10 Things Dietitians Do to Fight Inflammation
When it comes to fighting off chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, and simply feeling good day after day, reducing inflammation and stress in the body can significantly improve your outcomes. "Inflammation is an immune response by our body that is meant to protect us from intruders (like a virus) and heal us from injury and stress. When inflammation happens in response to something like a cut, it's a good thing and will help our body heal," says Kelsey Lorencz, RDN.
Recipe pictured above: Vegetarian Niçoise Salad
But when inflammation is chronic over a long period of time (from high blood sugar, food sensitivities that affect gut health, or general everyday stress) or is the result of an autoimmune disease (like arthritis), the effects can be damaging. The immune system goes into overdrive and starts attacking healthy tissues as long as the stressor persists.
But everyone experiences some type of stress and inflammation—even dietitians! So we asked six dietitians what they do daily to combat it. Here's what they had to say.
10 Things Dietitians Do to Combat Inflammation
While inflammation can can look different from person to person, the strategies to combat it are pretty much the same for everyone: minimize those stressors and add in behaviors that have been shown to combat inflammation (namely following principles of the Mediterranean diet). So, while there isn't one single thing that will make chronic inflammation disappear overnight, incorporating a combination of these dietitian-backed inflammation-fighting strategies can help improve your outcomes over time.
1. Nosh on Cherries
"Cherries are a rich source of polyphenols and vitamin C, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, with studies suggesting that consuming cherries may reduce the risk of several chronic inflammatory diseases including, arthritis, cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and even certain types of cancer," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. "There is also evidence that cherries may improve sleep, cognitive function and recovery from pain after strenuous exercise." So throw in some cherries with your morning yogurt or oatmeal, or drink tart cherry juice after a workout or before bed to get the inflammation-fighting effects of this juicy fruit.
Pictured recipe: Anti-Inflammatory Cherry-Spinach Smoothie
Meditation can be an incredibly effective way to decrease the amount of cortisol in the body. Lorencz explains: "Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released when we are in 'fight or flight' mode. If you are under a lot of stress (who isn't these days?!) your body can be releasing a lot of cortisol on a daily basis, leading to inflammation." Meditation can help you switch from "fight or flight" to "rest and digest" mode, which will decrease the stress hormones released and increase the body's ability to digest food, absorb nutrients and, in turn, better fight off disease, she says. "Headspace is a great app to use if meditation sounds intimidating or difficult," she recommends. Or if meditation isn't for you, another relaxing practice, like reading a book, going for a walk or listening to your favorite music, can also help.
3. Eat More Probiotics
"Having plenty of good bacteria in your gut creates an environment that allows for maximum digestion, absorption and utilization of all the nutrients you eat in a day," says Lorencz. Not only will a healthy gut make your body more efficient at utilizing anti-inflammatory nutrients from food, but also eating and drinking plenty of foods containing probiotics (think yogurt, kefir, kombucha and kimchi), as well as foods that help feed that good gut bacteria (like high-fiber whole grains, fruits and vegetables), can have systemic effects elsewhere in the body, says Lorencz. Add some kimchi to your brown-rice and veggie bowl at dinner, and make a fruit smoothie with kefir for a gut-healthy boost.
4. Get More Omega-3s
Omega-3 fats help fight inflammation and are found in foods like salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts. "Increasing these fatty acids in your diet or through supplements should be done in conjunction with reducing the intake of fats that increase inflammation [when eaten in excess]," says Rachel Caine, M.S., RD, LDN, dietitian for Baze.
Opt for plant-based oils like olive oil and canola oil and lean protein like chicken and beans in addition to your omega-3 rich foods. Moderate your intake of foods high in saturated fat, like red meat and high-fat dairy (especially if you have diabetes of heart disease) and avoid eating too many fried foods that have been cooked in reheated oil. Reheating oil over and over again, which often happens in fast-food restaurants, can create inflammatory compounds.
Pictured recipe: Salmon-Stuffed Avocados
5. Limit Alcohol Intake
"While red wine may have some health benefits, drinking multiple glasses every night is not recommended," says Monica Auslander Moreno, M.S., RD, LDN, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. The recommended intake is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—that's how much our bodies are able to successfully break down into a nontoxic substance.
So, think twice before just pouring a glass. "I used to just order a glass of wine or a whiskey (I love Japanese whiskey) automatically with a meal—now I really think hard if I 'need' it—and that mindful process has lead to me having a max of two or three per week," she says.
6. Eat More Plant-Based
You don't need to give up steak, but focus on eating more plant-based proteins, like beans, lentils, tofu and seitan. "Following a diet rich in plant foods will get you well on your way to getting the full complement of micronutrients and antioxidants, which are integral to healthy DNA replication, cell turnover and immunity," says Caine. So, aim to go meatless for a few meals, and fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies at each meal, to help combat inflammation. (Try these vegetarian recipes—they're so good, you won't even miss the meat!)
7. Form a Healthy Nighttime Routine
Give yourself time to power down, as inflammation increases with sleep deficit. Moreno says, "It's really hard for me to 'turn off' at night with my buzzy thoughts, so I practice a 'coat check' approach—I 'check' my nervous or random thoughts and anxieties at my bedroom door. And when they creep in, I banish them to the coat check."
She adds, "I allow myself to run through happy memories or cyclical thoughts (kind of like counting sheep, but for me it's thinking about nerdy things like medieval history timelines) which relaxes me." Find a habit that works for you, whether it's shutting off your phone or TV an hour before bed, reading or having a cup of herbal tea before bed.
Pictured recipe: Soothing Ginger-Lemon Tea
8. Eat the Rainbow
Add a pop of color to your plate by including a variety of colorful foods. "I strive to get a variety of colors of produce in my diet. Chemicals that give plants their color contain antioxidants, which help to fight off inflammation," says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, RD, CDE. She says, "Diets rich in antioxidants have been linked with lower incidence of cancers by fighting off cell damage." Including berries in oatmeal or adding dark leafy green veggies to dishes is a great way to get more antioxidants in your diet.
9. Add Spices
Feel free to add in paprika, turmeric, cayenne, ginger, garlic and more! "While we often don't think of spices for providing much more than flavor, they have been found to be natural sources of antioxidants which can help blunt some of the damaging effects of inflammation," says Hailey Crean, M.S., RD, CDE, CSOWM. While they won't cure you overnight, eating more healthy herbs and spices can help over time.
10. Eat Fewer Inflammatory Foods
"I try to minimize foods associated with inflammation. Again, if you eat a hot dog, you don't automatically become 'inflamed,' but I do try to very rarely consume foods associated with inflammation," says Moreno. That means eating fewer hot dogs and other processed meats, charred meats, alcohol, added sugars (including candy and soda), fried foods and too many of those fats mentioned in #4 above.