About a year ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, a condition where the immune system attacks your thyroid and causes inflammation that impedes its function; a naturopathic doctor put me on a strict anti-inflammatory diet for 5 weeks to get my symptoms under control and try to keep my thyroid working as close to normal as possible. The bad news: I really miss bread. The good news: I felt much better after rooting out some of the foods that were triggering inflammation for me, including sugar, gluten and dairy.
Inflammation is a normal function—the protective process by which our immune system deals with healing immediate wounds and injuries (how your ankle will swell if it’s sprained, or you’ll get redness where you’ve been bitten by a bug). But, our bodies can get stuck in a pattern of chronic inflammation that lasts for years. When this happens, the constant attempts at healing ourselves can actually do more harm than good, causing our immune system to disrupt normal functions.
Causes of Inflammation
Excessive stress, lack of sleep, genetics and unhealthy lifestyle choices all contribute to inflammation. Some people have existing conditions that cause inflammation, but it works the other way, too: your inflammation could cause, or contribute to, a health condition. Many functional and alternative practitioners maintain that leaky gut syndrome (where the permeability of intestinal lining is increased, allowing toxins, yeast and bacteria to pass into our bloodstream) triggers an autoimmune response and is the root cause of inflammation in the body—so repairing your digestion and healing the gut is a great first step in minimizing inflammation.
Inflammation and Disease
Everything from heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and ADHD to Alzheimer’s, obesity and cancer has been linked to chronic inflammation, a.k.a. the immune system constantly being in “attack mode.” Doctors are studying how inflammation contributes to, causes or is a symptom of dozens of diseases. There’s a theory that it contributes to heart attacks—inflammation that’s meant to”fix” the plaque buildup on blood vessel walls ends up causing a clot instead.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Everyone’s different, but many experts recommend trying to avoid these inflammatory trigger foods—at least try avoiding them for a while to see if you experience a difference in your health:
- Casein (found in dairy products)
- Refined carbs such as white flour and sugar
- Heavily processed foods
- Omega-6 fats such as corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut and soybean oils
- Deep-fried foods and fast food
9 Foods to Beat Inflammation
Try to include these foods in your diet as much as possible in order to keep your body’s inflammation responses from overdoing it:
1. Healthy fats
Omega-3s are especially helpful in fighting inflammation, and they can help your digestion and keep your skin looking great. Opt for wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, ground flaxseed, hemp seeds and walnuts in addition to healthy oils like olive, walnut, avocado, flax and hemp seed.
2. Cruciferous Vegetables
You can get your antioxidants, protein, fiber and anti-inflammatory properties from veggies like kale, collards, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and bok choy—which has added omega-3s and beta carotene. Vitamin K, also present in cruciferous veggies, can help regulate inflammatory responses in the body.
Citrus can cause inflammation in some people, but for most, the vitamin C in the fruit helps fight it. Lemons are an especially good choice because they help detox the body and regulate both your pH and blood sugar levels.
4. Berries and Cherries
In addition to fiber and blood sugar-balancing properties, berries and cherries contain a group of antioxidant flavonoids called anthocyanins, which are anti-inflammatory. Tart cherries and cranberries have been extensively studied for this very reason, and my naturopath encourages me to add cranberries to my smoothies. They’re tart, but with a little ginger, canned pumpkin and apple cider, you have an anti-inflammatory smoothie that tastes just like fall! Some researchers have even claimed that tart cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.
Curcumin, a component of turmeric, has been credited with lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease (which begins with inflammation in the brain) in India, and as a successful non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatment for some types of arthritis. Turmeric is better absorbed when combined with piperine, a component of black pepper.
6. Sweet potatoes, Squash and Carrots
Vitamin A and beta-carotene fight inflammation, so make sure to add these orange veggies to your recipe rotation. Excessive intake of vitamin A has been linked with birth defects, so if you’re pregnant (or trying to become pregnant), check with a practitioner before you up your A intake.
The bromelain in pineapple reduces swelling, which can be especially helpful if you have an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis.
8. Whole Grains
There’s some debate over this one. Some feel that a strict gluten-free, grain-free diet is key to minimizing inflammation, while some people avoid gluten but still consume whole grains like oats and quinoa. Some advocate for eating whole, glutinous grains too, as long as they’re as unrefined and natural as possible. If you feel grains might be at the root of your inflammation, you can eliminate them all for a while to see how you feel, then slowly reintroduce gluten-free grains and finally glutinous ones.
As if you needed another reason to love ginger—it functions as an anti-inflammatory aid, much like aspirin. Toss some peeled, chopped ginger into smoothies or stir-fries, and add it into juices for a little spice. You can also use it topically in beauty recipes like bath scrubs.53