Foods that help reduce inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s way of healing infection or injury. When the redness or swelling persists beyond the normal healing period, it becomes chronic inflammation. This condition is linked to diseases including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer. Learn which foods can reduce chronic inflammation and help whittle your waistline in the process.

Mediterranean diet

Big bellies to blame

An August 2006 review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains was successful at reducing inflammation and decreasing cardiovascular risk. On the flip side, eating foods high in refined starches, sugar and saturated and trans-fatty acids were shown to result in increased inflammation.

So why does a healthy diet reduce inflammation while a fast food diet increases it? In a word: fat. In July 2012, the third International Congress on Abdominal Obesity was held at Université Laval in Quebec City. There, medical specialists convened to discuss new research on belly fat. Researchers shared growing evidence that the way to decrease chronic inflammation may not be just through medication, but through a diet that cuts excess belly fat.

Peter Libby, chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and a professor at Harvard Medical School, explains: “We’ve learned that abdominal fat tissue is a hotbed of inflammation that pours out all kinds of inflammatory molecules.” Dr. Libby says the most important step patients can take is to lose excess weight, which can reduce inflammation in a matter of weeks or months.

Mediterranean diet

To further reduce inflammation, avoid these foods:

  • Red meat
  • Processed meat
  • Sweets and desserts
  • Potatoes and French fries
  • Refined grains (bread, crackers, chips)
  • Fast food
  • High fructose corn syrup

So what’s the best way to lose weight and cut inflammation? Take your cue from our tan, lean and healthy friends from the Mediterranean, and eat a diet rich in the following foods:

  • Nuts — especially almonds, walnuts, cashews and nut butters made from these nuts
  • Whole grains — try whole grain steel cooked oats for breakfast, and barley and farro dishes for lunch and dinner
  • Seeds — Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are healthy, flavorful snacks
  • Fruits — especially antioxidant-rich blueberries and strawberries
  • Vegetables — including kale, butternut squash and sweet potatoes
  • Legumes — replace meat a few times a week with protein-rich black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, edamame, kidney beans or lentils
  • Fish — go for omega-3 rich wild salmon, anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, sturgeon, lake trout and tuna
  • Olive oil — drizzle it over cooked foods and on salads
  • Wine (in moderation)

Additional reading

More on healing foods

Foods that fight pain
The anti-inflammatory diet: Eating foods to heal your body
Fight joint pain with these foods


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