Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injuries, infections and illnesses. It occurs when the immune system sends an increased amount of white blood cells (cells that fight off an injury or infection) to the affected area. However, some diseases can cause your immune system to work excessively and attack healthy tissues. Such diseases include asthma, arthritis, and psoriasis. So, in addition to prescription medication, lifestyle changes are needed. This is where the 21-day anti-inflammatory diet comes in.
21-Day Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What Is An Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet is a weight loss and disease prevention strategy that focuses on reducing inflammation in the body by eliminating certain foods, particularly those known to increase inflammation (18).
The idea behind an anti-inflammatory approach to eating is simple: long term inflammation is associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes (2). While genetics play an important role in many of these conditions, lifestyle choices also have a large impact. Eating foods shown to reduce inflammation can actually help lower inflammation over time (15).
Foods that are particularly high in saturated fat and sugars tend to trigger a pro-inflammatory response that leads to increased risk for many chronic illnesses (16). There is some overlap between those who follow a standard American diet (SAD) and those with inflammatory health problems like Crohn’s Disease or Heart Disease. Therefore, limiting intake of red meats and saturated fats is also an important part of the anti-inflammatory diet.
While the ultimate goal of an anti-inflammatory diet is to reduce long term inflammation, it can also help with temporary discomfort often associated with these conditions. Many people who have a regular inflammatory condition such as arthritis report that following an anti-inflammatory diet helps improve their symptoms and make it less painful (or even possible) to do daily tasks.
21-Day Anti-Inflammatory Diet: What Foods Are Anti-Inflammatory?
A good rule of thumb to follow when determining what exactly should feature on your 21 day anti inflammatory diet food list is to choose natural and whole foods over processed. Others select organic fruits and veggies over conventionally grown, but this may not always be feasible. Specifically, you should focus on choosing the following ingredients:
Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards and Swiss chard are high in antioxidants that reduce inflammation within your body (7). Leafy greens also contain beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A), which helps nourish and protect cells from free radicals often responsible for inflammation.
Omega 3 fatty acids, which are commonly found in fish like salmon, have been shown to reduce inflammation and are thought to combat heart disease (12).
Foods Rich In Vitamin C
Studies show that people with higher levels of vitamin C have lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammatory diseases (17). Foods high in vitamin c include citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli and dark leafy greens.
Navel oranges contain high amounts of vitamin C and also the carotenoid lutein. When added to your daily diet you will get a healthy dose of nutrients as well as an anti-inflammatory response from consuming such foods.
Whole grains are rich in fiber and antioxidants, both of which can reduce inflammation. Whole grains include foods like brown rice, whole-wheat bread products, oatmeal and quinoa.
Some research suggests that nuts may actually help with weight loss or prevent other diseases by reducing inflammation (8).
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While all fruit is good, be sure to eat plenty of fruits rich in anthocyanins, which is found in dark blue, purple and red produce like cherries, berries, plums, and pomegranate. Blueberries, strawberries, and other berries are also rich in antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation (1).
Seeds such as chia and flax are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for reducing inflammation (12).
From coconut oil and olive oil and a variety of nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans or walnuts (which can be added to oatmeal), as well as avocados. Eating healthy fats is especially important to fight off inflammation since it’s been shown that in many cases low fat diets actually increase the risk for weight gain and chronic disease due to inflammation triggered by sugar spikes (9).
What Are Inflammatory Foods?
The following foods have been linked to inflammation; thus, should be avoided when possible. These include:
Processed meats like sausage, bacon or deli meats have been shown to increase a person’s risk of heart disease and diabetes (4).
Saturated fats can contribute to inflammation within the body (14). This includes foods rich in trans fat (partially hydrogenated oil) like cakes, cookies and fried foods. With virtually no redeeming nutritional value, these kinds of foods should be avoided as much as possible.
Studies show that refined carbs like white bread can increase inflammation and a diet high in them is linked to heart disease (6).
Several studies have shown that an overconsumption of sugar can lead to increased inflammation, not only within the body but also in the joints. Some research suggests this is due to an increase in inflammatory markers called interleukin-6 (IL-6) (5). IL-6 is produced by the liver after fructose consumption and it causes joint swelling, pain and stiffness, one of the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Red meat is rich in saturated fat and can increase cholesterol levels. Research suggests that a diet high in red meat increases inflammation throughout the body, which puts you at risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and various cancers (10).
How Can I Get Started On The 21-Day Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
Researchers suggest that an anti-inflammatory diet is the key to fighting chronic disease and improving overall health (11). The goal of this diet is not only to decrease inflammation, it’s also designed to increase your intake of healthy fats, fiber and protein while reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates like sugar.
Start by limiting processed foods in your diet. Replace them with whole grains and produce as well as lean proteins like grass-fed beef and eggs instead of red meat. You should aim for at least four servings of fruits or vegetables per day.
Fiber helps to improve digestion, lowers cholesterol levels and prevents heart disease which are all factors that help curb inflammation within the body (3). To fit more fiber into your diet consider eating seeds like chia or flax as well as drinking plenty of water to help aid digestion.
Exercise is shown to combat chronic inflammation and should be an important part of the anti-inflammatory diet plan. Try incorporating more natural forms of exercise into your routine, such as yoga or stretching instead of aggressive workouts like CrossFit, which can actually cause inflammation in some people.
Research has shown a combination of healthy foods along with weight loss through diet and increased physical activity can reduce markers associated with chronic inflammation (13). This means you can lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and arthritis by eating better and moving more!
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The 21-Day Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Plan
Here is a sample week of healthy meals that can be part of your 21 day menu anti-inflammatory diet:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal topped with cherries, and coconut flakes
- Lunch: Pumpkin soup with whole wheat bread and a mixed green salad
- Dinner: Potato curry with eggs
- Snack: Roasted cashews
- Breakfast: Flaxseed porridge made with oat flour
- Lunch: White bean and tuna salad
- Dinner: Grilled chicken and broccoli
- Snack: Carrot and celery stick with nut dip
- Breakfast: Scrambled egg and avocado on whole wheat toast
- Lunch: Kale and avocado salad
- Dinner: Sheet-Pan Mediterranean Chicken, Brussels Sprouts & Gnocchi
- Snack: Low-fat Greek yogurt topped with raspberries
- Breakfast: Matcha berry smoothie bowl
- Lunch: Chicken quinoa salad
- Dinner: Grilled salmon with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes
- Snack: Roasted beets and carrots
- Breakfast: Banana mango turmeric smoothie
- Lunch: Hummus and Greek salad
- Dinner: Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Kale and a slice of whole-wheat baguette
- Snack: Low-fat Greek yogurt topped with blueberries and chia seeds
- Breakfast: Gingerbread oatmeal
- Lunch: Slow cooker turkey chili
- Dinner: Lemon chicken and potatoes with kale
- Snack: Dried walnuts
- Breakfast: Raspberry smoothie
- Lunch: Baked tilapia with roast potatoes and a side of steamed vegetables
- Dinner: Vegan chickpea curry
- Snack: 1 large pear
The Bottom Line
The 21-day anti-inflammatory diet is a simple way to combat chronic inflammation and some of the most common health conditions that can flare it up. By lowering your intake of pro-inflammatory foods, you’ll be able to fight off these diseases by improving your body’s resistance to an inflammatory response.
While cutting out certain foods may seem difficult in the beginning, with practice it will become second nature. To make things easier, try using “anti-inflammatory” as a label when creating healthy meals or snacks for yourself. The more you incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, the less likely you are to miss your old favorites!
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Berries: Anti-inflammatory Effects in Humans | Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2014, pubs.acs.org)
- Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span (2019, nature.com)
- Dietary Fiber Is Beneficial for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Eating processed meats, but not unprocessed red meats, may raise risk of heart disease and diabetes (2010, hsph.harvard.edu)
- Effect of Dietary Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fat, Sugar, Whole Grains and Heart Disease: 50 Years of Confusion (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fruit and vegetable consumption and its relation to markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in adolescents (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health Benefits of Nut Consumption (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How to use food to help your body fight inflammation (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- Human Risk of Diseases Associated with Red Meat Intake: Analysis of Current Theories and Proposed Role for Metabolic Incorporation of a Non-Human Sialic Acid (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Low-grade inflammation, diet composition and health: current research evidence and its translation (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Prevention of Chronic Disease by Means of Diet and Lifestyle Changes (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Science of Fatty Acids and Inflammation | Advances in Nutrition (2015, academic.oup.com)
- The Effects of Diet on Inflammation: Emphasis on the Metabolic Syndrome (2006, sciencedirect.com)
- The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin C treatment reduces elevated C-reactive protein (2009, sciencedirect.com)
- What Is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet? – Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2010, jandonline.org)