Overall health benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet

Nov 8, 2023
Key Takeaways
  • Anti-inflammatory diets, like the Mediterranean pattern, reduce cardiovascular risk and inflammation markers without calorie restrictions.
  • Chronic inflammation, linked to diseases, can be controlled with dietary improvements, no smoking, stress moderation, and sleep support.
  • Practical changes for an anti-inflammatory diet: prioritize colorful vegetables, incorporate fresh fruits, switch to olive oil, choose plant-based proteins, and explore whole grains.

An anti-inflammatory diet centers around eating foods that help combat inflammation in the body. There are several variations of “anti-inflammatory” dietary patterns including the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet, MIND diet, and plant-based approaches.

Anti-inflammatory dietary patterns have the most robust evidence supporting positive impact on overall health. One study found that women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet had a 25% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, were able to better manage blood sugar levels, had a lower body mass index, and lower inflammation markers.

Another benefit of anti-inflammatory diets is that they are not focused on calorie restriction, but are about prioritizing certain food groups over others, making it more sustainable for many.

Understanding inflammation

Inflammation is not “bad” – it’s an important component of your body’s defense system.  When your body senses damage like infection or injury it alerts your immune system, which responds by releasing certain antibodies and proteins. You can think of these proteins as helpful messengers that alert your body of damage and help it heal. You can recognize inflammation in the heat, pain, redness or swelling that occurs after an injury as your body attempts to heal itself.

When your body has a healthy immune response, these messengers calm down once the healing process is complete. Chronic inflammation occurs when your immune system continues to send these alert signals for longer than needed.

Chronic inflammation raises the risk of many diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis. We can control several of the risk factors associated with chronic inflammation by:

  • improving our dietary patterns
  • avoiding smoking
  • moderating stress
  • supporting sleep

Improving your dietary patterns

When attempting to make diet changes it can be very easy to get overwhelmed and try to do too much at once, which can be stressful and unsustainable.  Or – you may feel like you must eat perfectly, leading to feelings of guilt when you inevitably slip up. 

We want you to think about your diet as a pattern that you develop over time, instead of a list of do’s and don'ts you need to adhere to immediately. As you explore healthy foods and build your pattern, it is our hope that you’ll experience more energy, less inflammation, and improve your health. Figure out what works best for you by building upon your current eating habits.

Diet approaches, like the ones listed below, have proven to have anti-inflammatory properties:

  • high in fruits, vegetable, nuts, and whole grains
  • centered around colorful, plant-based foods
  • low in red and processed meats
  • low in sugar

These eating patterns have benefits due to the protective effects of certain plant compounds that have been associated with lower inflammation. Studies have suggested that eating diverse, colorful plants support our health. When you look at all the nutrition research on improving health, one key theme continues to emerge – plants are powerful. 

On the flip side, consuming large amounts of red meat, processed foods and sugars has been associated with chronic inflammation.

Practical changes can make all the difference

There’s a lot of practical changes you can make to build more plants into your diet pattern:

  • Eat more vegetables: try to add a side of fresh vegetables to each of your meals to build the habit of eating vegetables. Build your anti-inflammatory plate over time, aiming for ½ your plate from colorful, diverse vegetables.
  • Eat fresh fruit: Mediterranean and plant-based dietary patterns incorporate 3 servings of fruit daily. Fruits are quality carbohydrates that provide fiber and important nutrients.
  • Switch to olive oil: use olive oil as your primary oil in cooking, vinaigrettes, pestos or tapenades. Other Mediterranean-based fats include avocado, hummus and the olives themselves!
  • Prioritize your proteins: Experiment with plant-based proteins like beans, lentils and nuts.  A Mediterranean approach incorporates 1-2 servings of nuts every day.  If you eat animal protein, then opt for fish & poultry. 
  • Explore whole grains: Craving carbs? It’s ok! Incorporating whole grains is part of a Mediterranean and plant-based pattern. Explore quinoa, barley, oats, farro, amaranth, buckwheat, or wild rice (just to name a few). You may find that you are more satisfied, experience fewer cravings and improve your cholesterol levels.
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