I stumbled upon the anti-inflammatory diet in 2012 through a close friend who was fighting cancer. His doctors had recommended this diet to him. To support him I changed to this diet as well. We studied Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Eating Plan and created meals based on the foods recommended on this plan. Soon I noticed how these foods also helped keep my moods and mental health in a balance.
Since then, many studies have linked symptoms and signs of chronic inflammation to mental health instability and that following an anti-inflammatory diet can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and hearing threatening voices.
How bad is inflammation?
It is important to know, that inflammation is not all bad. In fact, inflammation plays an important role in keeping you healthy. Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself from harmful bacteria, viruses, and injury. When anything starts to cause damage to your cells, the first thing your body does is to release chemicals, which trigger your immune system to respond. Without inflammation, infections would become deadly. However, if the inflammation process goes on for a long time and turns into a chronic inflammation or if it occurs in places of the body where it is not needed, it ends up becoming problematic.
Certain foods and food groups help promote inflammation in your body, and others reduce inflammation.
How can you use this knowledge?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convince you to eliminate your favorite foods entirely or think of foods you “cannot” or “should” eat. That would be stressful for your mental health as well.
It is important to be aware of the different effects foods can have on your body and mental health. Look at how many foods you normally eat that promote inflammation and slowly, piece by piece, try to exchange these foods to ones that reduce inflammation. Check the ingredients of all the foods you buy, many processed foods add inflammatory ingredients that can be left out or exchanged for anti-inflammatory ingredients when you cook these products yourself.
After you’ve done this, see if you can feel a positive difference in your physical or mental state.
The more foods you eat that REDUCE INFLAMMATION in your body the better, such as:
- Turmeric (Curcumin)
- Water, or drinks like tea that are mostly water (for tea a matcha green tea or any green tea is best)
- Colorful Organic fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, onions, and berries
- FISH: Wild salmon, wild fatty fish
- Whole grains (lower gluten), such as spelt, barley, and rye
- Whole grains (no-gluten), such as quinoa and millet
- Whole nuts or as milk and oils
- Whole seeds or as milk and oils, such as chia, hemp, flax, sesame
- OILS: Olive, walnut, grapeseed, safflower, and canola (sunflower only if it is high oleic)
- Chili Peppers
- Organic soybeans in the form of tofu or whole beans (edamame)
- Dark chocolate
These are the foods that PROMOTE INFLAMMATION in your body:
- Saturated fats: most meats, eggs, cheese and other animal products, fried foods
- OILS: Soy, corn, and sunflower (high linoleic)
- High gluten wheat (modern conventional wheat) including commercial baked goods, crackers and white bread
- Carbohydrates that are high glycemic
- Any food containing artificial flavor, or other chemical ingredients
- Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin
- Beverages with sugar or sugar substitutes
- Instant rice & oatmeal
- Processed and fried vegetables, such as onion rings and potatoes chips
- Canned fruit preserved in corn syrup or sugar
If you’d like to learn more, Kayla Perry created a great PowerPoint presentation I recommend watching:
Another fun YouTube clip I found is with Bobby Parrish who walks through a supermarket and helps you find anti-inflammatory foods:
Caution Is Advisable
I’d be very careful using the detailed numbers of The Inflammation Factor. What I find problematic, is that in her charts Monica Reinagel gives you an exact number for an inflammation score for a long list of different ingredients. Many of her numbers appeared questionable, so I contacted her to ask, how she determines them. In her response, she only encouraged me to spend more money on her products but didn’t answer my question. This is a huge RED FLAG in my world. From what I can see on her website, I’ve gathered that the entire system of the Inflammation Factor was created by this one woman, and was never approved by any outside authority. This is a second RED FLAG.
But the main issue I have with the Inflammation Factor is that there is no room for the specific sensitivities and different demands that people’s bodies have. In all research I’ve studied, it appears that every person responds a little differently to certain foods. For example, someone who is sensitive to gluten will get a much higher inflammation score on foods with gluten, than someone who does not have this allergy. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
There are a lot of “experts” out there and they don’t all agree on what does and does not work. However, what we do know is that by focusing on anti-inflammatory foods, you can feel better both mentally and physically. I recommend studying the different “experts” to help you come up with new ideas and strategies, but in the end, always trust your own body first.
Knowledge is power!
For further reading:
Shasta Press (2013): The Inflammation Diet for Beginners: 100 Essential Anti-Inflammatory Diet Recipes (at a library)
Cheryl Barnhart (2015): Anti Inflammatory Diet: Know everything About Inflammation & Ways To Control it (at a library)
The research mentioned above:
Byrd, D., et. Al (2019): Development and Validation of Novel Dietary and Lifestyle Inflammation Scores
Müller, N. et Al. (2015): The role of inflammation in schizophrenia
Jandacek, R.J. (2017): Linoleic Acid: A nutritional Quandary