It is well established that some foods, like red meat, increase inflammation in the body, while others, such as blueberries, work to lessen it, notes Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and manager of nutrition services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “Inflammation is the base of any disease…it is very much related to pain,”
The typical American diet is very high in “inflammatory content,” adds William Welches, MD, a physician in the pain management department at Cleveland Clinic. Think of inflammation as a fire, he suggests. “What we’re doing is adding fuel and accelerants to the fire if we eat the wrong kind of food,” he says. “It’s like adding oxygen to whatever it is that’s burning.”
Exercise is the number one way to naturally reduce inflammation, says Kirpatrick. And after performing her own research on anti-inflammatory agents, she came to the conclusion that many foods, herbs, and spices can help as well.
“I think we’re on the edge of the next medical revolution in terms of seeing lifestyle as key to the way that we deal with disease,” Welches explains.
Take the following quiz to learn more about how the foods you eat may affect inflammation and pain.
1. Which of the following foods help relieve inflammation in the body?
B. Flax seeds
2. Some foods that contain essential fatty acids, such as sardines, have been shown to reduce inflammation markers in the body.
True or False
3. The juice of the acai berry is a great source of antioxidants.
True or False
4. Eating red meat in moderation is not dangerous.
True or False
5. Any naturally colorful food likely has anti-inflammatory properties.
True or False
1. E. Nuts, things that are very colorful like roots and herbs, certain spices like turmeric, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, and teas (which contain catechins, a plant metabolite) all help with the anti-inflammatory aspects of the body, Kirkpatrick says. Green tea, garlic, rosemary, ginger, oregano, resveratrol (a component of red grapes that is also found in dark chocolate and red wine) and flax seeds all help with inflammation and may reduce pain. Sugar, on the other hand, increases inflammation in the body.
2. True. Studies have shown that eating essential fatty acids reduces inflammation markers in the body. Fatty acids are found in foods such as wild salmon, sardines, walnuts, and flax seeds.
3. False. Just under 10 years ago, Dr. Mehmet Oz appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss the benefits of the acai berry, including its high antioxidant content. Soon thereafter, products containing acai berries rocketed onto the market. However, while the acai berry does contain high amounts of antioxidants (molecules that protect the body from free radicals, which can damage cell components), acai juice, which is expensive and packed with sugar, is not the answer, says Welches.
It is healthier to simply grind the berries and husks and eat them plain. Also, plain blueberries are likely to contain nearly or just as many antioxidants as the acai berry, he says.
4. True. Eating small amounts of red meat is probably not dangerous, Welches says. However, steak is not a necessary food. “That’s not the way we should be thinking about our diet when we’re thinking about how to control our pain,” he explains.
Two of the best diets are the anti-inflammatory diet, which is based on the old Mediterranean diet and contains fiber, fruits, vegetables, fish, modest amounts of poultry, and olive oil, and the vegan diet, which omits dairy, fish and meat, focusing instead on vegetables, legumes and grains. Fish is important in this diet because it contains omega-3 fatty acids.
Individuals who follow a vegan diet benefit because they do not eat any animal products. However, they need to be concerned about getting enough iron and protein since meat is a good source of both of those nutrients. Those on the vegan diet need to be careful to consume all the necessary nutrients, but the diet has been around a long time and it can be done, Welches says.
5. True. “We’ve seen that in human and animal studies, things that are very colorful, whether it’s a fruit, a vegetable, or an herb, that color relates to the amount of phytochemicals, antioxidants that these foods have and that tend to help with, again, those inflammatory factors in the body,” Kirkpatrick says.
Next time you’re in the mood for a snack, pick up something naturally colorful like kidney beans or kale. Or try a handful of nuts. All these foods aid “anti-inflammatory aspects of the body,” Kirkpatrick explains.