Anti-Inflammatory Diets – Benefits and How to Follow
TOMATOES. EGGPLANTS. BELL peppers. What do all these vegetables have in common? If you guess they all caused inflammation, you are wrong.
Of course, many celebrities who claim to follow an anti-inflammatory diet avoid foods like nightshade vegetables. Tom Brady, for example, doesn’t eat (or hasn’t eaten at one time) tomatoes, peppers or eggplants because they supposedly trigger inflammation.
The truth is, “there is absolutely no science to show that the nightshade family has an impact on inflammation,” says Leslie Bonci, RD, MPH, nutrition consultant for the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, she says, “all of these foods contain phytonutrients that are anti-inflammatory.”
So what exactly are anti-inflammatory foods? Simply put, anti-inflammatory foods help fight inflammation. But to understand this, you first need to know what exactly inflammation is.
Inflammation is apparently responsible for just about everything these days. Articular pain. Cardiopathy. The Depression. But the truth is, inflammation isn’t always a bad thing. In small doses, it can actually protect you from injury and infection.
When you cut your finger, for example, your immune system kicks in, sending inflammatory cells to the injured area. These cells then begin the healing process, triggering pain, swelling and redness in the meantime. This is called “acute” (or short-term) inflammation.
The real problem arises when the immune system continues to send inflammatory cells throughout the body, even in the absence of outside threats. For example, people with arthritis suffer from chronic (or long-term) inflammation of the joint tissues which, over time, can damage the joints. And chronic inflammation has been linked to more than arthritis. It may also play a role in causing or worsening diseases such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and depression, among others.
What’s causing all this long-term inflammation? Sometimes inflammation is caused by diseases; other times it is caused by pollution. But our diet, exercise regimen, and lifestyle habits can also trigger or help relieve inflammation. This is where an anti-inflammatory diet comes in. By eating anti-inflammatory foods, we can help counter inflammation in our bodies, allowing us to heal faster and live longer.
What can you eat on an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet consists mainly of plants and some fatty fish. Plant foods are not only rich in antioxidants, but they also contain compounds called flavonoids, which can help block the release of certain inflammatory cells, according to a 2016 review.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring and bluefin tuna, are full of omega-3 fatty acids which, according to research published in the journal PLOS ONEhave been shown to lower levels of three blood markers of inflammation: CRP (C-reactive protein), IL-6 (interleukin-6) and TNF-a (tumor necrosis factor alpha).
Some studies also show that foods like tart cherry juice and tart cherries, along with ginger root, turmeric and saffron can have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, says Bonci.
Of course, if you want to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, you will also need to cut out proven foods. increase inflammation, meaning foods that stimulate certain enzymes in the body that cause inflammation, Bonci says. This list is, however, relatively short. (And no, nightshades aren’t on it.)
Research shows that “the only foods that can cause inflammation are high amounts of sugar and trans fats,” Bonci says. There’s no good science showing that eating dairy, meat, or gluten (unless you have celiac disease) can trigger inflammation, she says.
All it takes is one look at the anti-inflammatory diet — eat mostly plant-based foods and fatty fish, and don’t eat processed foods high in sugar and trans fat — and the benefits become pretty self-explanatory. Even so, some research has confirmed many of them.
For example, a 2018 study in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that people who followed an anti-inflammatory diet were more likely to live longer than those who did not. Other research found that those who ate more pro-inflammatory diets had a higher risk of heart disease. There’s even evidence showing that an anti-inflammatory diet can help manage conditions like arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
How to follow an anti-inflammatory diet
There’s no set “anti-inflammatory diet” — the diet primarily consists of eating whole, plant-based foods as well as fatty fish — but the Mediterranean diet is a good example of what it might look like. This means filling up on whole grains, beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, fish and poultry. (A word of warning: alcohol can cause inflammation, so you might want to skip the vino, says Bonci.)
Think beyond Italy and Greece and beyond bowls of pasta. Look to countries like Morocco, Egypt, and Turkey, and try eating more turmeric, saffron, and za’atar.
There’s also no reason to avoid foods like whey protein, milk, chicken, or eggs, especially if you’re currently injured or have inflammation, she says. “When your body is in a state of inflammation, you’re in breakdown mode, and getting enough protein becomes important,” says Bonci. “Now is not the time to cut out chicken or dairy.”
Eating enough protein and calories while you’re dealing with inflammation will help you “minimize pain, but maximize your gains,” she says.
Are you still wary of tomatoes? Just remember – Tom Brady might not eat them, but Patrick Mahomes certainly does.
Maria Masters is an editor and writer for Everyday Health and What to Expect, and has held positions at men’s health and Family circle.