Amanda Haas has a story that you’ve heard before. She was plagued with health issues, ranging from stomach pain, nausea, and heartburn to allergies, eczema, and back spasms. Some of her symptoms were slightly uncomfortable, others truly interrupted her life. She visited doctors and specialists for years, but no one was able to put a finger on it. Until finally, an allergist suggested she try making some changes to her diet.
The thing is, Haas is the director of the test kitchen at Williams-Sonoma, a professional cook and recipe developer, and the author of several cookbooks. Food is her passion, and giving up some of her favorite foods was no small sacrifice. But the results were life changing. “I finally got real about the foods that were making me feel lousy, and got back to the fundamentals of real food,” Haas explains. “And I never looked back. My stomach issues were gone. My back pain was gone.” She snaps her fingers. “It was absolutely amazing.”
Elimination diets are incredibly popular right now, and it’s easy to understand the appeal. For people who are dealing with unexplained health issues, these diets are part of the search for answers. For anyone who wants to lose weight, they can seem like the promise of a silver bullet—if you stop eating that one iffy ingredient, maybe you’ll finally lose those last 10 pounds. (We’re looking at you, gluten.)
At the same time, inflammation is a growing area of research within nutrition and medicine. The facts: There are certain foods that are known to cause inflammation throughout the body, irritating your gut and triggering an immune response in your heart, brain, and other organs. Left unchecked, chronic inflammation contributes to a host of health issues, raising your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, even depression. But there are also nutrient-rich foods, high in antioxidants and healthy fats, that actively help to fight inflammation.
Enter the rise of the “anti-inflammation diet,” part elimination strategy, but very much Mediterranean. The concept is simple: Get rid of the foods that make you feel bad, and replace them with the foods that make you feel great.
You probably already know that you should be avoiding heavily processed foods, but you may not appreciate all of the ways they hurt your health. Researchers are still studying what that hot dog has to do with your headache, how a donut feeds into back pain, and why a gin and tonic aggravates arthritis. But most experts agree—these foods are working against you.
- Added sugar (soda, juice)
- Trans fats (fries, donuts, margarine, shortening, lard)
- Refined carbs (white bread, pasta, pastries)
- Red meat and processed meats (cheeseburgers, hot dogs, sausages)
For people with allergies, sensitivities, or other health issues, there’s a longer list of foods that can be problematic. Some people may be sensitive to gluten and lactose, found in wheat and dairy; pears and honey, high in fructose; onions and garlic, high in fructans; and nightshades, including eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes.
But, this is where it’s important to note: if you don’t have an issue with these foods, there’s no reason to give them up! Onions and pears are great for your gut if you can process them. It’s just that a very small percentage of the population can’t.
Colorful fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, like polyphenols, actively work to fight diseases and lower inflammation throughout your body. Healthy fats, including mono- and polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, have been linked to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and improved heart health. You’ll see many of these superfoods on other lists, but they’re worth repeating.
- Colorful vegetables (kale, chard, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage)
- Colorful fruit (oranges, cherries, strawberries, blueberries)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, flax)
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Keep in mind that scientists are still researching the connection between diet and inflammation. Personal stories are compelling, but there aren’t always studies to back up all of the benefits and claims. Definitely talk to a registered dietitian before eliminating any major food groups—you don’t want to limit the diversity of your diet unless you have a real diagnosis or reason to do so! But skipping processed foods in favor of superfood fruits, veggies, salmon, avocado, and almonds is a big step forward when it comes to supporting your overall health.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. 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.