The Facts about Inflammation and Food

You may have heard others mention inflammation or an anti-inflammatory diet. In this blog, we will dive into what inflammation really is.

Woman with headache touching her temples
Woman with headache

You may have heard others mention inflammation, or an anti-inflammatory diet. But what exactly does that mean - and does it exist a connection between inflammation, stress and the food we eat? Below we have highlighted some small things you can do that might have an impact to possibly reduce inflammation in your body!

The inflammatory response and your body

What causes chronic inflammation?

Some research suggests that stress and nutrition may play a role in the effects of chronic inflammation on overall health, stating that stress may contribute to the pro-inflammatory response of the body in the absence of infection or injury (4). Stress can also influence the food choices we make as well as can affect the body’s metabolic responses to food. When we are in a chronic state of stress, the hormone cortisol is continuously released by the body and can contribute to increased cravings of less healthy food options (5). In turn, eating less nutritious foods all the time can further contribute to chronic inflammation, and therefore may have a long-term negative impact on health. Due to this connection between stress, nutrition and inflammation, some research suggests that certain foods can both contribute to, and help fight against, chronic inflammation.

Inflammation and the food we eat

Several experimental studies have shown that the components and nutrients of food have a powerful effect on inflammation. Consistently choosing foods that have been suggested to contribute to inflammation could accelerate the negative effects of the inflammatory process. However, choosing a varied and balanced diet that focuses on healthy foods that have various health benefits and can help to reduce the negative effects of the inflammatory process (5).

Foods that can cause inflammation

Diets that might promote inflammation are high in refined starches, sugar, saturated and trans-fats, and low in omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants and fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (4). When making food choices, aim to eat these in moderation:

Refined carbohydrates and sugar-sweetened beverages (such as pastries, cakes, candy and soda). When we eat foods and drink beverages high in refined carbohydrates and sugars, our blood sugar levels spike. Findings suggest that rapid increases in blood sugar levels after meals rich in refined carbohydrates or sugars may aggravate the inflammatory processes (6).

Fried foods (such as French fries, mozzarella sticks, and potato chips). Fried foods are often high in unhealthy fat called trans fats. Some suggest that an increased intake of foods high in trans fat was associated with higher levels of markers of inflammation (7).

Red and processed meats (such as hot dogs, cold cuts and sausage). Studies show that eating more red and processed meat, especially in women, may be associated with higher levels of measured inflammation in the body (8).

Foods that can be anti-inflammatory

While it can be beneficial to consume foods that can cause inflammation in moderation, it is equally as important to incorporate a variety of foods into your diet that can reduce inflammation. A well-rounded diet that is composed of nutrient-dense foods, such as the Mediterranean diet, has an overall beneficial effect on health and might also cause anti-inflammatory effects. Try adding more of these foods into your diet to maintain an overall healthy diet:

Fruits and Vegetables. Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables, as they contain a bunch of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that promote overall health and well-being as well as can help decrease inflammation. Data supports public health recommendations to increase fruit and vegetable intake for the purpose of lowering chronic disease risk factors such as inflammation (9).

Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds, which include walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, can be good sources of healthy fats, nutrients and dietary fiber. Increasing your intake of nuts and seeds has been shown to decrease markers of inflammation (10).

Whole grains. Whole-grain foods such as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, are high in fiber, which has any positive effects on health like promoting digestion, and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases also it might also have anti-inflammatory effects on the body.

Fish. Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna, contains high amounts of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are essential fatty acids, or fats that your body needs but cannot make, so they must be obtained through a balanced diet. As one of the most studied nutrients, Omega-3s have been suggested to have beneficial effects on both physical and mental health. Consuming more omega-3 fats will decrease the ratio of omega-6 fats in the body and can potentially help to curb inflammation (4).

Herbs and Spices. While research has not been conclusive, some people suggest that including different herbs and spices such as turmeric, garlic and ginger to their diets have not only added flavor to their food but may also offer a variety of antioxidant properties that are associated with helping to reduce inflammation. 

Understanding the overall negative effects that inflammation can have on your long-term health, it is important to take preventative steps. Focusing on consuming or eliminating one food or food group will not prevent nor promote inflammation. It is important to try to eat an overall healthy and varied diet rich in nutrient-dense foods and moderate in less healthy foods. Nutrition apps such as Lifesum make following a balanced diet easy. Lifesum provides its participants with different diet plans to meet individual needs and goals while still offering healthful, balanced eating. The app also provides hundreds of healthy recipes for you to take your health into your own hands. What will you do to improve your health and prevent inflammation?

10 references (hide)

All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.