Foods to Reduce and Combat Inflammation

I often get asked the question, “what foods should I eat to reduce and combat inflammation?”

Before I share with you some quick and easy suggestions of foods to include, let’s take a look first at inflammation and why you want to include anti-inflammatory foods in your daily diet.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to protect itself. When something is harmful or irritating, there is a biological response to try and remove it. It’s the way our body works to heal itself.

There are two types: acute and chronic. We’re familiar with a wound, or a cut or a sprain as acute inflammation. And arthritis as a chronic inflammatory condition.

But what about exercise? Running? Weightlifting? The relationship between exercise and inflammation is full of inconsistencies and studies that contradict each other. Exercise has been proven to reduce inflammation and has been proven to cause (and increase) inflammation. Depending on your current health circumstances, the type of exercise, the duration and our diets, inflammation is an important consideration when it comes to recovery, progress and overall health.

When our bodies are under a constant state of inflammation, day in and day out, then it should and must become a concern for us. Many diseases that plague us, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and depression have been linked to chronic inflammation. (1) (2)

Waiting for a sprain or a pull to heal or experiencing chronic sore muscles and joints, usually means the kiss of death when it comes to our motivation for moving a weight or grabbing a run. In addition, in my 25 years plus of coaching, I’ve seen over and over again, chronic soreness and joint pain which keeps my clients from reaching a new personal record in a workout or race.

So, what can we do?

Recovery days in your workouts are a must. Follow hard days with easier style workouts and always include a full day, if not two of rest. I tend to schedule my workouts over 30-day periods versus over a 7-day week. This shifts my mindset towards my overall goal (let’s say a race or competition) and I work backwards in planning my workouts and rest days.

Fuel up. Meals before, during and after are crucial to performance, recovery, personal bests and minimizing inflammation.

Eating anti-inflammatory foods at all your meals (which we’ll cover here) is equally important to minimizing inflammation and recovering (healing) from the physical stress of your workouts which is the cause behind the inflammation.

Sleep!  Muscle, tissue and cellular repair occurs during sleep. Revisit your schedule if you are not getting at least 7 hours of solid sleep each night. And finally, reduce your stress levels. Studies have revealed that psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. This leads to the promotion and development of disease. (3)

What to include!

Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, has discussed studies showing that components of foods and beverages have anti-inflammatory effects. Just as there are proven foods and beverages that cause inflammation, there are foods we can include in our daily diet that will help us reduce inflammation and the effects of chronic inflammation that can impact our short-term and long-term health.

First, let’s look at inflammation causing foods. Although this list is not all inclusive, here are some of the known culprits:

  • Sugar
  • Vegetable Oil
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Fried Foods
  • Trans Fat
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Refined Carbs
  • Artificial Additives
  • Excessive Alcohol
  • Fast Food
  • Processed Meat
  • Saturated Fat
  • Gluten (for some)
  • Dairy (for some)
  • Alcohol (in excess)
  • Refined Salt (table salt)-Replace with Himalayan Salt

Where do these foods fit in, if ever? As a nutritionist, my recommendation to my clients is that these foods are kept as your “off” meal indulgences. There’s that summer barbecue or a Saturday night date. Also, given our busy social schedules these days, there is rarely an opportunity to indulge in some of these delights. Therefore, the best practice is to eliminate these foods from your daily meals.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite anti-inflammatory foods you can use to mix and match a meal. As you’ll see, the list includes many options. My hope is that you’ll take notice and see  that lean meats, seafood, beans, whole grains, greens and fruits offer us all that we could hope for in keeping our bodies healthy.

Moral of the story is to keep out of the processed food aisles in your grocery stores. Shop at local farmers markets; butchers and other locations where you can pick up grass fed meats; wild caught seafood and farm fresh fruits and veggies.  There is definite planning involved with meals, however and a good rule of thumb is to eat smaller, 3-4 hours spaced apart meals of a protein, carb and fat with fruits and lots of veggies mixed in. Another consideration for reducing inflammation and the impact it has on your health, is the timing of specific foods before and after your workouts.

Here we go:

Green Leafy Vegetables including: Collard Greens; Turnip Greens; Kale; Swiss Chard; Cabbage: Romaine lettuce (green and red); Bok Choy; Spinach; Mustard Greens; Broccoli; Broccoli Rabe and Watercress.

Red and Yellow Peppers; Mushrooms (Portobello; Shitake; Truffles); Celery; Beets; Tomatoes; Strawberries, Apples; Blueberries; Cherries; Pears; Apricots; Pineapple; Grapes; Beans; Raw Oats; Kamut; Amaranth; Quinoa; Salmon; Mackerel; Tuna; Sardines; Oysters; Grass Fed Beef (beef in moderation); Leaner meat choices; Bone Both; Flax Seeds (ground)Extra Virgin Olive Oil; Avocados; Coconut Oil; Ginger; Basil; Garlic; Apple Cider Vinegar and Turmeric.

This list is definitely not all inclusive of every food that has anti-inflammatory components and  I’d like to again mention that it’s important for us to focus on foods from the ground versus foods from a box. Now, that’s not to say that there are not healthy, anti-inflammatory foods that can be found in containers, bottles and cans.

I include herbal remedies daily in my diet that come from a bottle. However, if your diet consists of meals that are lean proteins; beans; whole grain starchy carbs like the ones listed above and the remaining of your day is filled in with lots of veggies and fruits, you will most definitely see and feel the difference in your body. Your endurance will increase, you’ll sleep better, better skin, better hair and even a calmer mood. All this translates into better performance in the gym and on the road.

(1)(2)(3) Harvard Health Edu/Inflammation

More about the author:

Jen Zelop is a leader in the field of fitness, transformational work, mindset and nutrition. Jen has been involved in the health and wellness business for 25 plus years. As a multiple gym owner, a “thriving” nutrition practice, public speaker, radio show host on Transformation Talk Radio and is the creator of numerous mindset training programs,

Jen has the experience to offer a practical approach to reaching your goals for your body, mind and soul. Jen has coached thousands in the specific fields of running, bodybuilding, powerlifting, CrossFit and weekend warriors. Through her coaching methods, programs and classes, she has helped countless people worldwide transform their bodies, empower their minds and connect with their dreams.

Jen is always happy to answer quick questions. Visit her at jenniferzelop.com. She can also be reached at jenniferzelop@yahoo.com