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Inflammation has been a hot topic in health circles. With an increased awareness around inflammatory diseases like celiac and inflammatory bowel disease, a lot of people are asking: How do I change my diet to combat inflammation?

Inflammation is your immune system’s natural response to something it identifies as foreign. The 'first responders' to infection and injury, white blood cells kill germs and provide proteins to carry out the inflammatory process. For reasons still being explored, this response can go overboard and result in your body fighting itself, triggering “bad” inflammation that may accelerate certain illnesses.

Studies show that eating certain foods can help mitigate this. Anti-inflammatory foods—green veggies, fruits, nuts, and fatty fish—are praised for their ability to reduce the risk of a broad range of illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Recently, more and more studies are revealing the powerful effects of other anti-inflammatory foods: Portuguese blueberries may help remedy inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); plant-based anti-inflammatory diets may decrease the risk of depression; oily, cold-water fish and olive oil may serve as recourse against rheumatoid arthritis. 

Registered dietitian Jessica Guarnieri tells us how anti-inflammatory foods can relieve the onset of chronic conditions related to inflammation—think swelling, discomfort, joint pain or stiffness, tiredness, energy loss, headaches, or appetite loss. 

01. You eat whole foods.

“There are specific nutrients that are key in combating inflammatory processes," says Guarnieri. "Increasing these nutrients in the diet, specifically omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), vitamin E, polyphenols, prebiotics, and probiotics, help defend against chronic inflammation." In her work, she finds, “more and more that individuals are looking to food to help prevent/delay the onset of chronic medical conditions.”

Luckily, a lot of anti-inflammatory nutrients are in everyday whole foods. “A healthful, balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, lean proteins, and legumes would be inclusive of lots of anti-inflammatory foods,” Guarnieri says. If you’re already a healthy eater, “adding in an extra serving or two of fruits and vegetables daily or throwing some flaxseeds into your oatmeal or yogurt wouldn't hurt harm in a little extra nutrition boost!”

02. These foods make regular appearances on your grocery list.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: EPA and DHA, two of the most common and most nutritious fatty acids, are found in highest concentrations in fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and fish oil supplements. If you’re not into fish, try chia seeds, walnuts, or flaxseed oil.

Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C: Get up to 20% of your Recommended Daily Value in a serving of oranges, red and green peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, guava, and kiwi.

Vitamin E: While this is typically found in supplement form, you’ll also get it in wheat germ, seeds, nuts (especially almonds), and vegetable oils.

Polyphenols: Fruits and vegetables come in at the top of the list again (try citrus, berries, apples, garlic, onion, and celery), along with grains, dark chocolate (you’re welcome), coffee, olive oil, flaxseeds, peanuts, and tea.

Prebiotics: Choose any food high in fiber. One source is oligofructose found in chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, and onions. Another is inulin, which is found in commercially prepared health foods and dietary supplements.

Probiotics:. Look for these live microorganisms in yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, etc.).

03. You stay away from processed foods.

If there are anti-inflammatory foods, it follows that there would be “pro-inflammatory” foods too—those that can “cause an increase in chronic inflammation,” says Guarnieri. Watch out for “excessive dietary carbohydrate intake, intake of trans-fatty acids and saturated fatty acids as well as omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.” In addition to staying away from highly processed foods, Guarnieri suggests simple swaps, such as more vegetables and whole grains instead of white refined carbohydrates, salmon instead of red meat, olive oil instead of butter, and walnuts or almonds instead of potato chips.

04. You maintain a balanced diet.

Moderation is still the key to a healthy lifestyle. Keeping too strict a diet is likely to leave you feeling deprived and, in most cases, isn’t really necessary. Buzzwords can’t change the fact that healthy food is healthy food.

The language may change, but the science is the same: whole foods, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, are the best choices for a healthy body today and tomorrow. It may not be news, but that’s something to get fired up about.

Photo Credit: The Green Life