Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses. Heart disease, cancers and even Alzheimer’s disease can all be linked back to inflammation. Cooling down bodywide inflammation can help to reduce disease risk and improve overall energy levels and quality of life. One easy way to start fighting off inflammation is by making simple tweaks to your current dietary habits. With just a few adjustments, you can begin to experience marked health improvements. So what dietary tweaks are most effective at reversing inflammation? We turned to the experts to find out.
1. Adjust your ratio of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-6 unsaturated fats — found in corn, sunflower and safflower oils — can give rise to pro-inflammatory responses in the body, says Elana Natker, MS, RD. Choosing omega-3 fats for cooking, such as canola oil, more often can shift the body away from inflammatory production and also support anti-inflammatory responses. Better yet, she says, “eating foods rich in omega-3 fish oils EPA and DHA — such as salmon, herring and sardines — helps support heart and brain health, too.” Try filling your plate with a 3-ounce fillet of those fatty fish at least twice a week, and grab a handful of walnuts a few times per week for an omega-3 packed snack.
2. Fill your plate with color.
If you have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow,” then you already know a diet that contains a variety of colors can help promote health. However, certain colors can help fight inflammation more effectively than others. “Look for foods that are black, deep red, dark blue and purple in color,” says Marie Spano, MS, RD. “Instead of automatically choosing brown rice, pick up black rice. Instead of a sweet potato, try a purple potato or reach for purple carrots. Vegetables and fruits with these colors have been shown to decrease inflammation and promote artery health.”
3. Swap refined grains for whole grains.
Whole grains can lead to decreased inflammation, says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN,“When compared to refined grains, whole grains decrease the amount of time your blood sugar level is elevated post-meal — which means less inflammation for your body.” Identify the grains you eat each day. If you enjoy white pasta, try swapping it for pasta made with whole wheat or chickpea flour. If you are a rice lover, try switching out the white rice for quinoa. To help you identify if a food choice is whole grain, take a careful look at the ingredient list. For grain products, the first ingredient listed should be a form of whole grain, such as whole-wheat flour, bran or whole oats.
4. Cool off exercise-related inflammation.
An intense workout can be a great way to build muscle strength and endurance, but it can also lead to soreness and inflammation. If you suffer from post-workout soreness, consider adding ginger and cherries into your diet. “These foods have been shown to decrease inflammation and muscle soreness after a damaging bout of exercise,” says Spano, “In addition, there is some evidence showing ginger, when consumed daily, effectively reduces pain from osteoarthritis.” By simply adding ginger to your tea or a handful of cherries on top of your yogurt, you can help ease muscle soreness and inflammation.
5. Say ‘Yes!’ to Chocolate.
Well, this is certainly an easy dietary adjustment to make! “Unsweetened cocoa powder might help lower inflammation linked with heart disease,” says Gorin. By adding cocoa powder into smoothies, yogurts or your favorite beverage, you may be helping to cool off inflammation while satisfying your chocolate cravings. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that high-risk patients who drank skim milk mixed with unsweetened cocoa powder daily noticed a reduction in inflammatory biomarkers compared with those who drank plain skim milk. Try mixing one tablespoon of cocoa powder daily into the beverage of your choice.
By making small adjustments to your diet, such as increasing your intake of whole grains and adding more colorful fruits and vegetables to your plate, you may not only fight inflammation, you may reduce body fat as well. If body weight is improved and body fat is reduced, this change in overall body composition itself can promote an additional reduction in inflammation. “Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight in and of itself helps fight inflammation, since extra fat can promote inflammation,” says Natker.