuts is associated with lower levels of inflammation and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases,” confirms Sakaida.

Green tea

Your afternoon iced matcha just got even more appealing. Dr. Andrew Weil (creator of the previously mentioned Dr. Weil Anti-inflammatory Diet) recommends reaching for green tea for its protective antioxidants. Green tea’s high volume of catechins (a.k.a. flavonoids, a class of polyphenols found in plants) are thought to fight inflammation. If you’re a fan of matcha—hyperconcentrated, high-quality green tea powder—even better.

Berries

The berry-girl lifestyle is more than a romantic approach to makeup; it’s also a means of balancing the body and eliminating oxidative stress (high levels of reactive oxygen species that can damage internal structures and trigger inflammation). Berries like raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries contain protective phytonutrients that Dr. Weil recommends to prevent and ease inflammation. Plus, they’re delicious and easy to incorporate into your routine via snacking, smoothies, and throw-on salad toppings.

Whole grains

Fiber is thought to reduce inflammation (along with cholesterol and blood sugar) by balancing your gut pH and permeability. And, as we’ve learned, a happy gut makes for a better brain. “Whole grains—such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice—are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which can all help reduce inflammation,” says Sakaida. “They are also associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Turmeric

While a number of herbs and spices are linked to lower inflammation, turmeric reigns supreme. You can thank the polyphenol curcumin, the root’s active compound, for its antioxidant effects. Opt for a golden-milk latte, shave some over a salad, or simply incorporate the spice into your daily dishes for an instantaneous immune boost—and improved digestion.

Extra virgin olive oil

Seeds oils may be a dietary no-go, but extra-virgin olive oil can propel you toward an undue-inflammation-free existence. The oil is a source of healthy fat and has been proven to reduce inflammatory markers, thanks (again) to its antioxidants, specifically oleocanthal (which has been proven to have anti-inflammatory effects similar to ibuprofen).

The takeaway? Food is literally medicine. Snack accordingly!

Originally published in Vogue.com

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