What is the inflammation diet?
It’s a possible way to calm your body’s response to pain and stress: the inflammation diet. Eating the right foods may fight inflammation, a key source of joint and nerve pain, while eating the wrong foods may make any inflammation in your body worse. Chronic (long-term) inflammation can lead to many conditions: pain, degenerative diseases, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and cancer.
Foods That Cause Inflammation Pain
A recent Harvard Health study links certain foods to inflammation. They include:
1. Refined carbohydrates. We’re talking about white bread, pastries, doughnuts, cakes, and the like.
2. Fried foods. French fries, potato chips, and fried chicken would fall into this category as well.
3. Sugar. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that processed sugars trigger your body to release inflammatory messengers called cytokines.
4. Red meat. This includes steaks, burgers, and processed meats like hotdogs and sausage.
5. Shortening. Excessive amounts of lard, trans fats, cooking shortening and margarine may also trigger an inflammation response.
No surprises here. These foods have long been thought of as unhealthy when eaten in excess. They have been linked to diseases like type-2 diabetes, heart disease and overweight. Inflammation can cause these diseases to develop and stay. Some, like arthritis and degenerative disc disease, can lead you to see a pain management doctor.
Inflammation Diet Foods
On the other side of the coin, there are foods and beverages that have been linked to calming or preventing inflammation. They include:
- Fruits like blueberries, strawberries, oranges and cherries
- Leafy green vegetables like spinach, collards and kale
- Nuts like walnuts and almonds
- Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines
- Olive oil
Not surprisingly, the foods on this list are considered healthy. There are others, too. Substances in coffee and the spice turmeric are also grabbing headlines for their supposed anti-inflammatory properties.
What Is Inflammation?
To see how a healthy diet helps, you need to understand how inflammation affects your body. Inflammation is part of the immune response to foreign invaders like chemicals, microbes and allergens. It is your body’s self-protection, sending out white blood cells and other substances. Without the inflammation process, cuts and bruises would never heal.
Inflammation goes from being your friend to being your enemy when it continues day in and day out, even when there is no foreign invader threatening your body. It is this chronic inflammation that has been linked to pain and disease. Your doctor can order blood tests like CRP (C-reactive protein) and interleukin-6 to measure the level of inflammation responses in your body, and then recommend a course of treatment.
How to Create an Inflammation Diet Plan
Diet does appear to play a role in keeping inflammation in check. Certain diet plans, such as the Mediterranean diet, have moved into the spotlight for their positive effect on health. This diet is heavy on fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy oils and nuts.
“There’s good evidence that a Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation and the many diseases it causes,” said Ronald Stern, M.D., principal pain management physician at Physician Partners of America in Melbourne, Fla., and the author of Meals, Movement and Meditation – Using Science, Not Myth, for Healthfulness.
Dr. Stern is adamant about separating fact from fad – his book cites more than 400 sources – and says it is hard to find conclusive studies showing that certain foods reduce the body’s inflammatory responses.
One possible reason: most food studies are not done on humans; they are done on animals or cells in a lab, nutritionist Karen Collins points out. Studies so far show “any potentially anti-inflammatory compounds … are broken down to smaller, more easily absorbed compounds before they leave the digestive tract and circulate in the blood. So testing the large compound is not testing what is actually reaching body cells,” she writes in her blog.
And there is no hard evidence that eating more of the right helpful substances in food will stop inflammation, Collins says.
Still, there is no question that good food choices, a healthy lifestyle and good medical care are compatible with lower inflammation, and this can help ease any pain you are feeling. In other words, it can put you on the right – rather than the wrong – path to a higher quality of life.