NUTRITION SCIENCE 

Anti-Inflammatory Foods: 4 Things You Should Know

NASIRA BURKHOLDER-COOLEY, DrPH, RD | JULY 16, 2020 

Pictured: Chef Julian's poached salmon atop a carrot puree and wild rice, with a side of green beans, microgreens and lemon goat butter.

What is inflammation?

Acute inflammation is the body's normal response to promote healing when the body is fighting infection related to injury, wounds, allergens, toxins, or infection. Typical signs of inflammation include swelling, pain, and redness.

Acute inflammation is distinct from chronic inflammation, in which swelling, pain, or redness may not be apparent. Chronic inflammation is usually caused by excess body fat or immune dysfunction. While acute inflammation promotes healing, chronic inflammation can result in DNA damage and increased cancer risk.

What do we know about anti-inflammatory diets?

Despite a variety of "anti-inflammatory diets" promoted online, research is only just beginning to emerge with regard to diet and inflammation. So far, scientific studies indicate that consuming a variety of nutritious foods may help reduce inflammation and keep chronic inflammation at bay. Foods that enhance immune function are also important in fighting inflammation. Here is what we know thus far about foods and inflammation:

1

Diets high in saturated fats and trans fats may increase inflammation. Saturated fats can be found in foods like butter, palm and coconut oils, and fatty (not lean) meats. Trans fats are primarily found in "partially hydrogenated oils", a common ingredient in processed foods such as potato chips, french fries, and many baked goods.

2

Healthy omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats can promote anti-inflammatory pathways and reduce inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in fish, but can also be found in flaxseed and may be taken as a dietary supplement. Monounsaturated fats are known as the "healthy fat", and can be found in olive oil, avocados, and many nuts and seeds.

3

Fruits and vegetables provide phytonutrients, with potential anti-inflammatory properties. There are thousands of phytonutrients found in plant foods, whole grains, nuts, and beans, which may help prevent disease and keep your body working properly, in addition to reducing inflammation.

4

Animal studies indicate that dark chocolate, green tea, red wine, turmeric and ginger may reduce inflammation. However, these findings have not been observed in humans and it is unknown how much and how often these foods must be eaten to provide benefits.

Quick Tips for Reducing Inflammation

Choose these

  • Healthy monounsaturated fats including olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, peanut and avocado oils.

  • Omega-3 rich foods like salmon, walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds.

  • Whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, and bulgur.

  • Fruits and vegetables (with every meal!)

  • A variety of protein sources, including fish, tofu, legumes, and low-fat dairy.

Avoid these

  • Partially hydrogenated oils, found in processed foods such as potato chips, french fries, and baked goods.

  • High amounts of saturated fats, found in foods like butter, palm and coconut oils, and fatty (not lean) meats.

About the author

Nasira Burkholder-Cooley, DrPH, RD

Nasira is a registered dietitian, fitness expert, and professor of nutrition. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at Chapman University, where she teaches courses on nutrition science, and maintains a private practice working with individual clients. Nasira has 10 years of experience as a personal trainer and is a NASM certified Corrective Exercise Specialist and Senior Fitness Specialist, as well as a certified yoga instructor.

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