Food & Inflammation
Content by: Jamie Rinaldi RD LD
Chronic inflammation is linked to a number of diseases and can exacerbate mental health disorders. Learn how food can play a role in promoting or preventing the inflammation response.
Inflammation is a beneficial immune response when the body needs to fight off illness or infection; however, chronic inflammation is associated with many major diseases and the progressional of numerous health conditions, such as arthritis and gastrointestinal disorders.
Diet is among many factors! Learn about foods that may promote or help prevent the inflammation response.
According to a meta-analysis study(1) on dietary inflammatory potential and the incidence of depression and anxiety, individuals on a pro-inflammatory diet are 45% more likely to suffer from depression and 66% more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders than those on an anti-inflammatory diet.
Fruits and vegetables, notably berries and dark leafy greens, are anti-inflammatory foods. All fruits and vegetables have a place in a balanced diet. You often hear dietitians say, “eat the rainbow!” Pigmentation often indicates the presence of specific nutrients, in particular phytochemicals and antioxidants like beta-carotene in red or orange produce. Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is a key to optimal nutritional intake.
In this day and age, there seems to be a lot of fear around grains and gluten; however, for most people, they are not problematic. In fact, the vitamin E that whole grains contain have numerous anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Those allergic to wheat or with a gluten intolerance, such as in celiac sprue, of course, are advised to steer clear.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) deserves a place at the table! But, it has to be extra virgin. EVOO is a great source of many anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, monounsaturated fatty acids, and vitamin E.
Nuts are also anti-inflammatory given their content of vitamin E, monounsaturated fatty acids, and omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts,almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts (technically a legume, but we treat it like a nut) are the most preferred varieties for this purpose.
Resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine, has anti-inflammatory properties. Excessive alcohol intake, however, counteracts any benefits. A glass or 2 is ideal! A delicious and anti-inflammatory pairing is some dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. Remember, the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more healthful polyphenols.
Dairy products are another controversial food group, partially because of their saturated fat content. Saturated fat has had a bad rap for decades; however, certain types of saturated fat in dairy, specifically cheese, have been shown to prevent inflammation. Additionally, the probiotics in fermented dairy foods such as yogurt with live active cultures are also anti-inflammatory. Other favorable fermented foods include kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut. As prebiotics are the “food” for probiotics, it helps to include them as well. Artichokes, bananas, garlic, and asparagus are among the many prebiotic-rich foods.
Many high protein foods are loaded with the aforementioned nutrients as well as many others that are anti-inflammatory. Skinless white meat poultry, fish, eggs, beans, chickpeas, soy products, and dairy foods are primo choices.
Spice up your life! Yes, spices help fight inflammation. Some heavyweights are curcumin, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, cardamom, and cayenne pepper. Stirring one or more (not garlic, that’s weird) into a cup of green tea guarantees an anti-inflammatory blast.
Foods to limit or avoid are certainly worth a mention. Not surprisingly, the bad guys are fried foods, processed meats, butter, and stick margarine, chiefly because of their types of saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids. And, since an insulin spike triggers inflammation, foods high in added sugars, like pastries, doughnuts, candies, fruit punch, and soda are also not great choices. A vanilla Greek yogurt with berries, dark chocolate chips, and walnuts sounds plenty indulgent for most people, anyway.
(1) Li, X., Chen, M., Yao, Z. et al. Dietary inflammatory potential and the incidence of depression and anxiety: a meta-analysis. J Health Popul Nutr 41, 24 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41043-022-00303-z