Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet – The What, Why & Does It Work?

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Fact-checked & edited by Dr. Helen Okoye, MD, MBA, MS-Epi

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The anti-inflammatory diet unsurprisingly prioritizes foods that combat inflammation. There has been a lot of discussion about inflammation recently, but this diet was designed for those dealing with rheumatoid conditions.

Rheumatoid conditions (like arthritis[1]) are the result of chronic inflammation: they are symptoms of unhealthy levels of inflammation, which can be improved with the help of this diet. It’s uncertain how this translates to healthy people, but the diet has been well-regarded by the general public.

Why? Well, that’s the topic of today’s discussion! We’re going to explain the what, why, and the verdict of the anti-inflammatory diet.

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What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

The anti-inflammatory diet isn’t particularly unusual in the foods that it suggests – it just has a novel way of discussing health and wellbeing that seems to resonate with those who believe that all inflammation is bad. The actual foods sound very much like any other balanced, “healthy” diet[2].

More than Your Five a Day

To start with, the focus is on high-quality plant foods. Fruit and veg come first in this diet, likely due to the anti-inflammatory markers seen in the plant-only phytochemicals and high-quality antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables.

The diet tends to provide a general perspective of shooting for variety. A rainbow of fruit and veg is encouraged, ensuring that the best variety of micronutrients is present in the diet, and mixing up the colors and textures to improve satiety and nutritional value.

High-Quality Carbs

Whole grains play a big role in the anti-inflammatory diet – again because of their general nutritional profile. They also provide plenty of fiber, which is closely linked with improved gut health and the regularity of the digestive system[3].

Not only do they keep your bowels regular and healthy, but they also combat the likelihood of developing specific cancers. Fiber intake with other risk factors has been shown to level out – meaning that you can reduce the damaging effects of low-quality pink meat with high-fiber plant foods like whole grains and veg.

Beans are also found in this diet and we’re glad to hear it. Beans are the best carb source, along with whole grains, and they provide a wide variety of vitamins and minerals associated with improved energy transfer and reduced inflammation.

A Fish-Centric Diet

Fish is the best animal food for humans to consume.

Rich in essential Omega-3 fats, fatty fish is the best source of animal protein and fats on the market[4,5]. You’re going to see reduced inflammation in crucial areas like the brain and joints when consuming enough of this essential ingredient.

When you consume fatty fish, you’re also going to be getting plenty of vitamins A and D – both of which are key antioxidants and have protective effects throughout the body. This is another huge bonus that comes with this type of diet – making it effective at combatting some of the most common deficiencies.

Herbs and Spices: Beyond Seasoning

Certain herbs and spices bring pronounced anti-inflammatory effects, such as cinnamon and turmeric. These are strongly promoted as part of the diet to improve the overall anti-inflammatory effect – as well as making the veg and fish taste great[6,7].

What Does the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Restrict?

There are three classes of foods that are restricted on an anti-inflammatory diet, as they tend to be pro-inflammatory:

  • Heavily processed carbs
  • Low-Quality/Pink Meats
  • High-Saturated-Fat foods

This means reducing the intake of dairy, anything from a pig, and anything high in low-quality fats and sugars. Overall, it points to an increase in dietary quality and improving the source of your macronutrients.

In many ways, this approach to eating is very much just about choosing “clean” foods and focusing on fish and veg. These are the basic principles of any nutritional plan, with few exceptions. In this sense, the anti-inflammatory diet isn’t very ‘new.

Does it Work?

Yes. The diet has some positive effect on reducing inflammation in those with serious inflammation problems. Will it work in healthy populations? Well, that depends on what you want from the diet.

You can definitely expect good health and wellbeing on this diet. It promotes some of the key principles of basic nutrition like high-quality foods, a focus on plant foods and fish, and avoiding some of the common pitfalls or controversial nutrients that are associated with over-eating and common health problems.

The antioxidant effect of many of these compounds is one of the greatest adverts for this diet. With a wide variety of plant foods and high-quality carbs, you’re going to get plenty of essential micronutrients and other antioxidants.

These are associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease and degenerative conditions. They’re also going to bring plenty of metabolic and digestive health benefits – providing a well-rounded dietary approach to health and longevity.

Is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Good for Weight-Loss?

This depends – how many calories are you taking in?

If you’re at a calorie deficit, this is going to be an effective weight-loss diet. While the calorie count is going to determine whether you gain or lose weight, there are some aspects of this diet that increase satiety, making it easy to manage your weight and ensure that you’re going to be losing weight in a healthy, well-nourished way.

It will, however, be very difficult. There is almost no flexibility in the anti-inflammatory diet as it restricts or removes almost every form of traditional ‘luxury’ foods. This is going to be a tough diet to adhere to if it’s your first weight-loss diet or you’re not very good at eating ‘clean’[8].

It might take some time, but the best way to get into this diet (as with every diet) is a graded approach of tapering these high-risk foods out of the diet. It’s a great way to ensure that you’re keeping your diet clean and getting used to the strictness of the diet, rather than trying to go cold-turkey on foods that might increase the psychological difficulty of the diet.

The Real Question: is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Good For You?

This is an important question.

This is a challenging diet and it requires a level of dedication we don’t see in many of the more moderate approaches to diet. It’s definitely clear that it began as a diet to deal with rheumatism, rather than weight-loss.

It has a very steep learning curve and a low tolerance for non-permitted foods. If you’re only looking for weight loss then it may not be the best place to start – while it is definitely a fantastic diet, if you can follow it, it’s not an easy one. It will not be the best answer for a healthy person looking to lose a few lbs and get lean.

It’s a diet for those who are really ready to commit to the best possible health and recovery – especially in those who are dealing with pro-inflammatory or pro-oxidative behaviors. This might make it a great companion to a number of endurance sports, for example. Simply put, it’s a diet for those who are already high-adherence.

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Closing remarks

This diet is a clear example of why it’s so important to be self-aware and understand that diets are never right or wrong – they’re about the person and goals they’re aimed at. It’s not possible to say whether this is a good diet or not. That’s a big puzzle that requires your needs and goals to be plugged into the diet.

We are fans of this approach, however, for the focus it puts on first principles of improving food quality, boosting plant-food intake, and a wide variety of micronutrients. Overall, it’s a great diet – if you can stick with it.

A modified form of this diet, with a little more leniency towards ‘luxury’ foods, might be the best way of handling your health. It provides all the key nutrients and health-promoting compounds, with the addition of flexibility!

[1] Silverstein, Fred E., et al. “Gastrointestinal toxicity with celecoxib vs nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis: the CLASS study: a randomized controlled trial.” Jama 284.10 (2000): 1247-1255.
[2] Olendzki, Barbara C., et al. “An anti-inflammatory diet as treatment for inflammatory bowel disease: a case series report.” Nutrition journal 13.1 (2014): 5.
[3] Lasky, Laurence A. “Selectin-carbohydrate interactions and the initiation of the inflammatory response.” Annual review of biochemistry 64.1 (1995): 113-140.
[4] Talukdar, Saswata, et al. “GPR120 is an omega-3 fatty acid receptor mediating potent anti-inflammatory and insulin-sensitizing effects.” Cell 142.5 (2010): 687-698.
[5] Adam, Olaf, et al. “Anti-inflammatory effects of a low arachidonic acid diet and fish oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.” Rheumatology international 23.1 (2003): 27-36.
[6]Mueller, Monika, Stefanie Hobiger, and Alois Jungbauer. “Anti-inflammatory activity of extracts from fruits, herbs and spices.” Food Chemistry 122.4 (2010): 987-996.
[7]Rubió, Laura, Maria-José Motilva, and Maria-Paz Romero. “Recent advances in biologically active compounds in herbs and spices: a review of the most effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory active principles.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 53.9 (2013): 943-953.
[8]Roberts, Christian K., et al. “Effect of a short-term diet and exercise intervention on inflammatory/anti-inflammatory properties of HDL in overweight/obese men with cardiovascular risk factors.” Journal of applied physiology101.6 (2006): 1727-1732.

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About the Author John Wright

John has been a fitness enthusiast for over 10 years, starting out while struggling with obesity as a teenager. Over the years he has advised numerous clients on how to transform their physiques and their lives. As a writer on Nutrition Inspector he aims to help others achieve real results by staying clear of the common hype and false claims in the supplement industry! You can contact him via the "About Us" page.

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