When most people hear the word “inflammation,” they think of the pain, redness, and swelling associated with conditions like arthritis or an infection. They picture something that you can readily observe in the person that is suffering. However, chronic inflammation occurs on the inside of tissues. It may be invisible, but it also may be deadly. After all, it’s linked to heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and cancer (1).
In a recent study of over 68,200 men and women (between the ages of 45 and 83) that were monitored for 16 years, subjects that ate an anti-inflammatory diet had an 18% lower risk of dying from any cause (including cardiovascular disease and cancer) compared to subjects who did not follow the diet as closely. Participants who smoked but also ate an anti-inflammatory diet still reaped some of the benefits in comparison to smokers that did not follow the diet (2).
An anti-inflammatory diet is similar to a Mediterranean diet, which is plant-based and includes foods that help to prevent or reduce cellular inflammation. Fruit, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals as well as healthy fats like canola oil and nuts are considered anti-inflammatory. Moderate consumption of low-fat cheese, beer, and wine are also considered part of an anti-inflammatory diet as well. Processed and unprocessed red meat, organ meat, chips, and soda are considered inflammatory. These foods should be limited in our diets as much as possible (1,2).
The main author of the study, associate professor Dr. Joanna Kaluza at Poland’s Warsaw University of Life Sciences notes, "Our dose-response analysis showed that even partial adherence to the anti-inflammatory diet may provide a health benefit" (2).
So, here are a few simple tips that nutrition and health educators can give to their clients in order to help them follow an anti-inflammatory diet:
- Switch from soda to decaffeinated tea or water.
- Snack on almonds or other nuts in place of chips, candy, or cookies.
- Swap white breads and cereals with 100% whole grain bread, steel cut oats, shredded wheat and other high-fiber grains like farro, quinoa, or bulgur
- Include fruits and vegetables at meals. Choose a variety of seasonal, colorful produce daily like kale, broccoli, berries, apples, melon, and spinach.
- Add a few servings of fish, beans, or lentils in place of red meat or fried meats
- Switch from full-fat to low-fat dairy products
- Drink beer or wine in moderation. That's 1 drink per day for women, and 2 drinks per day for men -- or less!
- Use liquid oils such as corn, canola, or olive oil in place of butter, lard, or shortening
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- J. Kaluza, N. Håkansson, H. R. Harris, N. Orsini, K. Michaëlsson, A. Wolk. Influence of anti-inflammatory diet and smoking on mortality and survival in men and women: two prospective cohort studies. Journal of Internal Medicine, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/joim.12823
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.