You might be surprised to learn that diet plays an important role in chronic inflammation-- digestive bacteria release chemicals that may spur or suppress inflammation. The types of bacteria that populate our gut and their chemical byproducts vary according to the foods we eat. Some foods encourage the growth of bacteria that stimulate inflammation, while others promote the growth of bacteria that help suppress it.
Here are some of the foods and beverages that have been linked to less inflammation and reduced risk for chronic diseases:
- Fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and brightly colored vegetables naturally contain high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols—potentially protective compounds found in plants.
- Nuts and seeds. Studies have found that consuming nuts and seeds is associated with reduced markers of inflammation and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Beverages. The polyphenols in coffee and the flavonols in cocoa are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea is also rich in both polyphenols and antioxidants.
Studies have shown that polyphenols have multiple anti-inflammatory properties. A review published in the British Journal of Nutrition summarized a number of studies supporting the notion that dietary polyphenols may lower inflammation in the body and improve the function of cells that line blood vessels. Foods high in polyphenols include onions, turmeric, red grapes, green tea, cherries, and plums, as well as dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.
In addition, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel offer healthy doses of omega-3 fatty acids, which have long been shown to reduce inflammation.
Foods that can fuel inflammation
The foods that contribute to inflammation are the same ones generally considered bad for other aspects of health. These include sugary sodas and refined carbohydrates (like white bread and pasta), as well as red meat and processed meats.
Such unhealthy foods are also likely to contribute to weight gain, which is itself a risk factor for inflammation. In addition, certain components or ingredients in processed foods, like the emulsifiers added to ice cream, may have effects on inflammation.
The key to reducing inflammation with diet
To practice anti-inflammatory eating, it’s best to focus on an overall healthy diet rather than singling out individual "good" and "bad" foods. In general, a healthy diet means one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils, and limits food loaded with simple sugars (like soda and candy), beverages that contain high-fructose corn syrup (like juice drinks and sports drinks), and refined carbohydrates.
For additional advice about ways to reduce inflammation, check out
, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
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