Inflammation: It’s your body’s worst enemy, the culprit behind a laundry list of illnesses including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few. While inflammation is a natural — and essential — part of the body’s innate healing response, when that inflammation becomes chronic or is otherwise unwarranted, it can quickly start to do some serious damage.
While numerous factors can incite this detrimental inflammation (stress, exposure to toxins, lack of sleep), diet is one of the primary ones. Granted, changing your diet won’t entirely mitigate the risk of developing the aforementioned health conditions, but adopting an anti-inflammatory diet may reduce your chances of developing these chronic diseases, says health coach and author of the Eat Pretty series Jolene Hart, who is certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.
Other positive side effects include lower blood pressure, less brain fog, and yes, even shedding some unwanted pounds. As if that weren’t enough incentive, there are the beauty benefits to consider as well. “An anti-inflammatory diet can help lessen signs of aging, as well as reduce redness, sensitivity, and blemishes in your skin,” points out Hart.
Here’s the other good news: While it may seem like an anti-inflammatory diet will involve extensive research, complicated recipes, and long lists of foods to eat and to avoid, it’s really much simpler than you might expect. (In fact, the term “diet”’is somewhat misleading, as it’s more of a long-term eating plan rather than a temporary quick fix.)
“It’s pretty basic,” explains Hart. “Eat fresh, whole, unprocessed foods. Focus on incorporating healthy fats into your meals and eating smaller amounts of high-quality animal products. This is the core of an anti-inflammatory diet.” Once you’ve established that baseline, the next step is to add in foods that have anti-inflammatory benefits. Herbs and spices are standouts, according to Hart, specifically turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and rosemary, all of which are renowned for their potent anti-inflammatory properties. An added benefit is that they’re also incredibly easy to work into your existing diet — simply sprinkle them on top of any of the foods you’re already eating.
Loading up on fruits and veggies is another smart move, as they contain phytochemicals, natural plant-based compounds that reduce inflammation (and, of course, all the other good stuff, like antioxidants, fiber, and plenty of vitamins). Once you’ve added in anti-inflammatory foods, it’s time to nix the ones that are inflammatory. As a general rule, sweets, processed foods, and conventional meats (those laden with antibiotics and hormones) are universally inflammatory, says Hart.
Still, there are numerous other culprits that can vary from person to person, meaning what triggers inflammation in your body may not be problematic for someone else. Wheat and dairy are two of the most common offenders, but “it may take some trial and error to pinpoint which foods are inflammatory for you,” says Hart.
Consider trying a simple elimination diet: Nix gluten, dairy, soy, and eggs for three weeks, and take stock of how you feel. “Eliminating an inflammatory trigger in your diet typically results in increased energy, less puffy and more radiant skin, and even losing a few pounds of water weight,” explains Hart. Then, gradually add back each of these foods one at a time and pay attention to how your body responds and whether or not you feel worse when eating them.
At the end of the day, anyone and everyone can benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet. There’s nothing to lose by trying it out, and what you may gain — improved health, better skin, a clearer mind — means making these simple changes to the way you eat could be well worth it.