Inflammation: Triggers and Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Fight it

Kayla Castle

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January 19, 2021
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The foods we consume can either aid or lessen the inflammation process in our bodies. There is a correlation between food types and whether  they affect the release of  blood inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP) (8). Anti-inflammatory benefits refer to chemicals naturally found in food that possess antioxidant properties. These chemicals, commonly associated with phytochemicals, are broken down into 3 subcategories:

Phenolic acids- found in plant-based foods, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which are absorbed through the intestinal wall and fight free radicals. Kiwi, blueberries, cherries, oat, wheat and rice cereals/flours are great sources of phenolic acids. (1)

Flavonoids- fight free radicals, regulate cellular activity and protect against stressors and toxins.  Some examples of flavonoid-rich food include kale, onions, tomatoes, berries, red wine and tea. (2) 

Stilbenes/Lignans- fiber associated polyphenols found as lignan precursors in plants.  Grapes, berries and flaxseeds are great sources of lignans. (3)

So, what is inflammation? Inflammation is the immune system’s response to infection/injury. Inflammation periodically is beneficial for your body as the immune system will trigger a response to target and heal the infection/injury (4). However, a problem arises when the inflammation becomes chronic. Long-term inflammation exhausts and overwhelms the immune system response, lessening the body’s ability to repair and recover. Chronic inflammation is associated with major diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, depression and arthritis (5). 

Inflammatory Foods

Before we dig into the food that reduces inflammation, let’s look into what foods feed inflammation. Inflammatory foods encourage the release of inflammatory CRP messenger (8), increasing the risk of developing chronic inflammation. 

  • Processed foods: commercially processed foods tend to be high in scary additives along with high levels of sugar, salt and refined carbohydrates. (8)
  • Sugary beverages (5)
  • High red meat consumption (8)
  • Fried foods (6)
  • Shortening/ lard/ margarine (5)
  • Excess alcohol (7)

These foods are listed as controversial as they can cause inflammation in some people:  

  • Gluten and dairy tend to be a source of inflammation if an intolerance or allergy is present. (6) 
  • Nightshades refers to foods that contain solanine  which includes bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and white potatoes. Solanine in the past has been associated with promoting arthritis inflammation. Note: The Arthritis Foundation does not support this claim but does agree some individuals may be sensitive to solanine containing foods. (6)

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Anti-inflammatory foods are nutrient-rich (7) and high in polyphenols and antioxidants (5). The Mediterranean diet is a good example of a diet containing a collection of anti-inflammatory rich foods. The Mediterranean diet prioritizes consuming whole grains, fish, healthy oils, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits (5). 

Royalty-Free photo: Fresh & Colorful Fruits and Vegetables | PickPik
Hint: Eat the plant-based rainbow! (Image from PickPik)
  • Fresh fruits: cherries, berries, oranges (etc) (7).
  • Dark leafy vegetables: kale, spinach, collard greens (etc).(7)
  • Fatty fish: tuna, mackerel and salmon are all good sources of Omega-3s. (8)
  • Nuts & seeds: nuts have been shown to reduce inflammation markers. (5)
  • Olive oil (7)
  • Whole grains (7)

Anti-inflammatory foods reduce CRP inflammatory messenger from being released, decreasing the risk of developing chronic inflammation (8). In addition to choosing anti-inflammatory foods, it is also important to engage in healthy lifestyle habits  to further reduce  inflammation risk such as limiting alcohol, no smoking/drug use and being physically active. 

Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help aid several inflammatory involved illnesses/conditions, including asthma, Crohn’s disease, colitis, arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, metabolic syndrome, Hashimoto’s syndrome and inflammatory bowel syndrome, to name a few (7).

References:

1. S Lehman (2020) How to Add Phenolic Acids in Your Diet. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-phenolic-acid-2507071

2. K Watson (2019) What Are Flavonoids? Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/what-are-flavonoids-everything-you-need-to-know 

3. J Higdon Ph.D (2004) Lignans. Retrieved from: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/lignans

4. Harvard Medical School (2019) New Insights about inflammation. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/new-insights-about-inflammation 

5. Harvard Medical School (2014) Foods that fight inflammation. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation 

6. V Vad (2015) What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods? Retrieved from: https://www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/diet-and-nutrition/what-are-anti-inflammatory-foods 

 7. K Marengo (2020) Anti-inflammatory diet: What to know. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320233 

8. Mayo Clinic. How to use food to help your body fight inflammation. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-use-food-to-help-your-body-fight-inflammation/art-20457586 

Edited by preRD intern, Lauren Gatto

Kayla Castle

Kayla Castle

Hi! I`m Kayla Castle, I am a Nutrition & Dietetics undergraduate student at New York University. Pursuing a Master’s degree in Nutrition & Dietetics and the DI internship to become a registered dietitian (RD). In addition, I am a Pilates instructor, in the future as an RD, I plan to combine nutrition and exercise. I also like to go hiking with my dog, cooking and creating my own recipes.