Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response to things like infections, wounds, and tissue damage, and you wouldn’t be able to heal without it. But inflammation can also lead to pain, and plays a major role in many diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, asthma, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and even cancer.
The good news is that changing your diet and focusing on proper nutrition can dramatically help with acute pain and illness, and adopting an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the easiest ways to start managing these conditions.
How to start an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
If you want to start eating an anti-inflammatory diet, the best way to start is by choosing whole foods as often as possible. This means basing your diet around whole, nutrient-dense foods that are high in antioxidants and avoiding processed food products. Your diet should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fat at each meal, and it’s important to meet your body’s needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water each day.
Some of the basic guidelines of an anti-inflammatory diet include:
- Reduce the amount of carbohydrates, especially processed carbs
- Try to include healthy, clean sources of protein when you choose meats
- Good fats are important, especially the omega-3 fatty acids
- Add a wide variety of vegetables and fruits to your meals
- Consume things like dairy in moderation, as it contains unhealthy fats
Foods that may help manage inflammation include:
Fruits and vegetables: Choose a variety and aim for lots of color (as they say, eat the rainbow). Research shows that eating foods rich in vitamin K, like leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and kale can help curb inflammation. Fruits like cherries, raspberries, and blackberries derive their color from types of pigments that can also help your body fight inflammation.
Whole grains: Foods like oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and other unrefined grains are high in fiber, and fiber can also help with inflammation.
Beans: Beans and legumes are high in fiber and loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients that can help reduce inflammation.
Nuts: Nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids and other kinds of healthy fats that can reduce inflammation. (Olive oil and avocados are also good sources.) Stick to just a handful of nuts a day, as the fat and calories in nuts can make them easy to overdo.
Fish: Oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines all contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids that help with inflammation. You should try to work these into your diet at least twice a week.
Herbs and spices: Along with flavor, these add antioxidants to your food. Turmeric, for example, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Garlic and ginger have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
What kinds of foods cause inflammation and pain?
In addition to including nutritious anti-inflammatory ingredients in your diet, it’s also important to limit your consumption of foods that can contribute to inflammation. Avoid foods that are highly processed, overly greasy, or super sweet, as these aren’t a good choice for you if you have inflammation.
People who are following an anti-inflammatory diet should avoid or limit their intake of:
- Processed foods like fast food, frozen meals, and processed meats
- Foods with added sugar or salt
- Unhealthy oils (processed vegetable oils and trans-fats)
- Highly processed grain products, such as white bread, white pasta, and many baked goods
- Processed snack foods, such as chips and crackers
- Premade desserts, such as cookies, candy, and ice cream
- Excess alcohol
An anti-inflammatory diet should be a lifestyle change, not a diet
The important thing to remember is that the systemic inflammation that causes acute pain and chronic disease doesn’t happen overnight, and it can’t be cured in a day. By slowly shifting your diet over to the kinds of anti-inflammatory foods listed in this guide, you can start to develop new healthy habits and find interesting ways to incorporate them into your lifestyle.
Moreover, an anti-inflammatory diet by itself isn’t a panacea to all the health problems you may be experiencing. By combining the tenets of an anti-inflammatory diet with other healthy lifestyle choices, like maintaining a regular exercise routine and avoiding things like smoking and excessive alcohol intake, you should begin to notice a reduction in pain, weight loss, and improvements in your overall health.
Quantum Pain and Sports Medicine can help you get started
If you are in pain and you want to start an anti-inflammatory diet, the acute pain specialists at Quantum Pain and Sports Medicine can help. We are not just experts at diagnosing and treating pain, we are your source for holistic treatment, offering diet and nutrition plans, exercise and physical therapy and more.
Call 469.913.6136 or contact us to learn more.