If you never really thought about how inflammatory your diet is, you’re not alone. It tends to be a lot less talked about than, say, how many calories or grams of saturated fat are in the things you’re eating. But here’s why it’s worth thinking about: Certain foods can lead to chronic low levels of inflammation in your body, which over time is linked to serious health issues like arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
It can also just make you feel less than your best. “Inflammation is your body’s normal way of dealing with something harmful, but if you have too much of it over time, it can cause digestive issues, make you feel fatigued, and bring on brain fog,” says Vanessa Berenstein, RD. “It can even result in things like skin issues or congestion.”
That all sounds pretty scary, but the good news is that you don’t have to completely overhaul your diet to reduce food-related inflammation. You just need to cut down on some of the most common offenders. “Which foods cause inflammation is different for everybody,” says Berenstein. “But there are some foods that tend to be inflammatory for most people.” Avoid those and you’re well on your way to cutting down on chronic inflammation. Start with these little tweaks:
Make extra-virgin olive oil your go-to oil instead of canola oil. It’s not that canola oil is unhealthy, but of all the cooking oils, extra-virgin olive oil contains the highest levels of potent antioxidants which have been shown to have a host of health benefits including anti-inflammatory effects. And, yes it’s safe to cook with! So, use it to roast your veggies, grill your fish, and drizzle it into your salad.
Turn your hamburger into a salmon burger. Red meat might be tasty, but eating too much of it (particularly if it’s processed into a sausage) is linked to higher levels of inflammation. On the other hand, fatty fish like salmon contain higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, which have the opposite effect.
Make your afternoon soda a sparkling water. The sugar in that can of cola is linked to higher levels of inflammation throughout your body. And being fit doesn’t protect you: Soda has been linked to a rise in inflammation even in otherwise healthy people.
Serve up a side of fruit instead of fries. Just a single high fat meal can kickstart an inflammatory response, making that big pile of fried potatoes a not-so-healthy idea. Instead, serve your sandwich with a colorful fruit salad packed with berries. Researchers have found that the polyphenols they contain can help bring down inflammation.
Make your sandwich on whole wheat bread instead of white. Here’s another reason to choose whole grains over refined grains: Research shows these minimally messed-with grains reduce inflammation in your body. Luckily, these days everything from pasta to pizza dough comes in a whole wheat variety, so you don’t need to give up your favorite dishes.
End your day with a square of dark chocolate. You probably don’t need too much convincing to add some chocolate to your day, but this rich treat is full of antioxidants called flavonoids, which, among other benefits, can reduce inflammation.
If you choose to drink, then have red wine instead of beer. A glass of merlot, pinot noir, or any other red wine is one of the tastiest ways to bring down inflammation levels. Just remember that more is not more. “One glass a day is beneficial, but more than that has the opposite effect,” says Berenstein.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.