June 2019

Anti-inflammatory diet: what is it?

Anti-inflammatory diets are growing in popularity. Celebrities like Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, and others often tout their benefits. Despite what you might hear, there isn’t just one specific “anti-inflammatory diet.” It’s a style of eating.

An anti-inflammatory diet is any diet that minimizes foods that can cause inflammation and maximizes foods that can reduce inflammation. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods, non-starchy vegetables, monounsaturated fats like olive oil, fruits, and fatty fish (or omega-3 supplements) are usually incorporated in any anti-inflammatory diet. Foods with high glycemic indices such as refined wheat and refined sugars are often avoided. In general, diets that are marketed as anti-inflammatory encourage the elimination of many foods. Some of these recommendations align with anti-inflammatory principles, while others are intended to provide various unproven benefits. The autoimmune protocol, a variation of the diet Tom Brady follows, eliminates nightshade veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. The Paleo diet eliminates grains, dairy, and legumes. Other anti-inflammatory diets include the Mediterranean diet and the Zone diet.

Following a diet that is truly anti-inflammatory has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers in the blood. It’s thought that this reduced inflammation can benefit many conditions and overall health. It’s been linked to fewer heart complications in people with heart disease, but it’s not clear if following this dietary style provides any other health benefits.

If your patients are interested in trying an anti-inflammatory diet, educate them on the general properties of the foods that they eat and explain the general principle of this style of eating. You can also direct them to guidelines on well-established anti-inflammatory diets like the Mediterranean diet, Zone diet or Paleo diet. There’s no reason to expect safety issues as long as they maintain proper nutrition. For more details about which foods qualify for an anti-inflammatory diet based on a validated scale called the dietary inflammatory index or DII, check out our new monograph.

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