Are you confused about what you should eat while managing multiple health conditions?
What kind of diet can a whole family follow?
What foods benefit everyone regardless of disease or age?
It can be overwhelming to sort through all the diets, especially when feeding more than one person. Overthinking almost always leads to getting stuck—paralysis by analysis.
Let me bring clarity and help you get UNstuck!
This article will explain an anti-inflammatory diet, how it helps everyone, and simple food swaps to get started.
What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
To start, we should discuss inflammation. Inflammation is a normal and beneficial body response to illness, injury, or disease. Inflammation helps your body to repair, heal, and return to a normal baseline.
Inflammation can become chronic (or long-term), with the whole body inflamed for months or years. Chronic inflammation can occur due to lifelong diseases, aging, stress, and the types of food that make up your diet.
Chronic inflammation doesn’t allow your body to rest. It makes you prone to developing (or worsening existing) heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and auto-immune conditions to name a few.
Choosing an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce inflammation, prevent disease, and stabilize chronic conditions.
An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on eating:
- large amounts of vegetables and fruit
- foods with healthy fats (omega-3 fats and unsaturated fats)
- lean protein or meat options
- whole grains
- foods containing vitamins C and E and flavonoids
Some foods or eating patterns reduce inflammation, while others increase inflammation (pro-inflammation). High saturated fat intake, processed carbohydrates like donuts, crackers, bagels, or white bread, and omega-6 fats increase markers of inflammation in the body.
Types of Anti-Inflammatory Diets
There is not one anti-inflammatory diet. You can modify this diet to fit your needs. Eating more real or whole foods (processed as little as possible) is a simple way to start including more anti-inflammatory foods.
However, if you want more structure for this eating style, certain diets are well-researched and filled with the anti-inflammatory foods listed above. They include:
1. The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on seasonal and local foods, enjoying socialization at meals, vegetables, whole grain bread and cereals, legumes (beans), nuts and seeds, fruit as dessert, olive oil, lower intake of dairy products, medium amount of fish, poultry, and eggs, with red meat once a week.
2. DASH Diet
The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is similar to the Mediterranean Diet in all ways, with an added emphasis on reduced sugary beverages and limiting sodium (or salt) intake.
Developers created the DASH Diet to reduce blood pressure, heart disease, and anti-inflammatory benefits.
3. Vegetarian or Flexitarian Diet
Vegetarian diets are similar to the DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet, with the removal of animal products of varying degrees. Some vegetarian diets exclude all animal foods, whereas others include eggs or dairy products.
The Flexitarian Diet is a spin-off of the vegetarian diet. It allows for occasional meat or poultry products emphasizing plant-based foods.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Benefits Everyone
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I strive for practical nutrition advice that works in real life for everyone, regardless of age or health conditions.
In my 15 years of experience, ranging from premature babies to adults, preventing and managing hereditary health conditions, an anti-inflammatory diet works.
It works to prevent disease or illness. It works to reverse conditions like heart disease or diabetes. It works to lessen the side effects of hereditary conditions.
Here is a sampling of a few benefits for each age group.
Research on children following anti-inflammatory diets covers many health conditions. The Mediterranean Diet has been studied and found to improve markers for glucose and lipid blood levels along with a BMI reduction in 2014 trial of 49 children and adolescents with obesity.
Researchers taught each family and child how to eat a Traditional Mediterranean Diet. The children were one to five years old.
Before changing the diet to anti-inflammatory in the 2016 study, the 90 children averaged 7.45 colds per year and afterward averaged 2.88 colds yearly!
Similarly, the 128 children in the 2022 ear infection study had improved results from switching up their diet. Ear infections dropped from 3.84 to 0.48 at the end of the study, and 60% of the children had no further ear infections.
A large review article involving over 100,000 people showed a 20% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes following the Mediterranean Diet.
Additionally, a study on 3,000 individuals with type 2 diabetes found that those strongly following the Mediterranean Diet had 15% lower glucose and insulin levels and 27% increased insulin control. Managing glucose and insulin lessens diabetes complications.
Greater adherence to the Mediterranean Diet is associated with better heart health (reductions of heart disease, stroke, and heart disease).
Hereditary diseases like endometriosis and psoriasis, which lead to chronic inflammation, are helped with an anti-inflammatory diet. Diets rich in antioxidants can help slow the progression and severity, leading to better quality of life.
3. Older Adults
Diets containing anti-inflammatory foods (Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND) have been associated with lower cognitive decline and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals following the MIND diet had the most beneficial effects on brain health.
The MIND diet is similar to the Mediterranean or DASH diet with the addition of limited animal and saturated fat foods and specific recommended amounts of berries and green leafy vegetables.
A study including 65 older adults looked at their physical activity, anti-inflammatory food intake, and inflammatory response through blood levels.
The study supports that eating more anti-inflammatory foods and maintaining physical activity allows for an optimal inflammatory response to prevent illness, manage chronic conditions, and promote healthful aging.
Simple Anti-Inflammatory Food Swaps
Remember that no one food makes a diet healthy or unhealthy. It is a combined effect of all foods included or excluded and other factors such as environment, genetics, and physical activity.
Make changes that can have the biggest impact and work for you this week.
For example, if you rarely consume vegetables, adding vegetables to dinner will provide an anti-inflammatory boost each day and likely replace some pro-inflammatory foods.
Swapping milk chocolate to dark chocolate may be helpful but may not impact your overall diet as much as adding daily vegetables and fruit.
The big idea is to increase your fruits and vegetables and reduce the frequency of pro-inflammatory foods. Sometimes, viewing your intake over a week is easier than looking at a single day.
Follow the anti-inflammatory diet for everyone in your house. Anti-inflammatory diets can help reduce inflammation and benefit people of all ages and health conditions.
Quick Research Summary
- Anti-inflammatory diets improve markers for diabetes and heart disease in children and adults.
- Ear infections and colds in children are reduced with an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Hereditary diseases like psoriasis and endometriosis are improved by eating more anti-inflammatory foods.
- Following an anti-inflammatory diet protects brain health and healthy aging.
Don’t overthink it!
Pick one thing this week to boost your anti-inflammatory foods or drinks. I’m adding chilled unsweetened green tea to switch up my beverages (in still-hot September Texas).
Remember, the key features of this diet are increasing your vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, whole grains, and plant-based foods while decreasing your inflammatory foods (processed foods, sugary items, and carbohydrates). Click here to access my free PDF Anti-Inflammatory Diet Foods List to help get you started.
Check out my article on how the anti-inflammatory diet reduces colds and ear infections in toddlers and children, along with practical steps to get kids to eat some anti-inflammatory foods!
Let’s get UNstuck and stay UNstuck!