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Inflammation, a response that can affect even the healthiest of bodies, is caused by many factors. One major factor that we can control is the food we eat. Try to incorporate these half a dozen foods to help fight inflammation and keep a balanced diet.

Hannah Burkhalter, MS, RD
January 04, 2017

Inflammation is a normal function of a healthy body. Your body uses inflammation to protect itself from damage. Inflammation helps kill pathogens, initiate tissue repair, and equalize your body's functions again after an infection or injury.

Temporary inflammation is called acute inflammation. An acute inflammatory response occurs after an infection, an injury, or another one-time situation that causes damage or illness in your body. Once the problem has ended, the body returns to homeostasis, or a "normal" state. Long-term inflammation is called chronic inflammation. This occurs when your body can no longer regulate its inflammatory response. To put it plainly, your body stays in a state of alert, and it cannot maintain homeostasis. When your inflammatory state stays elevated, your body, tissues, and organs can suffer.

Research shows that cases of chronic disease are increasing, as are cases of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can ultimately lead to an increase in disease and illness, and a connection between the two conditions is becoming more clear. Some of these chronic diseases related to long-term inflammation include rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and Crohn's disease.

Researchers are trying to understand all the ways a person's lifestyle and habits can impact their inflammation level. This includes food and dietary elements. Some foods may cause inflammation, or predispose your body to inflammatory conditions. Others may actually help reduce inflammation and restore homeostasis more quickly. If your goal is to eat foods that help reduce inflammation, increase your intake of the following foods:

Fruits and Vegetables

Compared to a diet that has few fruits and vegetables, one that is rich in plants has been associated with lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers in the blood. This includes people with type 2 diabetes and children. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) are natural, powerful antioxidants that can be found in oranges, red peppers, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, and avocados are rich in vitamin E, another nutrient that helps reduce inflammation. Fruits and vegetables also provide fiber, which has been shown to lower inflammatory biomarkers.

Fruits and vegetables are also rich sources of phytonutrients, which are non-nutritive (meaning they don't contribute calories) elements of food. Phytonutrients are often responsible for a fruit or vegetable's color, so eating a "colorful diet" can help you boost intake of these important nutrients. Phytonutrients have antioxidant properties, so loading up on phytonutrient-rich foods can help ease inflammation. Specific phytonutrients, like the flavonoids found in blueberries and strawberries, have been shown to cut inflammation.

Plant-Based Proteins

Lentils, beans, and nuts are protein-rich substitutes for meat. Increase the number of plant-based proteins you eat each week to decrease your intake of saturated fat (a nutrient that can cause inflammation) and increase your intake of fiber and phytonutrients.

Whole Grains

Whole grains, unlike refined grains such as white bread, pasta, and cereals, contain unprocessed grains. That means the grain's bran and germ stay intact. These essential parts of the grain provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Switching your grains and starches to whole grain is an easy way to ensure that you are getting big benefits from your foods.

Healthy Fats

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats. Your body cannot produce these fats on its own. Instead, you must acquire omega-3s through your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish and fish oil help stimulate the creation of anti-inflammatory molecules in your body. These molecules can slow the pro-inflammatory signals your body sends. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include nuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. In addition to increasing your intake of healthy fats, avoiding unhealthy fats like trans fat, saturated fat, and high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids can help prevent inflammation.

Fresh Herbs

In addition to providing a flavorful boost to many dishes, herbs are an easy way to incorporate more plant foods into your meals. Herbs are a rich source of phytonutrients, so sprinkle herbs into salads, grain bowls, and soups.

Smart Desserts

Create desserts that aid in fighting inflammation while satisfying a sweet craving. Skip the cakes, cookies, and pastries, and put your sweet tooth toward berries, which are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, as well as dark chocolate. Sugary, buttery pastries or other processed desserts are often filled with saturated fats, sugar, and unnecessary carbohydrates.

Other References
Franz M. Nutrition, Inflammation, and Disease
Moore M. Inflammation and Diet