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7 healthy diet habits that reduce inflammation

Tracy Woolrich's picture
An anti inflammatory diet has an emphasis on fish, olive oil, garlic and green leafy vegetables.

Inflammation is not always a bad. In fact it is part of a healthy immune system response. It is crucial that your body has a healthy inflammatory response in order to defend you from invaders like bacteria, viruses and even cancer cells. However, when your inflammatory response is elevated, it can cause illness. Read on to learn if you are at risk and what you can do to bring balance back.

Inflammatory diseases include arthritis, allergies, and asthma. However, chronic, low-level inflammation (known as systemic inflammation) is silent and is linked to major illnesses. These include diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Even skin aging is linked to inflammation. Therefore lifestyle changes to reduce the inflammation are crucial for wellness.

Exactly how inflammation relates to these conditions is still unknown. Dietary and lifestyle changes may reduce inflammation and other risk factors for disease.

The issue, as is often the case when it comes to health, is when there is an imbalance. When dietary and lifestyle changes so does our internal inflammatory response. If we don’t eat well and lack exercise, our inflammation chemicals increase. Also, if our diet is not properly balanced we don’t get enough of the nutrients that naturally reduce inflammation.

Because fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals faster than other cells, being overweight puts you at a higher risk. A vicious cycle can occur as well as an increase in these chemicals in turn makes it harder to lose weight.

Inflammation can be a slow and insidious process. It can silently affect your body and not show the effect outwardly. Luckily there are ways to measure the level of some markers.

One of these is the protein called C-reactive protein (CRP). Clinically, a CRP level of less than 5mg is considered normal. Some researchers however believe that even slight elevations of CRP are tied to increased risk for heart attack and stroke. So how do you reduce the level?

Your body can produce inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins from nutrients in your diet. An Imbalance in your diet can lead to the production of excessive amount of inflammatory prostaglandins. This in turn raises your inflammatory response. However, the consumption of certain nutrients, allows your body to produce more anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, which will it reduce inflammation. Let’s look at what you can do encourage a balance.

Anti-inflammatory diet
The purpose is to reduce inflammation by eliminating inflammatory and allergenic food products and increasing anti-inflammatory ones.

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In general the diet will reduce or even exclude over processed foods, corn, dairy, pork, beef, potatoes, citrus fruits, caffeine, alcohol, peanuts and processed oils. Some people will also need to avoid nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, etc) as well as milk and soy. It can be a very individual process.

As you will see, the diet closely resembles the Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on fish, olive oil, garlic and green leafy vegetables.


Drink at a minimum 64 ounces of pure water a day. This amounts to eight 8 ounce glasses. This can include decaffeinated tea and coffee as well as sparkling water


Fish that are high in Oemga-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines have been shown to help reduce inflammation. Eat these types of fish several times a week and prepare it by broiling, steaming or grilling. In a study in 2009 in Hawaii, it found that men who ate baked or boiled fish reduced their heart disease risk by nearly 24%. That is pretty impressive!

Olive Oil
A study in 2010 found that olive oil contains the compound oleocanthal. This has been shown to have a similar effect as non steroidal pain relievers. Think of it as Motrin in an oil form.

Garlic and onions
In animal studies, garlic and its cousin onion, have been shown to work similarly to non steroidal pain relievers by shutting off the pathways that lead to inflammation.

Whole grains
Avoid the white! Ingest your grains in a minimally processed manner. Eat brown rice, whole grain bread and whole wheat pasta. Whole grains have more fiber which has been shown to reduce C-reactive protein levels.

Leafy greens
Your mother was right. Eat your spinach! Studies have shown that vitamin E may play a role in protecting the body from cytokines which increase inflammation. One of the best sources of this is dark green veggies, such as spinach, collard greens, kale and broccoli.

Fruits in general fight inflammation because they’re high in antioxidants. Berries however are especially helpful. That is due to their high levels of anthocyanins. Studies have shown that women who eat more strawberries reduced their C-reactive protein levels. In addition raspberries have been shown to reduce arthritic inflammation and blueberries can help with ulcerative colitis. That is a lot of health benefits in a little package!

Take home message
A healthy lifestyle that includes moderate exercise, not smoking, reducing stress and maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce inflammation.

“The longer I live the less confidence I have in drugs and the greater is my confidence in the regulation and administration of diet and regimen”.
– John Redman Coxe - 19th Century physician and professor

Galland L. "Diet and inflammation."NutrClinPract. 2010 Dec 25:634-40.
Sears B, Ricordi C. "Anti-inflammatory nutrition as a pharmacological approach to treat obesity." J Obes. 2011


The Helfgott Research Institute