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Foods That Fight Inflammation
Research has shown that the things we eat and drink can have positive or negative effects on inflammation within our body. But, how do we know what to eat and what not to eat?
What is inflammation? Are there foods that reduce inflammation? And, what are the foods that might trigger it? If you can answer these questions, you can help improve the way you guide your clients with healthy and effective nutrition choices to help them heal their bodies.
What Do We Mean by Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s immune system responding to an injury, an illness, or some other foreign particle inside the body. Typically, blood filled with extra white blood cells, nutrients, and other healing substances rush to the trigger point to begin the healing process. This can cause symptoms like redness, swelling, and pain. After a few days or weeks, the body is restored and then goes back to “normal.” This is a natural process to keep us healthy.
But what if the body doesn’t go back to “normal” and stays in a state of emergency while trying to heal the body but never really healing? Prolonged inflammation (typically months or years) in considered chronic inflammation or systemic inflammation. Its symptoms are not as noticeable and tend to be more of a gradual and quiet attacker of the human body.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of different health issues like diabetes (1), heart disease (2), cancer (3), and other chronic diseases. So, it's no wonder why some many clients today are seeking ways to prevent or reduce chronic inflammation.
Fighting Inflammation with Food
Fighting inflammation typically requires a more holistic approach. Meaning, diet alone may not solve the issue entirely. A combination of diet, exercise, stress reduction, sleep, and anti-inflammatory medications can be more effective than any one of these by itself. But many foods have shown to have a positive anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Be sure to keep your scope of practice in mind when talking with clients about food and medical issues. Rules can vary by state, by region, and even among gyms. So, remember, when in doubt, refer out.
Now, let’s explore some of the foods that may positively or negatively affect inflammation.
Foods That May Help Fight Inflammation
Anti-inflammatory foods are easy to incorporate, especially if you already follow a well-balanced diet. Here are some of the common foods that can reduce inflammation.
1. Green Leafy Vegetables
What to eat: Kale, spinach, chard, collard greens
Why: These foods are high in Vitamin K. Foods that are high in Vitamin K may have an anti-inflammatory effect (4).
2. Fatty Fish
What to eat: Tuna, salmon, mackerel
Why: These fish are high in Omega-3 fatty acids which have been known to fight inflammation (5). Chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts can also be great sources of Omega-3 for clients that prefer not to eat fish.
3. Fruits and Vegetables
What to eat: Berries, peppers, avocados, tomatoes…. honestly, ALL fruits and vegetables
Why: Fruits and vegetables are packed with tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other compounds that are an army of weapons that help keep the body functioning properly and fighting off inflammation.
4. Olive Oil
What to eat: Extra-virgin olive oil is ideal
Why: Olive oil has a chemical called oleocanthal that has been shown to have natural anti-inflammatory effects (6).
5. Green Tea
What to drink: Hot or cold. Just remember to go easy on the sugar!
Why: Green tea has an antioxidant called catechins as well as flavonoids that may have anti-inflammatory effects on the body (7).
Keep in mind that although many of these foods may have an anti-inflammatory effect, too much of them (excess calories) could have the reverse effect. Eating too much of anything can aid in packing on the extra pounds. And, obesity has been shown to be a high risk factor in inflammation (8). So, it is important to remind clients to eat a variety of good foods but also remember to consume the right number of calories for their body.
Foods That May Contribute to Inflammation
Just as food may play a role in reducing inflammation, it can also contribute to inflammation.
1. Processed Foods
What not to eat: Microwave meals, breakfast cereals and other food from a box
Why: Many types of prepackaged foods have trans fats that may contribute to inflammation (9).
2. High Sugar Foods
What not to eat: Cakes, cookies, sweets, and sugary drinks
Why: These types of food typically have very low nutrient density. And, sugar consumption may release cytokines which are messengers for inflammation (10).
What not to drink: All soda (diet or regular)
Why: Maybe it's the sugar or maybe it's the artificial sweeter. This stuff just isn’t good for the human body.
For Clients That Need a Little More Structure
Many health professionals suggest the Mediterranean Diet as a great anti-inflammatory diet. As you can see, some of the main components of the diet outlined below are very closely aligned with the information above. Numerous studies support that this type of diet has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, along with a variety of other health benefits (11).
- Consume lots of: Fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts, seed, spice, and herbs
- Minimize consumption of: Dairy, chicken, eggs, and red meat
- Avoid: Processed meats, sugary foods, and highly processed foods
The core of the diet is eat REAL food and strive for more of a plant-based approach.
An individual may be able to reduce or increase inflammation through diet. It is best to limit sugary and processed foods and drinks. Clients should eat a variety of good, colorful foods from the earth. And, for those individuals that need a little more structure, the Mediterranean Diet is a great anti-inflammatory diet.
Are you interested in learning more about nutrition? Check out the ISSA's online nutrition course.
- Donath MY and Shoelson SE., “Type 2 diabetes as an inflammatory disease.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. Nat Rev Immunol. February 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21233852
- Libby, Peter, et. al., “Inflammation and Atherosclerosis.” ahajournals.org. Circulation. March 2002. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/hc0902.104353
- Ohio State University Medical Center. "How inflammation can lead to cancer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/1104190911
- Hodges, Stephen J., et. al., “Anti-Inflammatory Actions of Vitamin K.” intechopen.com. March 2017. https://www.intechopen.com/books/vitamin-k2-vital-for-health-and-wellbeing/anti-inflammatory-actions-of-vitamin-k
- Simopoulos, AP., “Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. J AM Coll. Nutr. Dec. 2002. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480795
- Lucas, L., et. al., “Molecular mechanisms of inflammation. Anti-inflammatory benefits of virgin olive oil and the phenolic compound oleocanthal.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. Curr. Pharm. Des. 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21443487
- Priyanka, Chatterjee, et.al., “Evaluation of anti-inflammatory effects of green tea and black tea: A comparative in vitro study.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. J Adv Pharm Technol Res. April-June 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401676/
- Mohammed S. Ellulu., et. al, “Obesity and inflammation: the linking mechanism and the complications.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. Archives of Medical Science. June 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5507106/
- Mozaffarian, D., et.al., “Dietary intake of trans fatty acids and systemic inflammation in women.”ncbi.nim.nih.gov. Am J Clin Nutr. April 2004. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15051604
- James J. DiNicolantonio, et al. “Added Fructose: A Principal Driver of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Its Consequences.” MayoClinicProceedings.org, Elsevier Inc., March 2015. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(15)00040-3/fulltext
- Casas, Rosa., et.al., “The Immune Protective Effect of the Mediterranean Diet against Chronic Low-grade Inflammatory Diseases.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. December 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4443792/