Anti-inflammatory eating is definitely having a moment—celebs like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Tom Brady swear by it, and inflammation-fighting ingredients like turmeric and moringa are popping up in everything from juice bars to beauty products. But what the heck is it (and should you try it)? Here’s what you need to know.
Hold up, what’s inflammation again? So, here’s the thing—inflammation itself is not necessarily bad. In fact, it’s how the body fights illness and heals itself, which happens when the immune system sends an increased amount of white blood cells and other substances to the area fighting infection or injury. However, there are some chronic diseases that are linked to inflammation (like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and lupus), as a result of an overactive immune system attacking healthy tissue. That’s where an anti-inflammatory (AI) diet comes in.
OK, and what’s this diet all about? The anti-inflammatory diet isn’t rocket science—it basically replaces sugary, processed foods with whole, nutrient-rich ones. There are no strict guidelines to follow but you’ll want to load up on good-for-you foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish and healthy fats (like those found in olive oil and avocado). For some people, nightshades (like eggplant and tomatoes) and gluten can lead to inflammation but always check with your doctor before cutting them out of your diet. What’s not on the menu? Foods linked to inflammation like processed and fried foods, sugar, full-fat dairy (but low-fat is OK) and red meat. If this sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of well-known diets already follow AI principles including the Mediterranean diet and Whole30.
What are the potential benefits? “I recommend the anti-inflammatory diet to clients with arthritis or other inflammatory conditions. It emphasizes the intake of fruits, vegetables and fats from fish, which can help reduce inflammation,” explains Katharine Kissane, RD. It may also decrease the risk for certain cancers, according to one Harvard University study. Researchers looked at more than 120,000 people and found that those following pro-inflammatory diets had a 32 percent higher risk of developing colon cancer than those with AI diets. And another study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that an AI diet could reduce the risk of bone loss in women.
Bottom line: The diet isn’t a magic cure for chronic illness, but there is evidence to suggest that loading up on inflammation-fighting foods (and nixing inflammation-causing ones) can help certain conditions. And with its emphasis on unprocessed and whole foods, the AI eating plan also promotes good health in general. Buddha bowl, anyone?