The term “inflammation” is thrown around a lot in popular diet culture, but it’s not entirely clear what’s inflamed. When part of your body is damaged, it heals itself through inflammation, which is an immune response.
When you hurt something and it swells, that’s the immune system signaling to the body that you need more blood in the affected area. Blood contains the nutrients your body needs to heal itself, which is why it gets pooled in an injured area. Inflammation can also be a response to an infection, with the immune system signaling that there’s an unwanted pathogen.
This process is known as acute inflammation, which is a direct response to a problem. Theoretically, once your body is able to heal itself or prevent infection, it can decrease inflammation. Chronic inflammation is more problematic, where the inflammation doesn’t go down. Rheumatoid arthritis is an example of chronic inflammation.
An anti-inflammatory diet should help with such conditions. There are a few basic concepts to stick to if you want to prevent or treat chronic inflammation. First, try to identify and eliminate foods that you’re sensitive to. Any unknown food allergies can cause inflammation and discomfort.
Avoid processed foods as best you can. Sweets, snack foods, processed meats, fried foods and sugary beverages are all examples of processed food. Excess sugar and sodium are warning signs to watch out for.
Focus on whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit, rice, oats, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed meats. There are a few diets that fit these requirements, such as the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet. If you’re struggling to figure out what to eat, using these as a template can help.
Do these diets do what they say they will? Possibly. There are a lot of observational studies that show positive results, but more research is needed. Observational research doesn’t prove that a certain diet causes changes in the body. It simply proves that more people who eat anti-inflammatory diets see benefits.
Experiments can help prove the results of these studies, but until then, switching to an anti-inflammatory diet isn’t harmful and might even be helpful for your overall health.