When you hear the word “inflammation,” you probably think of a sprained ankle or a cut on your arm. And while those are definitely times when certain areas of your body might become inflamed, did you know that what you’re eating can also be causing inflammation — and a variety of health problems — all around your body?
As diets and general lifestyles in the U.S. and around the world grow worse and worse, more and more people are seeing health issues attributed to inflammation. Some inflammation requires immediate medical attention; many of the issues so many people face, however, could be reduced or treated entirely by small diet changes.
Need a little help deciphering if an anti-inflammatory diet is right for you? Here are the facts you need to know.
How does a diet cause inflammation? Isn’t that just what happens when I’m injured?
Because of our modern-day lifestyles (and specifically, our diets), many of us inadvertently trigger an inflammatory response, where our immune systems try to save our bodies because they think they’re under attack.
When we eat traditionally healthy foods that are rich in things like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, our bodies know only to react to incidents that seem out of character. But when our bodies are constantly filled with processed foods, refined sugars, or other things that our organs don’t think should be there, our immune systems continuously try to fix these “problems,” even if there’s no actual health crisis. In other words, the body is continuously damaging itself in the hopes of fixing an issue that doesn’t actually exist. Uh oh.
What does inflammation look like? It’s not just swelling, redness, or pain; it can also come in the forms of short- or long-term fatigue, fever, various joint pain, and more. In turn, inflammation can cause or exacerbate bigger health problems, like sore throats, bronchitis, heart disease, arthritis, meningitis, and so many more.
What does an anti-inflammatory diet do?
Anti-inflammatory diets are meant to help the body “balance” itself by filling it with more foods it craves (hello, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and eschewing foods it doesn’t (goodbye, refined sugars and processed foods).
While an anti-inflammatory diet may not automatically get rid of any symptoms that arise, it can help reduce inflammation naturally. If you’re also dealing with some discomfort and think inflammation may be a potential cause, it often makes sense to make dietary changes before doing anything else.
What are the best foods to eat in an anti-inflammatory diet?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one specific ingredient or food group that will solve your problems with inflammation. Luckily, there are plenty of foods that are great for people trying to go the anti-inflammatory route:
- Whole grains: Quinoa, oats, and brown rice are a great place to start. If you’re not used to getting those whole grains in, we recommend our incredibly delicious (and anti-inflammatory) gr8nola as an all-day snack; oats are excellent for lowering cholesterol and keeping blood sugar spikes at bay, which in turn reduces inflammation. The sugar high of refined grains might be great, but that sugar low? Whew.
- Fruits: Fruits in general are excellent when it comes to their anti-inflammatory properties, but berries, cherries, and oranges are a particularly smart boost.
- Non-starch vegetables: Plants like okra, broccoli, and eggplant have numerous health benefits, but chief among them, they’re high in fiber.
- Matcha: Need a natural caffeine boost that can also keep your skin healthy, boost your heart function, and help with weight management? Look no further than matcha. And in you’re not necessarily a matcha tea drinker, you’re in luck: We’ve got a Matcha Green Tea gr8nola complete with whole grain oats, dried unsweetened coconut, and sunflower seeds.
- Spices: Look for ways to incorporate cinnamon, thyme, sage, and ginger into your diet. Turmeric is another known anti-inflammatory spice that can give you the help you need (And because we love the incredible benefits, we created a superfood gr8nola flavor dedicated entirely to turmeric. We’re looking out for you!)
- Healthy fats: It’s okay to keep foods like nuts and olives in the mix, and unrefined coconut oil is a great substitute to traditional inflammatory vegetable oils. And avocado lovers, rejoice: Your favorite overpriced food is still fair game on an anti-inflammatory diet.
What foods should you steer away from?
Nothing on this list will probably surprise you:
- Overly greasy foods: Step away from the fried food and excessive oils (Stay away, trans fats!). In particular, beware of vegetable and soybean oils, which are often included in high doses in supposedly “healthy” foods.
- Refined carbs: This includes refined sugars, brown sugar, table sugar, cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and all of those processed carbs. Goodbye, white bread!
- Dairy: Many forms of dairy, such as high amounts of cheese, milk, and yogurt, can make inflammation worse. Another reason to consider lowering or eliminating dairy from your diet? Roughly 25% of all adults have dairy sensitivities that can lead to other health issues.
- Red and processed meats: Many meats like beef and pork in American grocery stores have been fed unnatural grain-based diets and are full of antibiotics and other chemicals.
- Processed foods: Whether it’s your favorite sugary cereal or a help of greasy bacon, chances are that food has been processed to the max. Did you really think Spam stayed that way on its own?
Is there anything else you can do to help inflammation?
In addition to eating a much cleaner and much nutrient-rich diet, it’s also important to make sure you hydrate (stick to water and drop that soda and alcohol!), get your necessary eight hours of sleep, and take it easy with exercise. There are also other special measures you can try, like natural beauty products.
And obviously, if your symptoms continue to get worse or you’re dealing with chronic issues, we absolutely recommend seeing a healthcare professional. It may take a little time to start feeling better when you’re dealing with inflammation, but be patient and take your time. After all, your body needs to be at 100% if you’re going to achieve gr8ness.