Skip to main content

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

What is inflammation?

The inflammatory process, also called inflammation, is best viewed as the body's response to injury, and the function of inflammation is tissue healing. In short, the inflammatory process is a chemical process, and no matter the source of injury, inflammation is the outcome.

From a practical perspective, we are all dealing with the inflammatory process at this moment to varying degrees, and this is because we all experience injury on a daily basis, which is either overt (macro-trauma) due to falls and accidents, or subtle (micro-trauma) due to normal activities of daily living. Some of us heal better than others, and part of this is a genetically determined issue; and it is also a dietary issue.

No doubt, all individuals have heard that we can prevent heart disease and cancer by eating more fruits and vegetables, and by eating less fat and sugar-concentrated foods. Why is this? Because fruits and vegetables are anti-inflammatory, while high fat foods (excessive saturated fat, trans fats, and omega-6 fatty acids) and sugar foods cause inflammation, and both heart disease and cancer are pro-inflammatory diseases. With this in mind, we can begin to see that our diet can be a source of injury or chemical trauma. The topics of dietary trauma, macro-trauma and micro-trauma are discussed more below.

In short, the human body's biochemistry is altered when we eat inappropriate foods. Subtle biochemical injuries occur in tissues when we eat a diet that is deficient in fruits and vegetables, and contains excess sugar, vegetables oils (soybean, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil and cottonseed oil), and trans fats found in nearly all packaged food and deep fried foods like french fries. The inflammation associated with a poor diet can initially occur without symptoms, so it is very subtle. However, over time, this chronic, initially symptom-free, diet-driven inflammation can lead to the chronic diseases that plague modern man, causing chronic aches, pains and endless suffering.

Every time you eat the wrong foods, you create inflammation in your body that will slowly but surely lead to the expression of chronic pain, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, or whatever disease to which you may be genetically predisposed to develop. Not surprisingly, diet and supplements can often help to prevent and treat these conditions. In short, we need to eat vegetation and animals that ate vegetation, take appropriate supplements, and we need to exercise more…this is all we need to do to promote an anti-inflammatory state. It is this simple.

However, we tend to eat pro-inflammatory foods and maintain a sedentary life, which leads to a state of chronic inflammation. Indeed, far too many individuals depend on anti-inflammatory drugs to get through the day. Consider that well-known drugs, such as corticosteroids, aspirin and ibuprofen, and the now infamous COX2 inhibitors such as Vioxx and Celebrex, are taken for the purpose of reducing inflammation. More specifically, these drugs are taken to reduce the production of certain chemical mediators of inflammation. The most well known is prostaglandin E2 (PGE2 for short).

Not well-known is the fact that PGE2 is formed from fatty acids that we eat. Specifically the omega-6 fatty acids found in all grains, cereals, flour products, most processed packaged foods, and the commonly used oils, including soybean oil, peanut oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and cottonseed oil. Additionally, most of our domestic meats and eggs are fed exclusively grains and corn, and this leads to a meat and egg supply that is pro-inflammatory from the perspective of fatty acids. Domestic animal products contain excessive saturated fat and pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, and too few anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

As stated earlier, humans are supposed to eat vegetation and animals that ate vegetation (grass/pasture fed meats, chicken and eggs are available), which represents an anti-inflammatory diet. However, as stated above, humans now eat grains, seeds, various seed oils, grain-fed animal products, etc., which leads to an excessive production of PGE2.

PGE2 is known to be a potent stimulator of pain. PGE2 also promotes the breakdown of cartilage that occurs in arthritis, and the boney breakdown that occurs in osteoporosis. The same PGE2 also promotes cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, and many other conditions. A National Institutes of Health website devoted to essential fatty acids, states that numerous diseases are promoted by omega-6 mediators, including heart attacks, thrombotic stroke, arthritis, asthma, colitis, headaches, menstrual cramps, cancer metastases/spread, and osteoporosis.

In short, inflammation should actually lead to healing, however, when too much PGE2 and other similar chemicals are produced, healing does NOT occur…instead chronic pain and many diseases develop, which cannot be effectively treated or reversed unless the diet is changed to one that is anti-inflammatory. Clearly, most of us living in the modern time are excessively inflamed to varying degrees.

Most of us think about inflammation in the context of an acute injury, in which swelling takes place. This is called acute inflammation and it is typically caused by obvious physical injuries of some kind, such as a car accident, spraining an ankle, or twisting the wrong way and straining the neck or back. The term "macro-trauma" is used to characterize this type of physical injury that leads to immediate or "acute" inflammation.

Unfortunately, for many people, macro-trauma can lead to chronic pain that last for many years or even a lifetime. Diet and supplements can often help these individuals.

Physical injury can also be subtle, and so the term "micro-trauma" is used. The best example of a micro-trauma is working in a posture that stresses, progressively weakens, and subtly damages our tissues without an obvious injurious event that one can remember. Inflammation and pain appear to develop slowly, as there is no significant injurious event like a car accident. Before we know it, we have a chronic, achy type of pain that always seems to be around. We often mistakenly shrug these aches and pains off as "aging;" which is only partly true. Research now tells us that aging is driven by chronic inflammation and appropriate dietary habits can reduce the biochemical inflammation markers of aging.

Many vocational activities involve postures that create subtle stress, strain, and injury. Dentists, dental hygienists, auto mechanics, secretaries, and truck drivers are examples of individuals who maintain stressful postures or body positions that can slowly damage the spinal tissues. Also, since most of us are using computers more often for longer periods of time, we are also potentially maintaining stressful postures and body positions. This commonly results in back and shoulder pain, and many people regularly take aspirin or similar drugs to reduce the inflammation and pain. Diet and supplements can often help these individuals and for many, even take the place of medications.

Food pyramid

How much: As little as possible
Healthy choices: Unsweetened dried fruit & dark chocolate
Why: Dark chocolate provides polyphenols with antioxidant activity. Choose dark chocolate with at least 70 percent pure cocoa and have an ounce a few times a week. Fruit sorbet is a better option than other frozen desserts.

How much: Optional, no more than 1-2 glasses per day
Healthy choices: Organic red wine
Why: Red wine has beneficial antioxidant activity. Limit intake to no more than 1-2 servings per day. If you do not drink alcohol, do not start.

How much: Daily, as prescribed by Dr. Daniel
Healthy choices: You have to EAT it or TAKE it. Many people make vitmamin and food choices based on what is marketed to them. Our doctors are able to test through physical exam, blood, and saliva to determine what your body is either deficient or toxin in and advise accordingly. Supplements are meant to supplement short term. If you have been taking Vit D for 5 years, someone should be asking why??? Your body should be able to maintain itself with a little short term help. Our doctors have decades of education and experience to test you and determine your actual needs.Why: Supplements help fill any gaps in your diet when you are unable to get your daily requirement of micronutrients.

How much: 2-4 cups per day
Healthy choices: White, green, oolong teas
Why: Tea is rich in catechins, antioxidant compounds that reduce inflammation. Purchase high-quality tea and learn how to correctly brew it for maximum taste and health benefits.

How much: Unlimited amounts
Healthy choices: Turmeric, curry powder (which contains turmeric), ginger and garlic (dried and fresh), chili peppers, basil, cinnamon, rosemary, thyme
Why: Use these herbs and spices generously to season foods. Turmeric and ginger are powerful, natural anti-inflammatory agents.

How much
: 1-2 servings a week (one portion is equal to 1 ounce of cheese, 1 eight-ounce serving of dairy, 1 egg, 3 ounces cooked poultry or skinless meat)
Healthy choices: Natural cheeses, FULL FAT yogurt, omega-3 enriched eggs, skinless poultry, grass-fed lean meats
Why: In general, try to reduce consumption of animal foods. If you eat chicken, choose organic, cage-free chicken and remove the skin and associated fat. Use organic, reduced-fat dairy products moderately, especially yogurt and natural cheeses such as Emmental (Swiss), Jarlsberg and true Parmesan. If you eat eggs, choose omega-3 enriched eggs (made by feeding hens a flax-meal-enriched diet), or organic eggs from free-range chickens.

How much: Unlimited amounts
Healthy choices: Shiitake, enokidake, maitake, oyster mushrooms (and wild mushrooms if available)
Why: These mushrooms contain compounds that enhance immune function. Never eat mushrooms raw, and minimize consumption of common commercial button mushrooms (including crimini and portobello).

How much: 2-6 servings per week (one serving is equal to 4 ounces of fish or seafood)
Healthy choices: WILD CAUGHT only. If you can't find wild caught, then don't eat fish. Alaskan salmon (especially sockeye), herring, sardines, and black cod (sablefish)
Why: These fish are rich in omega-3 fats, which are strongly anti-inflammatory. If you choose not to eat fish, take a molecularly distilled fish oil supplement, 2-3 grams per day.

How much: 5-7 servings per day (one serving is equal to 1 teaspoon of oil, 2 walnuts, 1 tablespoon of flaxseed, 1 ounce of avocado)
Healthy choices: For cooking, use extra virgin olive oil. Other sources of healthy fats include nuts (especially walnuts), avocados, and seeds - including hemp seeds and freshly ground flaxseed. Omega-3 fats are also found in cold water fish, as well as walnut and hazelnut oils in salads and dark roasted sesame oil as a flavoring for soups and stir-fries
Why: Healthy fats are those rich in either monounsaturated or omega-3 fats. Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in polyphenols with antioxidant activity.

How much:
3-5 servings a day (one serving is equal to about ½ cup cooked grains)
Healthy choices
: Organic rice, basmati rice, wild rice, buckwheat, groats, barley, steel-cut oats
Why: Whole grains digest slowly, reducing frequency of spikes in blood sugar that promote inflammation. "Whole grains" means grains that are intact or in a few large pieces, not whole wheat bread or other products made from flour.

How much
: 2-3 servings per week (one serving is equal to about ½ cup cooked pasta) limit intake of pasta
Healthy choices: Organic pasta, rice noodles, bean thread noodles, and part whole wheat and buckwheat noodles like Japanese udon and soba
Why: Pasta cooked al dente (when it has "tooth" to it) has a lower glycemic index than fully-cooked pasta. Low-glycemic-load carbohydrates should be the bulk of your carbohydrate intake to help minimize spikes in blood glucose levels.

How much: 1-2 servings per day (one serving is equal to ½ cup cooked beans or legumes)
Healthy choices: Beans like Anasazi, adzuki and black, as well as chickpeas, black-eyed peas and lentils
Why: Beans are rich in folic acid, magnesium, potassium and soluble fiber. They are a low-glycemic-load food. Eat them well-cooked either whole or pureed into spreads like hummus.

How much: 6-8 servings per day minimum (one serving is equal to 2 cups salad greens, ½ cup vegetables cooked, raw or juiced)
Healthy Choices: Lightly cooked dark leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, kale, Swiss chard), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy and cauliflower), carrots, beets, onions, peas, squashes, sea vegetables and washed raw salad greens
Why: Vegetables are rich in flavonoids and carotenoids with both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Go for a wide range of colors, eat them both raw and cooked, and choose organic when possible.

How much: 1-3 servings per day (one serving is equal to 1 medium size piece of fruit, ½ cup chopped fruit, ¼ cup of dried fruit)
Healthy choices: Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, oranges, pink grapefruit, red grapes, plums, pomegranates, blackberries, cherries, apples, and pears - all lower in glycemic load than most tropical fruits
Why: Fruits are rich in flavonoids and carotenoids with both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Go for a wide range of colors, choose fruit that is fresh in season or frozen, and buy organic when possible.

How much: Throughout the day
Healthy choices: Use spring water or filtered water. Drink only from glass or stainless steel. NO PLASTIC.
Why: Water is vital for overall functioning of the body. Add a few drops of lemon to tap water to make alkaline water!