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Should You Try an Anti-Inflammatory Diet? An MD Weighs In

anti-inflammatory diet

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Whether you first saw it on a celebrity’s Instagram post or heard about it in your doctor’s office, the anti-inflammatory diet keeps popping up. So is this just another wellness fad or a legit path to better health? And what is inflammation exactly, anyway?

To tackle those common questions and more, Amit Khanna, MD, MPH, Director of Digestive Health and Chief of Colorectal Surgery at Chestnut Hill Surgical Associates, weighed in with his expertise. Here’s exactly what you need to know about the anti-inflammatory diet.

An anti-inflammatory diet is designed to reduce long-term, low-grade inflammation.

“When we talk about inflammation, what we’re really talking about is cellular insult or stress,” Dr. Khanna explains. For example, bumping your knee can cause inflammation. The trauma to the tissue triggers a cascade of cellular events and the release of certain proteins, resulting in visible swelling.

But an anti-inflammatory diet addresses another kind of inflammation you can’t see. “When you’re eating pro-inflammatory foods, it’s creating stress at the level of the mucosal cells of the GI tract,” Dr. Khanna explains. “That’s leading to the initiation of pro-inflammation cascades and the release of these compounds.”

And unlike a bruised knee, this type of GI inflammation can have lasting effects when sustained on a regular basis: “Over time, the chronic release of these proteins can do damage to the cellular DNA, leading to mutations that can ultimately lead to cancer,” he says.

To follow the diet, you’ll want to steer away from pro-inflammatory foods.

Those primarily include red and processed meat (think deli sandwiches), refined carbohydrates like white bread and foods high in trans and saturated fats (e.g., chips, baked goods and other snacks). That said, enjoying the occasional slice of pepperoni pizza isn’t going to make or break your health. “It’s making those choices over a long period of time — years and years — that can make a big difference,” Dr. Khanna says.

There are loads of anti-inflammatory foods to try.

An anti-inflammatory diet can include a wide variety of good-for-you options, chiefly vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish. Besides seafood, your anti-inflammatory protein options include nuts, seeds, beans and egg whites. When you’re cooking, reach for healthier olive or avocado oils. Spices like turmeric, garlic and ginger may also offer a boost.
Dessert isn’t off the table either. “Patients love hearing that dark chocolate has been associated with an anti-inflammatory effect,” Dr. Khanna says. Look for ones with at least 70% cocoa and (of course) enjoy in moderation.

An anti-inflammatory diet could help you achieve a healthy weight.

By choosing less-processed options, you might notice a difference on the scale, too. “The majority of patients who adopt an anti-inflammatory diet are likely going to lose weight if it’s coupled with exercise,” Dr. Khanna says.

There are more health benefits, too.

Besides potentially reducing your long-term risk for cancer, following an anti-inflammatory diet could boost your health in other regards. “In a lot of ways, the anti-inflammatory diet is like a repackaged Mediterranean diet,” Dr. Khanna says. “We’ve known for a long time that the Mediterranean diet has incredible benefits for your heart health. That’s what most cardiologists encourage patients to adopt, and it has the added benefit for diabetes control.” So, are there any downsides to the anti-inflammatory diet? “I don’t really see any.”

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