Learning about the types of inflammation and the effects of diet on the inflammatory process will help us understand the difference between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory diets.
Inflammation is the body’s immune response to injury and infections. Whenever body recognizes anything foreign, inflammation is triggered. There are two types of inflammation: acute (good type) and chronic (bad type).
Acute inflammation occurs when something harmful or irritating affects your body, like a cut or a bruise. It is a short-term immune response that protects the body from further damage.
Chronic inflammation occurs when inflammation lasts too long. It is identified by elevated levels of inflammatory markers in the blood over long time periods. This type of inflammation is seen in a variety of chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and depression.
Looking at the inflammation markers, evidence shows that certain foods in excess can activate the inflammatory processes in the body. When this inflammation cannot be turned off, it increases the risk of chronic diseases. Foods causing chronic inflammation are called pro-inflammatory foods.
Additional research demonstrates that consuming certain foods reduces inflammatory markers. These anti-inflammatory foods have favorable effects on the body.
The typical western diet containing excessive amounts of refined grain products, meats and desserts, and deficient in fruits and vegetables can create a pro-inflammatory state and predispose the body to chronic diseases.
Diets, such as Mediterranean diet, which are high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, oily fish, olive oil, and low in refined and ultra-processed foods, are shown to lower inflammatory markers and be good for you.
Which foods are pro-inflammatory?
- Refined carbohydrate foods, such as white bread, crackers, donuts and cakes
- Red meat, organ meat and processed meats
- Sugary drinks, including soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices
- Ice cream, snack bars, and sugary and salty snacks
- Fried foods or foods high in saturated fat and/or trans fats
Which foods are anti-inflammatory?
- Green leafy vegetables- spinach, broccoli, kale, cabbage and Swiss chard
- Berries (high in antioxidants, too)
- Whole grains, barley, brown rice, quinoa, oats and buckwheat
- Lentils, beans and peas
- Oily fish – salmon, sardines and mackerel (Omega-3 fatty acids present in oily fish are anti-inflammatory)
- Nuts and seeds – walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds
- Healthy oils – olive oil, avocado oil and flax seed oil
- Tea and coffee
Along with an anti-inflammatory diet, what other lifestyle modifications can be done to prevent chronic diseases?
- Regular physical activity
- Managing stress
- Avoiding or stopping smoking
- Eliminating excessive alcohol consumption
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting 7 or more hours of sleep nightly
Given the high prevalence of chronic conditions, adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, like the Mediterranean diet, can be highly beneficial to your health. It may help you live longer by reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases.
The key to being healthier is making smart choices while shopping for groceries. Avoid the grocery stores’ center isles, which are mostly filled with processed foods and foods containing preservatives (chemicals or additives). Generally, you will find freshest foods located in the outside perimeters of the store.