Mind & Body

The Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Reduce long-term disease risks with a permanent—and delicious—change in how you eat
TIMEDecember 30, 2021

It’s becoming increasingly clear that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses, including heart disease, many cancers, diabetes, rheumatic disease, and more.

We all know inflammation on the surface of the body as redness, heat, swelling, and pain. In fact, our source Medical Dictionary states that inflammation is a localized protective reaction of tissue to irritation, injury, or infection, characterized by pain, redness, swelling, and sometimes loss of function. Inflammation is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response, bringing more nourishment and more immune activity to a site of injury or infection.

But when inflammation persists or serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes illness and the onset of chronic disease. Learning how specific foods influence the inflammatory process is the best strategy for containing it and reducing long-term disease risks.

The anti-inflammatory diet isn’t a “diet” in the popular sense. It isn’t intended as a weight-loss program (although people can and do lose weight on it considering weight loss is a side effect of wellness), nor is it an eating plan to stay on for a limited period of time. We adopt an anti-inflammatory nutritional protocol for the rest of our lives. And that’s good news!

Along with influencing inflammation, understanding how to eat in this manner will provide steady energy and ample vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, and protective phytonutrients. You can also adapt your existing recipes according to the following anti-inflammatory diet principles, in consultation with your doctor.

General Nutritional Tips

Include as much fresh food as possible. Eat mainly fresh and raw fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and good, clean protein.

Minimize your consumption of processed foods and fast food. Get rid of it if you can.

Eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Eat more vegetables than fruit.

Aim to cover your plate with a variety of different-colored vegetables.

Caloric Intake

If you are eating the appropriate number of calories for your level of activity, your weight should be stable and not fluctuate greatly.

The distribution of calories you take in should be as follows: 30 to 40 percent from protein, 25 to 30 percent from fat, and 25 to 30 percent from carbohydrates.

Try to include carbohydrates, fat, and protein at each meal.

Carbohydrates

On a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, adult women should consume between 50 and 150 grams of carbohydrates a day.

Adult men should consume between 75 and 200 grams of carbohydrates a day.

The majority of this should be in the form of less-refined, less-processed foods with a low glycemic load.

Reduce your consumption of foods made with wheat, flour, and sugar, especially bread and most packaged snack foods (including chips and pretzels).

Eat more beans, winter squashes, and sweet potatoes.

Avoid products made with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, additives, and preservatives.

Fat

Calories can come from fat. This should be in a ratio of 1:2:1 (saturated: monounsaturated: polyunsaturated). Don’t be afraid of eating fat! Fat is essential for healthy cell membranes and cell communication.

Reduce your intake of saturated fat by eating less butter, cream, high-fat cheese, skinned chicken, fatty meats, and products made with palm kernel oil.

Use extra-virgin olive oil as the main cooking oil. If you want neutral-tasting oil, use expeller-pressed, organic canola oil. Organic, high-oleic, expeller-pressed versions of sunflower and safflower oil are also acceptable.

Strictly avoid margarine, vegetable shortening, and all products listing them as ingredients. Strictly avoid all products made with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind.

Include in your diet avocados and nuts, especially walnuts, cashews, almonds, and nut butters made from these nuts.

Strictly avoid any trans fats as these are foreign to your body and cause inflammation.

For omega-3 fatty acids, eat salmon (preferably fresh or frozen wild or canned sockeye), sardines packed in water or olive oil, herring, and black cod (sablefish, butterfish); omega-3 fortified eggs; hemp seeds and flaxseeds (preferably freshly ground); or take a fish oil supplement (look for products that provide both EPA and DHA, in a convenient daily dosage of 3 to 4 grams).

Protein

Eat less protein if you have liver or kidney problems, allergies, or autoimmune disease.

Decrease your consumption of animal protein except for fish and high-quality natural cheese and yogurt.

Eat more vegetable protein, especially from beans in general and soybeans in particular. Become familiar with the range of whole-soy foods available and find ones you like.

Fiber

Try to eat 40 grams of fiber per day. You can achieve this by increasing your consumption of fruit (especially berries), vegetables (especially beans), and whole grains.

Ready-made cereals can be good fiber sources, but read labels to make sure they give you at least 4 and preferably 5 grams of bran per one-ounce serving.

Phytonutrients

To get maximum natural protection against age-related diseases (including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease) as well as against environmental toxicity, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms (unless allergic).

Choose fruits and vegetables from all parts of the color spectrum (color your plate), especially berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, and dark leafy greens.

Choose organic produce whenever possible. Learn which conventionally grown crops are most likely to carry pesticide residues and avoid them. Use a vegetable wash that is gentle and effective.

Drink tea instead of coffee, especially good quality white, green, or oolong tea.

Enjoy plain dark chocolate in moderation (with a minimum cocoa content of 70 percent). Watch the addition of cane sugars and other sweeteners.

Vitamins and Minerals

The best way to obtain all of your daily vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients is by eating a diet high in fresh foods with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. In addition, supplement your diet with the following antioxidant cocktail with your largest meal of the day:

  • Vitamin C, 200 milligrams a day, vitamin E, 400 IU of natural mixed tocopherols (d-alpha-tocopherol with other tocopherols, or, better, a minimum of 80 milligrams of natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols)
  • Selenium, 200 micrograms of an organic (yeast-bound) form
  • Glutathione powder, 1 gram

The antioxidants can be most conveniently taken as part of a daily multivitamin/multimineral supplement that also provides at least 400 micrograms of folic acid and 2,000 IU of vitamin D3. It should contain no iron (unless you are a female and have regular menstrual periods).

Women should take supplemental calcium, preferably as calcium citrate, 500 to 700 milligrams a day, depending on their dietary intake of this mineral. Men should avoid supplemental calcium.

Other Dietary Supplements

If you aren’t eating oily fish at least twice a week, take supplemental fish oil, in capsule or liquid form (3 to 4 grams a day of a product containing both EPA and DHA).

If you aren’t regularly eating ginger and turmeric, consider taking these in supplemental form.

If you are prone to metabolic syndrome, take alpha-lipoic acid, 600 milligrams a day, chromium 50 mg a day.

By the way, enjoy healthy foods, and wash those supplements down, with pure water. Your body is 60 to 65 percent water and being even a quart low will increase your fatigue. Rehydrate and resuscitate all the cells in your body, and your body will thank you.

Dr. Michele Sherwood and her husband Dr. Mark Sherwood and are the founders of a successful medical practice and help patients from around the world find the health they were created to enjoy, in every area of life. As bestselling authors, podcasters, movie producers, and media personalities, they founded Hope Dealers International to reach beyond their clinic. Visit Sherwood.tv.