Inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases, but you can fight it with food. Arm yourself with knowledge, and then use these delicious, disease-fighting recipes from my cookbook, Meals that Heal.
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2 Types of Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response by the immune system. But there are two very different types.

“Good” acute inflammation occurs when we get a cut, break a bone, or come into contact with a bacteria or virus. Symptoms like swelling, redness, or a fever may be bothersome, but these are signs the body is healing itself. The symptoms will go away in a few days.

“Bad” chronic inflammation is triggered by a foreign body or irritant, such as chemicals, additives, and other compounds in the environment or in the food we eat.It can be triggered by stress and inadequate sleep, too. Symptoms are vague, and this inflammation doesn’t go away on its own.

Foods can either calm inflammation or contribute to it.

anti-inflammation foods

Top 8 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Eat

  1. Leafy greens (romaine, arugula, spinach, kale)
  2. Extra-virgin olive oil
  3. Berries
  4. Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts)
  5. Fatty fish (salmon)
  6. Green tea
  7. Fermented and probiotic-rich foods (yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi)
  8. Nuts and seeds

Top 8 Pro-Inflammatory Foods to Avoid

  1. Foods high in saturated and trans fats
  2. Foods with added sugars and/or artificial sweeteners
  3. Fried foods
  4. Processed foods
  5. Cured and processed meats
  6. Alcohol in excess
  7. Caffeine in excess
  8. High omega-6 to omega-3 ratios

From Subtle to Serious

Think of initial chronic inflammation as a small fire in the body. It’s localized and not yet severe. Poor food choices trigger inflammation that can result in slightly higher than normal blood sugar or blood pressure.

But just like how sparks from a small fire can create a second or third fire, this initial inflammation can increase the body’s sensitivity, making it easier for irritants to result in inflammation in another area of the body. Poor food choices, combined with stress and inactivity, can trigger inflammation in the form of weight gain, hypertension, and/or insulin resistance.

If these small fires aren’t put out, more fires start, and they become one large systemic blaze. In the body, symptoms become more noticeable. If nothing changes, inflammation pushes the body to serious conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

There are 25 Diseases and Conditions Connected to Chronic Inflammation

Signs & Symptoms

Speak with your doctor about chronic inflammation if you experience any of the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Joint pain
  • Weight gain or inability to lose weight
  • Above-normal blood sugar
  • Hypertension (or prehypertension)
  • Bloating, gas, or constipation
  • High LDL, low HDL
  • High triglycerides
  • Fatigue
  • New sensitivities to foods or the environment
  • Headaches

Long-Term Effects of "Bad" Inflammation

Unless it’s calmed, low-grade, chronic inflammation takes a gradual toll on the body, damaging cells and overworking the immune system, which can lead to these health issues: heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer, osteoarthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome—to name just a few.

The Right Ratio

Often labeled the “good” fat, unsaturated fats and oils contain both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. But most Americans over consume omega-6 and don’t get enough omega-3. This skewed ratio, as well as the fact that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and prevent disease, is thought to be a contributor to inflammation. 

Healthy fats and oils are made up of a blend of fatty acids, so choose good sources of omega-3, such as fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, and omega-3-rich eggs, daily. Then choose foods that have a higher proportion of omega-3s, like avocados, almonds, and oils from olives, avocados, canola, corn, and peanuts. 

60%  Percentage of Americans with at least one health condition either caused by or aggravated by chronic inflammation.

Anti-Inflammatory Recipe to Try: Zucchini Taco Skillet

"Fight off inflammation with this healthy taco skillet which uses zucchini and lean ground beef." —Carolyn Williams PhD, RD

zucchini skillet
Credit: Carson Downing

Read On! To discover even more anti-inflammatory diet-friendly recipes, we recommend you read Meals that Heal by Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD.

meals that heal book
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This article originally appeared in the February/March 2020  issue of Allrecipes Magazine.