If you’ve met with the Unite for HER Nutrition Team for a nutrition chat or gift card call, you’ve likely found a common denominator – reducing inflammation! Whether it’s surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, cancer treatment can cause inflammation to occur in the body. When that prolonged inflammation occurs, it can make our side effects and symptoms worsen, damage our body’s healthy cells, and even weaken our immune system. Some other contributors to inflammation include weight, smoking, stress, poor or irregular sleep, and limited physical activity. Many of those are in our control – which is what makes focusing on diet and lifestyle factors to reduce inflammation so important! 

A simple web search for “anti-inflammatory diet” will pull in a whole host of various resources, advertisements, and recipes. It can be hard to sort the fact from fiction. We know that there are foods that are pro-inflammatory (cause inflammation) and anti-inflammatory (reduce inflammation) – so here are some helpful tips on how to choose the essentials:

Pro-Inflammatory Foods (foods that cause inflammation):

These are the foods we want to limit or enjoy situationally instead of every day.

  • Red meat: Beef and pork. Red meats can be fairly high in something called saturated fat – a form of fat found in animal products (meat and dairy). These saturated fats can have a negative impact on our overall health when consumed in excess, increasing both our inflammation and our cholesterol levels. If red meat is a staple in your diet, try shifting to chicken or turkey instead. When choosing beef or pork, avoid eating visible fat, aim for leaner cuts of meat, and opt for a lower fat percentage in your ground meats. 
  • Fried foods & ultra-processed foods: These two categories of foods both share high amounts of trans fats. Trans fats are created through the hydrogenation of vegetable oil – which occurs from heat in fried foods and artificially in ultra-processed foods. Trans fats are considered to negatively impact heart health so much that the FDA has banned excessive amounts from being added to most foods. Shop for whole food items often or ask yourself “how far off from the original source is this?” when looking at packaged goods.
  • Added sugars: Many of us get in high amounts of added sugar without even realizing, because it’s in so many of our average products. Ideally, we want to try to aim for less than 24-36 grams of added sugar per day, or about 6-9 teaspoons in total. Opting for unsweetened versions of your daily staples (like coffee creamer, yogurt, or plant-based milk) can help to slowly decrease your intake!
  • Alcohol: Alcohol overuse can trigger both acute and chronic whole-body inflammation. While alcohol abstinence is the best for inflammation, we know you may enjoy a drink now and again! Generally, we recommend sticking to less than 2 drinks per week if consuming alcohol. Try switching to a mocktail instead of your favorite cocktail next time you’re planning to imbibe!

Anti-Inflammatory (foods that reduce inflammation):

Anti-Inflammatory (foods that reduce inflammation):

  • Fruits & vegetables: Getting a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables will boost your intake of antioxidants; powerful compounds that protect our body tissues from damage and in turn, protect our bodies from inflammation. Each different colored fruit or vegetable contains a different set of phytonutrients, promoting overall body wellness. Shoot for at least 5-9 servings of produce each day to make sure you’re meeting your body’s needs! 
  • Whole grains: Unlike their refined counterparts, whole grains have their bran and germ still intact. These parts of the whole grain hold their vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber. Fiber helps to feed our gut bacteria and keep a healthy gut microbiome. When our gut bacteria are happy, our inflammation can go down! 
  • Fish & seafood: Fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Contrary to the high levels of saturated fat in red meat, fish and seafood are high in unsaturated fat. We need fat as part of our daily diet to absorb vitamins and minerals, and unsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids are one of the best sources. 
  • Nuts & seeds: Nuts and seeds have been shown to support reduced markers of inflammation due to their vitamin E content. Additionally, vitamin E has been shown to boost your immune system. Seeds, similarly to fish and seafood, are also rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Call it a double whammy! Use nuts and seeds to top your oatmeal or Greek yogurt in the morning or toss them into your favorite salad. 
  • Beans & lentils: A fantastic source of plant-based protein – beans and lentils are rich in nutrients to fight inflammation. The most important of those? Fiber! Different from the insoluble fiber in whole grains, this soluble fiber helps to slow down and improve digestion. Our digestive tract can be a major origin point of inflammation – so anything to improve our overall GI health is a win in our stomach’s book! 
  • Herbs & spices: Pound for pound, herbs and spices have more antioxidants than their close relatives – fruits and vegetables. With even more tissue-protective properties, herbs and spices are a vital part of your daily anti-inflammatory routine. Not to mention, herbs and spices are extremely versatile, and can be used in everything from a sauté to a smoothie

Needless to say, there are a variety of plant-forward products you can add to your shopping list to enhance the anti-inflammatory power of your grocery haul. If you’re looking at any of these foods and thinking “I’ve never tried that before…” you’re not alone! Whether you’re new to something like lentils or searching for an exciting new whole grain to try – check out our blog for tips, tricks, and recipes. You can also browse our HER video library for cooking demonstrations, cooking webinars, and more!

By: Aubrey Redd, MS, RDN, LDN