your natural self

How to Maintain a Normal Inflammatory Response with an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Published on April 23, 2024

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

When you overdo a workout, twist an ankle, or bump your head, you may begin to feel the effects immediately, with swelling, tenderness, pain, and even heat at the site of the injury. This is your body reacting as it should, with an acute inflammatory response. It's a vital first line of defense, a temporary process to heal and repair. When this response is normal, it typically subsides within a few days or weeks as your body heals.

However, sometimes inflammation works differently in your body. Without experiencing an injury, you may find yourself experiencing fatigue, achiness, and a general feeling of being "off" for weeks or even months. While these could be symptoms of various conditions, they can also point towards a different type of inflammation: chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can be influenced by various factors, including diet, stress, genetics, environmental exposures, and even certain medical conditions. One of the major known risk factors for chronic inflammation—and one you can control—is excess weight, often caused by a poor diet. 

This article focuses on a food-first approach, exploring how specific dietary choices combined with weight loss can potentially support your body in managing inflammation. While a diet alone may not be enough to support a balanced inflammatory response, especially if other significant factors are at play, it can be a powerful tool in promoting overall well-being.

Understanding Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation, unlike its acute counterpart, is a persistent, low-grade condition that can contribute to joint pain, digestive problems, and an increased risk of chronic inflammatory diseases like stroke, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, canc-er, and obesity. Research has shown that chronic inflammation can be sparked by infectious organisms, irritants, auto-immune disorders, oxidative stress, and recurring periods of acute inflammation. 

While multiple factors contribute to the risk of developing chronic inflammatory conditions, some, like age and genetics, are beyond your control. However, the good news is that you can significantly influence two major risk factors: diet and weight.

When you adopt a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, you not only fuel your body with a good balance of nutrients, but you also give yourself an effective way to drop any harmful pounds and maintain a healthy weight.

Being overweight creates a stressed-out environment inside your body that can throw your inflammatory response out of balance. Think of obesity as a constant alarm blaring inside your body, fueled by overactive fat cells (adipose tissue). These cells, under constant stress, release inflammatory molecules called cytokines and adipokines, acting like distress signals and attracting an army of inflammatory cells. This creates a cycle of low-grade inflammation that contributes to the health problems linked to obesity.REF#3884 REF#3885

Optimizing Your Inflammatory Response With an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Changing your diet is hard. But coping with the symptoms and results of unhealthy inflammation is even harder. By harnessing the power of your plate, you can take a proactive approach to support your body's natural processes and achieve more vibrant health.

Imagine a way of eating that prioritizes vibrant colors, fresh textures, and whole, unprocessed ingredients. This approach, built on scientific principles, focuses on nourishing your body with the right balance of nutrients to support your body’s natural repair mechanisms. With the right herbs and spices, it also can be a very delicious and satisfying way to eat.

This isn't about calorie counting or current fads. However, if you are trying to lose weight, you’ll want to limit your calorie intake to below the recommended amount for maintaining weight. This means eating at least 1,600 calories a day for people assigned female at birth and at least 2,000 calories a day for people assigned male at birth. You can find online calorie calculators to determine an ideal calorie intake based on your current weight, height, age, and activity level. 

Rather than being restrictive, a good anti-inflammatory diet involves a sense of adventure. It is about discovering how certain foods when incorporated into your daily routine, can work harmoniously with your body to promote overall health and well-being. It's about empowering yourself to make informed choices about what goes on your plate and, ultimately, how you feel.

The Foundations of a Food-First Approach: Build a Rainbow on Your Plate:

When it comes to a healthy plate of food, imagine the rainbow. When your plate is full of a variety of colors — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple — it gives you a full complement of nutrients. Think deep-colored fruits and vegetables loaded with antioxidants, healthy fats like those found in avocados and olive oil, lean proteins like chicken and fish, and fiber-rich options like whole grains and legumes that keep your gut happy and thriving.

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet is a food-first, primarily plant-based approach that shouldn’t feel limited. It's about embracing an abundance of colorful, nutrient-rich ingredients that support your body and health. And it starts with getting rid of those foods that fill you with empty calories.

Ditch Processed Foods

Processed foods, stripped of their natural goodness, often leave us feeling less than our best. Several reasons processed foods may increase inflammation include:

  • Increased sugar and refined carbohydrates: Many processed foods, like white bread, pasta, and pastries, are high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates. These can spike blood sugar levels rapidly, leading to the release of inflammatory molecules.REF#3886 Additionally, the body's processing of these sugars can increase oxidative stress, further contributing to inflammation.
  • Unhealthy fats: Processed foods often contain unhealthy fats like trans fats and saturated fats in high amounts. These types of fats, which include coconut and palm oil, have been linked to increased inflammation markers in the body.REF#3887
  • Lack of essential nutrients: Processing food often removes essential nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. These nutrients play a role in regulating inflammation, and their absence can contribute to an inflammatory state.REF#3888
  • Food additives and artificial ingredients: Some processed foods contain additives and artificial ingredients like preservatives and emulsifiers, which some research suggests may trigger inflammatory responses, especially in the gastrointestinal tract.REF#3889
  • Gut microbiome disruption: Many processed foods offer little to no fiber, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. An imbalanced gut microbiome with reduced beneficial bacteria has been linked to chronic low-grade inflammation.REF#3889

    Embrace the 4 Whole Food Groups for Proper Nutrition

    A whole-food approach provides a vibrant meal created from the following key elements:

    1. Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables provide vibrant colors for your plate! Each offers a unique spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This colorful variety helps fight inflammation and supports overall well-being.
    2. Lean protein: Lean protein sources can be plants or animals. Lentils, chickpeas, and beans are powerhouses that pack protein, fiber, and essential nutrients, making them versatile additions to your plate. Tofu and tempeh are also good plant-based choices. Beyond plants, include options like skinless chicken, turkey, or duck breast, fatty fish (salmon, tuna) rich in omega-3s, and other white fish. Lean protein helps with satiety and supports cell repair, and some sources offer additional anti-inflammatory benefits.
    3. Whole grains: Embrace whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and oats. These provide sustained energy, valuable nutrients, and additional fiber to support gut health, which can positively impact inflammation. Note: this only applies if you don’t have a gluten intolerance or allergy, which could cause inflammation.
    4. Healthy fats: Include healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, and nuts in your diet. These offer important benefits for cell health, brain function, and satiety. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, known for their ability to promote healthy inflammatory function.

    When putting together a healthy diet to improve inflammatory function, moderation is key, and the specific amount of protein and other components you need can vary based on individual factors. If you are trying to lose a significant amount of weight or are unsure how to structure a healthy diet, consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized guidance and coaching.

    Supplement Your Diet With Herbs

    Ideally, a whole-food, anti-inflammatory diet will give you most of the nutrients you need to optimize your health. Studies are being done on the effect herbal supplements have on the inflammatory response. While individual supplements may not be enough on their own, research suggests that they can support a normal inflammatory response. A few herbs to consider include:

    • Curcumin (from Turmeric): May help reduce occasional inflammation due to normal wear and tear
    • Cat’s Claw: May support athletes or anyone impacted by a normal inflammatory response due to intense physical activity
    • Green Tea: Provides antioxidant support
    • Oregano Oil: Traditionally used to support a healthy gut
    • Ginger: May help support normal inflammatory response

    Your Journey Toward Better Health

    The journey towards a healthy inflammatory response is multifaceted, and good dietary choices give you a powerful tool to optimize your health. By embracing a food-first approach that emphasizes whole, unprocessed ingredients, you can nourish your body with the building blocks it needs to support its natural processes. 

    Remember, this is a starting point. While incorporating this approach can have a significant impact, addressing chronic inflammation can require the support of a healthcare professional

    who can help you tailor a plan that addresses your specific needs. It will likely integrate other elements like stress management, regular physical activity, and quality sleep. 

    Remember, the road to well-being is unique to each individual, and a holistic approach empowers you to take charge and create lasting changes so you can unlock your full potential and experience the vibrant health you deserve.


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    • 4. , "Saturated Fatty Acids Produce an Inflammatory Response Predominantly through the Activation of TLR4 Signaling in Hypothalamus: Implications for the Pathogenesis of Obesity", The Journal of Neuroscience.
    • 5. , "Diet-Derived Antioxidants and Their Role in Inflammation, Obesity and Gut Microbiota Modulation", Antioxidants.
    • 6. , "Food Additives, a Key Environmental Factor in the Development of IBD through Gut Dysbiosis", Microorganisms.