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The anti-inflammatory diet: Eating foods to heal your body

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Anti-inflammatory foods

According to Karen Lamphere, MS, CN, most diseases have an underlying etiology involving inflammation. Conditions like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, allergies, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes can be made worse or better depending on a person's diet. Lamphere, a nutritionist based in Edmonds, Washington, prescribes a diet of anti-inflammatory foods as a way to help her clients with inflammatory diseases heal as well as ensure her healthy clients stay healthy.

Woman cooking healthy meal

What is an anti-inflammation diet?

The anti-inflammation diet is comprised of healthy, wholesome, unprocessed foods.

Anti-inflammatory fats are a cornerstone of this diet. Lamphere recommends foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, flaxseed, hempseed and walnuts. In addition, other anti-inflammatory fats include extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil and walnut oil.

Fruits and vegetables are high in inflammation-reducing antioxidants. "Fruits and vegetables high antioxidants are important, especially onions, garlic, peppers and dark leafy greens," says Lamphere. She adds, "These are high in inflammation-fighting carotenoids, vitamin K and vitamin E."

Herbs and spices include compounds to fight inflammation. Lamphere explains, "Turmeric, oregano, rosemary, ginger and green tea contain bioflavonoids and polyphenols that reduce inflammation and limit free radical production."

She adds, "Some of the most potent anti-inflammatory vegetables are peppers and the spices derived from them, such as cayenne pepper. All chili peppers include capsaicin (the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it has), which is a potent inhibitor of substance P, a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes."

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Include healthy proteins that are anti-inflammatory. "There is a difference in the saturated fat and omega-3 fat content in grain-fed versus grass-fed beef, with the latter being a more healthful choice for an anti-inflammation diet." She adds, "In addition, organic pasteurized eggs have a better anti-inflammatory fatty acid profile than factory-farmed eggs." Choose your proteins wisely and aim to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.

What foods are pro-inflammatory?

The standard American diet is a culprit in inflammatory conditions.

Unhealthy fats promote inflammation."Most people eating a Western diet high in processed food or fast food consume a lot of omega-6 fats – and not enough of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats – and it is this imbalance between the two that promotes inflammation [in the body]."

Omega-6 fats are found in corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut and soybean oils. "[These fats] are inflammatory because they are metabolized into hormone-like compounds that actually promote inflammation," says Lamphere.

Have you ever wondered why trans fat is unhealthy? Lamphere explains, "Another fat that is highly inflammatory in trans fat. This fat is found in processed or fast foods, especially those that are fried." She warns, "It is best to avoid trans fat entirely."

Refined carbohydrates are pro-inflammatory. Refined flour, sugar and foods high on the glycemic index exacerbate inflammatory conditions. Lamphere warns, "These foods elevate insulin and glucose levels, which raise levels of pro-inflammatory messengers."

Food allergies or sensitivities can play a role in inflammation. "Many people are intolerant to the proteins in wheat and dairy, and this can initiate an inflammatory cascade that starts in the gut but can have far-reaching [systemic] effects," says Lamphere.

Check out these six tips to live gluten-free >>

Tips to start an anti-inflammatory diet

Lamphere recommends the anti-inflammatory diet for people with inflammatory conditions as well as healthy people who are looking for a healthy diet. Here are her tips to incorporate the anti-inflammatory diet into your healthy lifestyle.


Reduce your unhealthy fat intake

Eliminate the oils high in omega-6 (see above) as well as margarine, deep-fried foods and any foods that contain trans fat. Reduce your intake of foods high in saturated fat.


Increase your intake of monounsaturated oils

Include more extra-virgin olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, fish oil, walnut and walnut oil, flax and flaxseed oil, and hempseed and hempseed oil.


Cut the unhealthy carbs

Eliminate refined flours, sugars and other foods that are high on the glycemic index.


Include plenty of fruits and vegetables

The produce with high antioxidant content is best. Blueberries, strawberries, and dark leafy greens are excellent choices for an anti-inflammatory diet.


Eat more anti-inflammatory herbs and spices

Kick up your dishes with ginger, turmeric, cayenne, garlic and onions.


Eliminate foods that cause sensitivities

Avoid foods that you are intolerant of or that result in sensitivities and allergies. If you are not sure which foods are causing you problems, Lamphere recommends trying an elimination diet.


Reduce your stress

Though this is not food-related, per se, reducing your stress can promote anti-inflammation. There is also a good chance that once you start eating anti-inflammatory foods, you will feel better and be able to deal more effectively with daily stressors, too.

What you eat can affect how you feel, especially if you suffer from inflammatory illnesses. Give the anti-inflammatory diet a try – you have nothing to lose and only health and healing to gain.

For more information on the anti-inflammatory diet, contact Karen Lamphere at

Watch: How to make a superfood dinner

Today on the Daily Dish, Chef at Province Restaurant at the Westin Phoenix Downtown, Rita French, shows you how to make a hearty spanish chorizo, potato and kale soup.

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