Recently, I have been receiving many questions about anti-inflammatory diets. Clients have been told by their doctor, naturopath, or nutritionist that following an anti-inflammatory diet will help with their symptoms. Since many people aren’t familiar with what is an anti-inflammatory diet, their first instinct is to turn to Dr. Google.
Many people call me after googling their symptoms and the anti-inflammatory diet. When they Google it, they land on many different pages, including the Auto-Immune Protocol Diet (AIP), the Wahl’s Protocol, and the Mediterranean Diet. All of these diets are variations of the anti-inflammatory diet, so it can be confusing to know which one to follow.
Today, we’ll review the basics of what is inflammation, how it affects the body, and whether an anti-inflammatory diet is right for you.
What is Inflammation?
Before we dive into anti-inflammatory diets, it’s important to understand what inflammation is. Inflammation is a natural bodily response that is supposed to protect and heal your body.
When your body experiences stress or identifies infections, irritants, or damaged cells, an inflammatory response is activated. The word inflammation comes from the Latin word “inflamme,” meaning “to set on fire.” This word was likely used to define inflammation because it describes the hallmark symptoms of inflammation – redness, swelling, heat, and pain.
Inflammation occurs when your body’s tissues are injured (for example, by bacteria, toxins, or trauma). This causes the body to release chemicals that cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the surrounding tissues. This leads to swelling and is useful because it helps prevent the foreign substance from contacting the body tissues further.
One of the molecules responsible for signalling and regulating the inflammatory response are reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals. Under normal circumstances, our body naturally balances free radicals (oxidants) with antioxidants (many of which come from the food we eat). When too many free radicals are produced, they can tip the balance and cause damage to healthy cells.
Acute Inflammation vs. Chronic Inflammation
Just like stress, your body’s inflammatory response can be acute or chronic.
Acute inflammation is short-lived. Physical signs of acute inflammation include redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function. Acute inflammation can help the body to heal injuries and infections and is a useful physiological response.
In contrast, chronic inflammation sticks around for a long time. When the inflammatory response lasts for a long time, it can damage the body without any signs or symptoms. Chronic inflammation is often associated with chronic health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and excess body weight.
How to Reduce Chronic Inflammation
Once people learn about what inflammation is, many people ask – does reducing inflammation promote healing? Research studies have shown that improving nutrition and lifestyle can help reduce chronic inflammation and potentially improve symptoms of disease.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
In its most basic sense, an anti-inflammatory diet is a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables. This is important because fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants. Remember, an excess of free radicals or oxidants can result from chronic inflammation and damage your body tissues. Getting enough antioxidants can help counteract the effects of free radicals.
The different versions of the anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Auto-Immune Protocol Diet (AIP), the Wahls Protocol and The Mediterranean diet, vary based on how restrictive they are. For example, the AIP diet, which is based on the idea that certain foods inflame your gut, excludes several foods from the diet, including:
- Beans and legumes
- Nightshade vegetables (like eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes)
- Vegetable oils
- Food additives
The Wahl’s Protocol has similar restrictions to the AIP.
Given how restrictive diets like the AIP diet and the Wahl’s Protocol are, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian if you’re thinking of following one. However, despite how restrictive some of them are, one thing that all these diets have in common is that they are all based on consuming whole, unprocessed foods.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is the most widely accepted diet by health care professionals. Research studies have proven its support in promoting health, improving mental-wellbeing, and promoting a longer life.
The Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, and legumes. It also includes some fish, small amounts of red meat and poultry, whole grains, tree nuts, and dairy, as well as small amounts of olive oil, tea, cocoa, red wine, herbs, and spices.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and adverse effects of obesity, even without weight loss. One of the reasons it is thought to be so effective at treating chronic diseases is because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods common in the Mediterranean diet contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods. These components include polyphenols, flavonoids, pigments, unsaturated fats (including omega-3s), vitamin E and selenium. High intakes of these compounds have been associated with reduced risk of chronic disease.
FUN FACT: Most people get the highest amount of dietary polyphenols from coffee and/or tea (but I don’t recommend a lot of cream and sugar).
Who Can the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Help?
An anti-inflammatory diet can be used alongside other treatments for many conditions that involve chronic inflammation. These conditions include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Cardiovascular disease
Experts believe that inflammation plays a role in all the above conditions. Therefore, eating a diet that helps reduce inflammation may be an important component of treating these conditions.
Should I Follow the Anti-Inflammatory Diet or the Mediterranean Diet?
Inflammation can be healthy when fighting an infection or healing a wound, but chronic inflammation is associated with many serious, chronic health conditions.
The good news is that there are several nutritional factors you can improve that may help reduce inflammation. Overall, you likely don’t need to follow a diet as restrictive as the AIP diet or the Wahl’s protocol. Instead, try to follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet like eating a wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fats from fish like salmon, olive oil, whole grains, and nuts and seeds.
If integrating the Anti-Inflammatory Diet or The Mediterranean Diet is something you would like to know more about, let’s chat. For a quick anti-inflammatory meal plan, try out the free 3-day trial of my anti-inflammatory meal plans that are gluten-free, light on grains, light on dairy, and light on beans with a focus on high-quality fats.
For a custom menu and coaching, I encourage you to book a free 15-minute consultation. I work with individuals, couples, and families looking for ways to integrate healthy and nutritional balanced meals into their lives. During our discussion, you can ask questions and discuss whether nutritional coaching or a meal plan is right for you. Book a time that works for your schedule by clicking here.