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Tips & Foods To Combat Inflammation

Inflammation is your body’s response to injury or infection. It sends important signals to your damaged cells to begin the healing process. Much like leaving the lights on in your car and draining your battery, chronic inflammation can wear on your immune system and lead to other illnesses. There is hope, however; making small lifestyle changes and incorporating certain foods into your diet can help your body help you. In honor of Arthritis Awareness Month this May, read on to learn how your diet can potentially combat chronic inflammation and decrease pain the natural way.

Signs and Symptoms

Inflammation can be hard to detect, but some physical signs include redness, puffiness or rashes on the skin. You could experience swelling in your hands and feet, bloating, fatigue, achy joints and muscles, headaches or gastrointestinal issues as well.

Food can play a major part in these inflammatory reactions. Everyone’s triggers are different – it all depends on our health histories and our own food sensitivities, like allergies to gluten or lactose – but a few general rules are worth following.

Inflammatory Foods To Avoid

More often than not, inflammatory foods have a laundry list of ingredients and come in a box or bag. They’re highly processed and contain a significant amount of salt, sugar, processed oil, preservatives and other unpronounceable ingredients that leave us feeling fatigued or bloated. A few inflammatory food groups include:

  • Refined carbs, like white bread or pastries
  • Snack foods like potato chips or popcorn
  • Sweets, such as commercial baked goods, pre-packaged desserts, ice cream and candy
  • Fried foods, including french fries
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda or sweet tea
  • Processed cheeses
  • Red meat (burgers, steaks and ground beef) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, bologna and salami)
  • Margarine, shortening, lard and butter

Remember, so-called “healthy” snacks such as granola bars or trail mix can be deceiving. When in doubt, check the ingredients list.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods To Try

Anti-inflammatory foods can actively decrease the body’s inflammatory response and take your white blood cells out of crisis mode. They’re what you may consider traditional “healthy” foods and can improve your health in other ways too, protecting against heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and related conditions.

The next time you’re at the grocery store, consider taking home some of these foods with anti-inflammatory properties:

  • Tomatoes
  • Extra virgin olive oil, a source of healthy fats
  • Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collards
  • Nuts (almonds or walnuts) and legumes (dried beans and peas)
  • Oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, mackerel, tuna or sardines
  • Chicken or turkey breast
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains: brown rice, whole grain bread and oats
  • Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, cherries, apples and oranges
  • Coffee

Anti-Inflammatory Diets

If you’re looking to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet to address issues of inflammation, the Mediterranean diet may be a good choice. This plan focuses on whole foods and is heavy on the fruits and veggies, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, whole grains and fish. To see what your Mediterranean diet could like, check out the Mayo Clinic’s Mediterranean recipe guide.

Another popular anti-inflammatory diet is the DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, diet. The DASH diet is designed to reduce blood pressure, one physical symptom associated with inflammation. This diet is rich in nutrients and fiber, limiting sweets and processed foods. If the DASH diet is right for you, get started with the Mayo Clinic’s DASH diet recipe guide. Specific plans aside, other helpful recipe archives for anti-inflammatory foods include these from Eat This, Not That and EatingWell.

Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet is a marathon, not a sprint. It typically takes from three to six months to feel the full benefits of a new eating plan and build a new relationship with food. Remember that all sustainable habits start small, and be sure to ask your doctor before starting any new meal plan.

When Should I See A Doctor?

If you experience symptoms of inflammation even after cutting out processed foods, you may have an undiagnosed food sensitivity or other health condition. Your doctor could plan an elimination diet that slowly cuts out foods one by one to see which ones pose health risks, or take you through a formal food sensitivity test to detect potential allergens.

Riverside Medical Clinic offers rheumatology services at two of our locations, but if you suspect you may have arthritis or suffer from chronic inflammation, any of our physicians can help you find the right specialist. Learn more about services offered or schedule an appointment on our site.