You may have heard of “inflammation” and how good or bad it is. In reality, there are two types of inflammation, a “good” kind and a “bad” kind.
What makes inflammation good or bad for you is how long it stays around in your body. You see, inflammation is your body’s way of protecting and healing itself. This is a good thing! However, when it hangs around for weeks, months, or even years, it becomes a problem. This type of inflammation (chronic inflammation) is linked with a number of diseases.
There is some great news! By using dietary and lifestyle habits to target chronic inflammation, you can prevent or reduce your risk of chronic diseases. Let me give you the scoop because this is not only possible, but very doable. As I have emphasized in all my blogs, just making small healthy habit changes can make a big difference. Research over the last 20 years has discovered how food and lifestyle factors are linked with lower levels of inflammation, thus lowering risks for many diseases. I’m here to share those factors with you so you can start implementing these today.
Before we talk about the power that certain dietary and lifestyle habits can have on inflammation, let’s sort out the two different types of inflammation.
Types of inflammation (acute vs. chronic)
1. Acute inflammation is a normal and essential process that your body uses to defend itself from infections and heal injured cells and tissues. It is short-lived and localized to a specific area like when you bump or cut yourself, get bug bites, or catch a cold and sore throat. Your immune system sends over many types of white blood cells to help fight off invading bad bacteria and viruses or clean up damaged cells so you can heal. Acute inflammation is the “good” kind of inflammation because it does an essential job and then quiets itself down.
2. Chronic inflammation is different. It’s more like a slow-burning and smoldering type of fire. This type of inflammation can exist throughout your whole body at lower levels, eventually setting the stage for chronic disease. This is the “bad” kind of inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:
Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
Allergies and asthma
Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
Chronic pain (particularly in joints)
Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS)
Heart disease or stroke
Lung diseases (emphysema)
Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism)
Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)
How does chronic inflammation begin? It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and gaining excess weight.
Now that we see that inflammation underlies so many of our medical conditions, here’s what to do to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires.
Nutrition and lifestyle tips for reducing chronic inflammation
Studies show that reducing systemic chronic inflammation can reduce the risk of
several of these diseases. In some diseases, medications are needed to help lower inflammation as part of the treatment, such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, there are also several lifestyle changes that can be very helpful to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body.
“For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is there are known foods with anti-inflammatory properties to help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60% of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet. Here’s how.
Enjoy an anti-inflammatory diet:
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and plant oils (olive oil)
Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, flax and chia seeds.
High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation
Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures (over-grilled).
Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (breaded foods, fries), unhealthy fats (saturated animal fats), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports and coffee drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, pastries, cookies), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)
Be physically active
Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term, so try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking, biking, swimming) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day
To this add two or more strength training sessions (using weights or resistance bands) each week
Get enough restful sleep
Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair
Tips for better sleep: try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screens an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing nighttime routine
Quit smoking and limit alcohol
Quitting smoking can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation
Limit your alcohol intake to no more than 1-2 drinks per day
Manage your stress
Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
New research suggests that being/feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones)
See your doctor or dentist
Get your cholesterol and blood lipids tested because high amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol is linked to inflammation and negatively affects your vessels.
Get your thyroid tested. Even borderline-low levels cause a sluggish metabolism and reduced nutrient uptake from food
You can request a blood test to measure levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) which is a marker of inflammation (this test is also used to check your risk of developing heart disease)
If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist
Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues. The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by focusing on the easy addition of 1-2 servings more servings of whole, unprocessed foods with fiber like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds. Substitute fish and chicken for red meat a few times a week. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, and stress management. And, don’t forget about staying hydrated!
If you’d like a personalized plan designed to help you enjoy more of these anti-inflammatory foods, I can help. Here is my link to book a free chat to see if my program/service can help you.
Chronic inflammation and the etiology of disease across the lifespan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7147972/
Harvard Health. (2018, November 7). Foods that fight inflammation. Retrieved from
Harvard Magazine. (2019 May-June). Could inflammation be the cause of myriad chronic conditions? Retrieved from https://harvardmagazine.com/2019/05/inflammation-disease-diet
Harvard Health. (2020, April). Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, May). Quick-start guide to an anti-inflammation diet. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, June). All about inflammation. Retrieved from
Mayo Clinic. (2017, November 21). C-reactive protein test. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/c-reactive-protein-test/about/pac-20385228
Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 25). Home remedies: How a healthy diet can help manage pain. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/home-remedies-how-a-healthy-diet-can-help-manage-pain/
Mayo Clinic. (2019, August 13). How to use food to help your body fight inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-use-food-to-help-your-body-fight-inflammation/art-20457586
Medscape. (n.d.). Inflammation, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/923743
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2020, April 4). Inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm
Neuroscience News. (2020, March 5). Social isolation could cause physical inflammation. Retrieved from https://neurosciencenews.com/social-isolation-inflammation-15864/
University of California Berkeley News. (2020, June 4). Fitful nightly sleep linked to chronic inflammation, hardened arteries. Retrieved from https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/06/04/fitful-nightly-sleep-linked-to-chronic-inflammation-hardened-arteries/
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. (2018). The anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Retrieved from https://www.fammed.wisc.edu/files/webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/handout_ai_diet_patient.pdf