First, an anti-inflammation diet is not a “diet” in the way most people say the word. It’s not weight loss plan (although weight loss is common on it), or a short-term solution. It’s a lifestyle of altering the way you think about and use food. People go on this diet for a variety of health reasons, but the most common reason is to control arthritis or other joint pain. It is also very effective in managing fibro-myalgia pain. Beyond that, reducing inflammation in the body reduces risk of serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
There are lots of people out there who can explain this much better than I can, and a quick search on the internet can find a ton. But, simply put, an anti-inflammation diet reduces inflammation in the body by avoiding the foods that cause inflammation and eating the things that fight it.
It has a lot in common with traditional diets around the world (such as the “Mediterranean Diet”), and also shares a lot of similarities with Paleo and “Real Food” diets. This diet does dramatically reduce carbs, but it’s not a specific low- or no-carb diet because you also eat tons of fruits and vegetables regardless of their carb count.
WHO SHOULD GO ON THIS DIET?
Personally, I started this diet because getting arthritic pain when I was 37 seriously freaked me out. I went on it as a way to control my growing joint pain, and unexpectedly noticed that – along with complete elimination of joint pain (!) – a whole bunch of other things in my body started to improve as well. I’m sleeping better than I have in years, my digestion is better than it’s been in my adult life, my mood is more stable, I have dramatically fewer headaches, I’ve been losing weight, and even my skin is better! I don’t know if all those conditions were caused by inflammation, but I DO know that they all go better because of being on this diet.
So, who should go on this diet? Really, anybody will benefit from it. If you’re not sick now, being on this diet will help keep you that way. Almost all major diseases have been found to be linked to inflammation in some way, so avoiding inflammation can both lessen symptoms of existing disease and prevent disease in the first place! You may even already be experiencing subtle signs of sickness that you aren’t aware of because they’ve just become normal to you, and you won’t realize how bad you’re really feeling until you start feeling better.
If you’re currently experiencing more pronounced symptoms of sickness, like joint pain, cardiovascular disease, bowl and digestive disorders like Crohn’s and IBS, or fibro-myalgia, I strongly urge you to give this a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
IF I DO THIS DIET, DO I HAVE TO DO IT FOREVER?
Well, that depends. It could be that you’d only have to do a strict, complete elimination diet for a temporary amount of time – like a few months, or a year – to let your body calm down from the inflammation, and then you might be able to eat certain things in moderation. But if you fall back into the typical Standard American Diet habits of daily refined sugars and carbs and processed and fast foods, then you’ll end up right back where you were. So, you might not have to stay strict forever, but you should always be careful about it, and pay close attention to how you feel and what foods are doing to your body. The things on the “avoid like the plague” list below you should plan on eliminating completely.
WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR THIS DIET?
The rules are simple: Don’t eat the things that promote inflammation, and eat lots of the things that fight it.
Things You Should Eat Lots Of:
- Anything with Omega-3 fatty acids, such as cod liver oil, cold water oily fish (such as salmon and sardines), flax seeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
- Anything with monounsaturated fatty acids, such as olive oil, avocados, whole milk, and nuts (especially walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, and almonds)
- Tons of fruits and vegetables. In particular, ones full of antioxidants like berries, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, strawberries, blueberries, carrots, beets, cucumbers, garlic, peppers, and squash. But really, the more you can eat of any fruits and vegetables, the better.
- Water. Tons and tons and tons of water.
- Spices, especially ones like garlic, ginger, oregano, rosemary, cayenne pepper, and turmeric.
- Green tea (decaf)
- high fructose corn syrup
- trans fats – these are found in processed or fast foods, especially ones that are fried. (Anything that’s made with or cooked in partially hydrogenated oils – read your labels and ask at restaurants. Look for ingredients that say “hydrogenated,” “partially hydrogenated,” “interesterified,” or “shortening.” Avoid anything made with margarine or shortening. )
- Anything with Omega-6 fatty acids. This is in vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut and soybean oils. Use olive oil, coconut oil, or butter instead.
- All artificial sweeteners, including Splenda and sorbitol
- All sugars, including cane sugar (in any form, including raw or brown), honey, fruit juice, agave nectar, and maple syrup. (Some find they can handle some whole food sweeteners, like palm sugar, raw honey or maple syrup, IN MODERATION. If you’re going to use a sweetener, go for a whole food and the lowest glycemic index possible. I recommend eliminating cane sugar completely.)
- All refined grains, including white flour, white rice, and cornmeal.
- Basically, refined carbohydrates in any form. This means any food high on the glycemic index. Anything that raises your insulin and glucose levels will cause inflammation
- preservatives (this is why it’s so important to READ YOUR LABELS!!!)
- processed meats such as sausage, bacon, and lunch meats.
- Anything that you have a sensitivity or allergy to. I noticed that after I stopped eating wheat, when I ate wheat again – even whole wheat – I felt kind of heavy and sick. So, I figure I must have a wheat sensitivity and I just avoid it altogether. If you find you’re like that about wheat or dairy or whatever, then they’ll aggravate your inflammation too, so avoid them.
- (UPDATE (2-3-13) – The above are the food guidelines that I was given when I started, and is what I did to feel better. I have since seen information about anti-inflammation diets that are much more restrictive: eliminating all gluten, all dairy, and nightshade vegetables (such as potatoes and tomatoes). Some drastically reduce meat. Some even eliminate all fruit as well (because of the fructose). It could be that some people really need this more restrictive form of the diet to heal, so listen to your body! If you aren’t feeling better after several weeks on the diet I did, you might want to try eliminating some of these other things too.)
Recommendations – These things are not requirements as far as anti-inflammation goes, but are things that are good to do for general health. Consider making them a part of your routine when you are ready. But, if it’s overwhelming, just concentrate on the guidelines above at first!
- Buy dairy from grass-fed cows. It’s full of omega-3 fatty acids and other great nutrients. Full fat milk from grass-fed cows has even been shown to reduce risk of heart disease! (I have several articles about these things linked on my Links and Resources page.) If possible, raw or low-temperature pasteurized dairy is best. Read labels – it should be called “pasture” or “grass-fed” – not just organic. If you can’t afford to buy it all the time, at least buy it some of the time.
- Try to eat more meat and eggs from pastured animals instead of feed-lot animals. This is more expensive, obviously, so do what you can. A little is better than nothing. If you eat standard industrialized meat, try to eat smaller portions of it and fill the rest of the plate with other things. Links about sources for these things (as well as the milk) are also on the Links and Resources page.
- If you have a CSA (crop share association) near you, consider joining. It’s a great way to get lots of local, usually organic produce and force you to eat more veggies than you would normally.