The latest and greatest buzzwords getting attention in the wellness world these days are “inflammation,” “inflammatory lifestyle” and “inflammatory foods.” If you’re confused by yet another health topic popping up in your social media feeds, you’re not alone. But what exactly is inflammation, and how can certain foods either help or hinder it?
What is inflammation?
There are two types of inflammation, chronic inflammation and acute inflammation. To start, acute inflammation is not harmful. In fact, acute inflammation is critical to your health and well-being. Acute inflammation is your body’s healthy response to injury. For example, when you get a cut on your arm, it usually gets red and swollen. Your body is setting off an inflammatory response to that area, telling your immune system to begin the healing process.
But when inflammation goes on too long, or there is too much of it, it is no longer considered a healthy immune response. This is called chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to a variety of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The good news is that our food choices can play a role in reducing inflammation and living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
When it comes to food and nutrition, it is important to look at your overall lifestyle and eating habits. Our country’s food supply is full of packaged, highly processed foods that are typically high in added sugar and low in nutrients. Eating an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise and having too much stress can lead to a state of chronic inflammation.
But nutritious foods have the power to work in amazing ways for your health. The idea is a simple one: focusing on lots of quality nutrient-dense foods. Although there have been countless diet trends and fads throughout the years, what foods to eat for a healthy lifestyle will never go out of style.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce body-wide inflammation. While there is no specific “diet,” researchers have identified certain foods that can help control inflammation. Many of them are found in the so-called Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish, vegetables and olive oil, among other staples. Incorporating more of a plant-based diet by focusing on foods like fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and whole grains like oats and quinoa, supports a plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet. Diets full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are naturally anti-inflammatory and considered essential for heart health. The Mediterranean approach also includes high omega-3 fat ratio foods like olive oil, fatty fish and avocado. These foods can improve cholesterol levels and be protective against chronic inflammatory diseases. This way of eating is thought to contribute to longevity in so-called “blue zones.” Those are the areas of the world where people live the longest.
The sugar problem
The number one problem when it comes to health in this country is the amount of excess added sugar in our food supply. Often, we don’t even realize how much sugar we are eating. Food companies disguise ingredients with healthier-sounding words like syrups, brown sugar, dextrose, etc., but they are all essentially sugar.
Walk through any supermarket, and you see aisles and aisles of obvious sources of sugar, like boxed cookies, colorful cereals, soda and candy. Then there are the less obvious sources of sugar, like yogurts, tomato sauces and bread, with certain brands having much more added sugar than other brands.
Regardless of the source, eating too much added sugar over time can cause inflammation.
Focus on including natural sources of sugar like fruit, which contains fiber and nutrients. This type of sugar is very different from the added sugar in candy and cookies.
Other anti-inflammatory tips
Some other ways to reduce inflammation include:
- Reduce fried, creamy, salty foods
- Eat from home as much as possible instead of dining or ordering out
- Drink plenty of water
- Move daily and try to get outside, even if it’s for 10 minutes at a time
- Work on decreasing stress
- Sleep longer: Ideally, get at least seven to eight hours of overnight sleep
Hydration, quality sleep, stress management and movement are just as important as diet because they’re all connected. For example, a lack of sleep can make you tired and drained so you skip your workout and don’t drink enough water. Lack of sleep can also upset the balance of hunger hormones so you may be hungrier than normal the next day, which may encourage less healthy food choices.
Quick tip roundup: how to get started on an anti-inflammatory lifestyle today
Don’t wait until tomorrow. You can begin an anti-inflammatory way of life right now. Think of it as taking a few baby steps rather than changing everything at once. Drink more water and take more steps. Find ways to manage your stress and improve your sleep quality. Limiting screen time and creating rituals like going outside more are good ways to start.
Start by stocking a few staple foods in the house. My favorites are any fresh or frozen fruits or veggies and whole grain bread and crackers. Stock a variety of nuts and seeds, avocados, cans of tuna and beans, eggs and a container of oats.
Sample anti-inflammatory daily menu
- Drink water first to hydrate after sleeping all night
- 2 slices of whole grain toast mashed with ½ avocado, 1 or 2 hard-boiled eggs and a serving of fruit such as an orange
- A handful of almonds and a few dried apricots
- A cup of broth-based soup like lentil or veggie with half of a turkey sandwich and a handful of baby carrots with a scoop of hummus
- An apple or banana with a smear of peanut or almond butter
- A piece of baked salmon or grilled chicken with a baked potato topped with broccoli and shredded cheese and a side salad drizzled with olive oil and lemon
Make an appointment to consult with a Teledoc dietitian to assist you in changing your habits and educating you about an anti-inflammatory way of life.
Check out all the ways you can benefit from working with a Teladoc dietitian.
We’ve partnered with Daily Harvest to provide expert advice to help people stay on top of their eating habits. They make it easy with plant-forward menu options to help you get through the week without the hassle.
Updated March 30, 2022