Inflammation, used by the body to fight illness and disease, thus plays an integral part in healing. Ironically, the process designed by evolution to protect the body can tend to illness in the long term.
This is major because inflammation, while initiated for tissue repair plus adaptation, may have collateral damage. Its association with metabolic dysfunctions, such as CVD, type 2 diabetes, and cancer with obesity, is particularly relevant.
Similar conditions lead to chronic systemic low-grade inflammation, which promotes numerous pathologic and self-propagating events. These most probably include dysfunction of the endothelium, insulin resistance, and activation of cancer pathways.
What measures one can take to prevent inflammation is by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet includes eating some specified anti-inflammatory foods while avoiding offending foods to reduce levels of inflammation in the body.
With a few tweaks, the anti-inflammatory diet, according to numerous health organizations, maps on almost entirely to food plant-based diets. To be precise, the quality of such diets can vary somewhat depending on how they’re employed. But, if the guidelines of this article are followed, you can assure yourself that your vegan dietary practices will be as anti-inflammatory as possible.
Table of Contents
What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
For the cure of inflammatory illnesses, especially rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the anti-inflammatory diet has been proved a useful food. It indeed happens by dropping the expression of genes that are taking part in inflammatory processes responsible for TNF-a and IL-1, IL-6.
For non-vegans, it is like the Mediterranean diet as it highlights to add as much fresh food as probable in which avoiding processed food and sugar is also there. It encourages the use of vegetables and fruits like berries, nuts, legumes, dietary fiber, and EFAs (omega 3s).
Does it appear familiar? Yes, it is like a vegan whole food plant-based diet. The difference is that it promotes lean protein by avoiding fish and chicken etc.
How Does the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Compare to the Plant-Based diet?
The typical anti-inflammatory diet advised taking lean protein from animals. It does not mean that lean protein is better from such sources. The panel who made this particular diet correctly thought that many people like to have some kind of meat in their diet. If you check our article on protein, you will understand that the plant kingdom gives various sources of high-quality lean protein.
It should be mentioned that fish is suggested in the original anti-inflammatory diet because of its abundant omega 3 with high protein content. But, many plant foods like flaxseed provide a sufficient quantity of omega 3s. For DHA and EPA, these can be taken by many certified vegan supplements.
Therefore, in totality, a well-thought vegan diet is better than the typical anti-inflammatory diet and superior in some aspects.
What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods?
Anti-inflammatory is not just a fashionable health food word. Foods considered anti-inflammatory meet norms of the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII), created and confirmed to help as a tool to check the full inflammatory potential of a given diet.
The criteria are based on more than 6,500 peer-reviewed research papers and consists of 45 nutrients, bioactive compounds, foods, and spices.
The foods and compounds were checked concerning six inflammatory areas:
- Interleukin 1b (IL-1b)
- Interleukin 4 (IL-4)
- Interleukin 6 (IL-6)
- Interleukin 10 (IL-10)
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a)
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
Eventually, each food and ingredient rated with a complete Inflammatory Effect Score with negative scores given to food items having the most anti-inflammatory effect. You don’t need to understand any of this as the below suggestions are based on this model taking all the estimation out.
The 9 Pillars of an Anti-Inflammatory Vegan Diet
Below are the main parts of an anti-inflammatory diet with adaptation to plant-based diets. Fresh foods and avoiding excessively processed food items are given due importance in this dietary system, and here, whole raw food is the common denominator.
1) Include a Wide Variety of Fruits and Vegetables—Every Color (9 Servings Minimum)
Colorful fruits and vegetables have the entire range of anti-inflammatory diet components that provide the maximum benefits with this diet for decreasing inflammation in the body.
This is as per the fact that fiber and bioactive compounds found in this food category down-regulate inflammatory biomarkers such as histamine, Nuclear Factor-kappa Beta (NFkB), C-reactive protein (CRP), and numerous cytokines both in vitro and in vivo.
Many plant-based foods have good anti-inflammatory features when compared to animal items, but the following fruits and vegetables are mentioned as they are the most anti-inflammatory:
- Onions, and fresh garlic
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Purple grapes
- Citrus fruits
- 2) Add Herbs and Spices to Your Meals
Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices include:
- Black and green tea
- Turmeric (perhaps the most anti-inflammatory)
- Red chili powder
- Black pepper
- Bay leaf
3) Eat The Right Kinds of Fats (20-30% of Your Daily Calorie Intake)
Sources of unsaturated fats high in omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) are anti-inflammatory.
The best plant-based sources of omega-3 include:
- Chia seed
- Hemp seeds
A note on oils. Some plant oils like walnut and flaxseed have relatively high omega three percentage.
However, the fatty acids in oil get oxidized without difficulty, so it’s better to go with whole foods. Also, oils have just a small fraction of the phytonutrients and antioxidants available in the plants they were derived from.
Consume Lots of Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs)
Omega’s 7 and 9 are the prevalent MUFAs in the human diet. Evidence indicates useful effects of MUFA consumption; the fatty acid is good at decreasing risk of CVD and similar diseases where inflammation is involved.
The Mediterranean diet is popular for its anti-inflammatory characteristics. The diet has large quantities of olives and olive oil that contain large doses of omega 9. So, we suggest continuing with whole food. Avocados (omega 7) and olives are two of the best MUFA sources.
Limit Saturated Fatty Acids and Foods Rich in Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Surely, omega-6 FAs I .e.linoleic acid is a necessary fatty acid for some reason. However, it is inflammatory when eaten in high quantities relative to omega 3s, which is easier to do.
While omega-6 from whole foods can create problems if you don’t consume enough omega-3 FAs, processed foods like oils and oil-rich junk food and are usually responsible when too much use of omega 6 is a problem.
So, limit oils that are quite high in linoleic acid:
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil (a colossal offender!)
- Safflower and sunflower oils
Eliminate Hydrogenated Fats
Partially hydrogenated fats or trans fats used to be everywhere in processed and pre-packaged foods. Law agencies started cracking down recently, and now you don’t even see the stuff. In the US, trans fats were banned in processed foods in July 2015 and were removed from the market three years later.
The use of trans fats increases the level of inflammation and is strongly linked to coronary artery disease.
Entirely hydrogenated oils are still available, and you may see them in vegetable shortenings Crisco and margarine. Not as harmful as trans fats, they’re at least as bad as saturated fats, so you should avoid them.
4) Consume Nuts Daily (1/4 Cup Minimum)
Nuts have not only EFAs but are also rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals, which lower inflammatory marks.
Nuts contain vitamin E, folic acid, copper, magnesium, potassium, and even dietary fiber.
Substances that are mostly found in nuts are:
- Phytoestrogens—isoflavones and lignans
- Phenolic acids
- Tocotrienols and tocopherols α-tocopherol.
EFAs are quite crucial in controlling inflammation. Nuts and seeds give the above-mentioned anti-inflammatory elements and provide omega-6 and omega-3 FAs in proportions that support a useful inflammatory response.15
You may take a variety of nuts to get the entire range of the nutrients mentioned above. Nuts, especially beneficial are:
- Brazil nuts
- Brazil nuts
5) Eat a Low Glycemic Diet
It seems that excessive use of sugars and other refined carbohydrates can be pro-inflammatory. Consuming carbohydrates in this way creates problems for two reasons:
- First, consistent use of high glycemic foods boosts levels of blood glucose and insulin. Such elevated glucose and insulin may start an inflammatory tendency in the body.
- Secondly, taking sugar and refined carbs replaces healthier low glycemic foods, which reduce postprandial or after-meal glucose and insulin levels.16 Also, healthy complex carbohydrates result in decreased concentration of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and lower inflammatory biomarkers such as adipocytokines which are inflammatory proteins secreted by your fat cells.16,17
Glycemic Load vs. Glycemic Index
You can reference so many charts to measure the effect different foods have on the level of blood glucose. It seems that the glycemic load is a healthier metric than the glycemic index as the first one considers food portions. E.g.A healthy food like beets have a high glycemic index (64), but a low glycemic load (5).
Glycemic Load of Select Foods
Here is a list of the glycemic load of various plant foods. Going for whole food will mostly take care of this, but this chart gives you a rough idea of the glycemic load of processed vs. refined foods.
What This Means In Practice
Limit Refined Carbohydrates
Consider white bread, pasta, white rice, table sugar, and sugar-containing products like cookies, pastries, cakes, candy, and energy bars. This also goes for allegedly healthy granola-type bars that contain a large amount of added sugars.
Consume Lots of Whole Grains
You should include enough whole grains in your diet like bulgur wheat, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, and spelled.
6) Consume Lots of Lean Plant Protein (10-35% of Your Daily Calories)
In this case, vegan diets are better than conventional anti-inflammatory foods. Animal protein has a right quantity of pro-inflammatory EFA arachidonic acid, which increases inflammation when consumed excessively. The Omni version of the food promotes chicken and fish over red meats due to this reason. Plant-based protein is the leanest of animal-based protein here.
7) Consume Lots of Phytonutrients
We suggested consuming a lot of fruits and veggies to lower inflammation in the body. But all plant foods are not equal. Some plants (iceberg lettuce and cucumber) contain a lot of water when compared to other plant foods and hence don’t have antioxidants, micronutrients, and phytochemicals.
Foods are known to have lots of bioactive compounds include:
- Dark red fruits like berries
- Bright red and yellow fruits and veggies like tomatoes, red and orange peppers, etc.
- Dark leafy greens of course
- Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
- Soyfoods—these are high in phytoestrogens.
- Tea—especially green, white, and oolong
- Cacao (nibs, powder, etc. – not candy!)
8) Consume Plenty of Plant-Based Prebiotics and Probiotics
It’s self-evident that there’s a close relation between gut ecology and its immune function. So, it’s considered that the microbiome plays a significant role in decreasing inflammation in the body. When we think of probiotics, dairy yogurt comes to our mind. However, the plant kingdom also gives various healthy vegan-friendly probiotic foods
Fermented and cultured vegan foods that provide the best sources of probiotic bacteria are:
- Miso, a fermented soy product. miso is also a rare source of plant-based vitamin K2.
- Soy yogurt
- Kombucha (a fermented tea)
- Sauerkraut and kimchi also contain probiotics but are high in salt.
Consuming enough whole grain food products and legumes ensures that you get the necessary prebiotics in your diet. Prebiotics don’t have the bacteria but provides your healthy gut bacteria with the required fuel to grow.
Some prebiotics that fuels good bacteria are:
Inulin and fructooligosaccharides—they are available in asparagus, bananas, onions, garlic, artichoke, and chicory.
Resistant starch found widely in grains and legumes.
Fermentable and semi-fermentable fibers (hemicellulose, etc.) found abundantly in fruit and legumes
9) Consider Food Allergies and Food Sensitivity Elimination
The food suggestions above are generally healthy to maximum folks, but food tolerance can vary between people to a large extent. E.g., while whole grains provide numerous positive health effects, people with celiac disease get a net negative health effect by consuming gluten-containing foods.
A food allergy is a food product that starts a systemic immune response in both the innate system like mast cells, macrophages, and the adaptive immune system like antibodies.
Comparatively, food sensitivity, or intolerance happens within the gut. It is usually due to some enzyme deficiency or a reaction to food chemicals, which can be a food additive or natural.
Food sensitivities and intolerances trigger adverse reactions to food (ARFs). These reactions start the generation of various inflammatory mediators including:
The severity and start of the responses may change and depend on the dose taken and tolerance level of individuals. The risk of having these reactions depends on exposure to food early in life, GI microflora balance, and quality of diet.
You may have heard of the significant 8 allergens. These are the allergens considered typical on food labels.
- Milk, eggs, and fish which we needn’t worry about thankfully
- Tree nuts
- Shellfish (some vegans choose to eat bivalves due to their having a very rudimentary nervous system).
Common food intolerances include:
There are food additives that have issues with a few people. These may not be severe but can create problems for those people.
- Tartrazine (Yellow 5)
- Benzoic acid
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
If you believe that you could be having some intolerance, the general protocol is to remove the suspected foods or additives for at least two weeks to check if symptoms improve.
*The knowledge on this ingredient is a bit weak on how itis causing inflammation. Solanine is an element found in the nightshade category of fruits and veggies.
Other Measures to Reduce Inflammation
Exercise and Maintain a Healthy BMI
Weight needs to be maintained as per the healthy BMI range. Being overweight or obese is the common reason behind the numerous chronic diseases of the Western world. Excessive body fat means insulin resistance, and fat cells store inflammatory molecules adipocytokines.
“Adipokines” refer to bioactive proteins secreted by adipocytes (fat cells). They are leptin, adiponectin, IL-6, and TNF-alpha. The last two (IL-6 and TNF-a) are adipocytokines. The more fat you have, the more storage of these inflammatory molecules.
Avoid Harmful Chemicals
Numerous chemicals and pesticides generally used in agriculture can affect the immune system causing inflammation. To avoid exposure to such chemicals, take organic foods, and “green” products for cleaning and personal care.
Many healthy foods like legumes are sold in cans. Many canned foods have the compound bisphenol A (BPA) in the linings of a Can. BPA is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor and damages insulin action in the body, thereby triggering inflammatory paths.21
The molecule is also seen in plastic bottles or containers, especially food containers. Choose dry beans and look for the “BPA-Free” cans when buying canned goods. Whenever possible, use glass bottles and containers.
Reduce Stress and Get Adequate Sleep
Chronic stress, as well as a lack of enough sleep, affect the etiology of inflammation.
Sleep deprivation and stress mean an increase in circulating cortisol, which is related to higher levels of inflammatory cytokines. A “sleep debt” for a long term boosts the inflammatory biomarkers, IL -1b, IL-2, IL-4, TNF- a and MCP-1 (monocyte chemoattractant protein-1).22
Numerous studies have proven meditation to help manage stress. It has shown to reduce the inflammatory response in experimental models.23
So, that was the fact file of the anti-inflammatory diet. I hope you learned enough to practice in routine.
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- Joan Sabaté-Rosemary; Ratzin-Turner. (2001). Vegetarian Nutrition. Page 351. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-8508-3.
- Sears B, et al: Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition as a Pharmacological Approach to Treat Obesity, Journal of Obesity 2011. pii: 431985. Doi:10.1155/2011/ 431985.
- Runchey SS, Pollak MN, Valsta LM, et al: Glycemic load effect on fasting and post-prandial serum glucose, insulin, IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 in a randomized, controlled feeding study, Eur J Clin Nutr 66(10):1146–1152, 2012.
- Neuhouser ML, Schwarz Y, Wang C, et al: A low-glycemic load diet reduces serum C-reactive protein and modestly increases adiponectin in overweight and obese adults, J Nutr 142(2):369–374, Feb 2012.
- Reference: Arthritis Foundation: Anti-inflammatory diet, 2014. Accessed August 2015 from: http://www.arthritis.org/living-witharthritis/ arthritis-diet/anti-inflammatory/anti-inflammatory-diet.php Boeing H et al: Critical review: vegetables and fruits in the prevention of chronic diseases, Eur J Nutr 51:637, 2012.
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- Valentino R, et al: Bisphenol-A Impairs Insulin Action and Up-Regulates Inflammatory Pathways in Human Subcutaneous Adipocytes and 3T3-L1 Cells, PLoS ONE 8(12):e82099, 2013. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082099.
- Axelsson J, et al: Effects of Sustained Sleep Restriction on Mitogen-Stimulated Cytokines, Chemokines and T Helper 1/T Helper 2 Balance in Humans, PLOS One 8(12):e82291, 2013.
- Kox M, et al: Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111(20):7379–7384, 2014.