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9 Food Swaps to Make to Heal Inflammation in Your Body, Say Dietitians

June 3, 2023

If we want to improve our health, it’s important to address chronic inflammation. But what exactly is inflammation? We spoke to dietitian experts to learn exactly which food swaps they recommend making to heal inflammation over time.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to perceived threats, whether it’s a major event like surgery or an injury, or smaller influences like alcohol or environmental toxins. Short-term or acute inflammation is a normal part of our body’s healing process. For example, when you get a cut, inflammation helps prevent infection and promotes wound healing. Eventually, the body resolves the inflammation, and you heal.

However, chronic inflammation, which is more prevalent in our Western culture, is the more concerning kind. When chronic inflammation persists, it can lead to various health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.  It is primarily caused by lifestyle factors such as our diet, level of physical activity, and stress levels over time. Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation persists and can silently affect our health for months or even years.

Trying to completely avoid short-term or acute inflammation is challenging, given its numerous triggers. Instead, focusing on reducing chronic inflammation and enhancing the body’s anti-inflammatory processes will yield more significant benefits.

A healthy lifestyle can play a crucial role in reducing inflammation. Making dietary choices that support an anti-inflammatory effect, engaging in regular exercise, and effectively managing stress are all important steps. By reducing inflammation, we can potentially lower the risk of heart disease, enhance memory function, and improve digestion.

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1. Swap pretzels for nuts

“Swap your salty snack of pretzels and chips for a handful of roasted nuts. Nuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties. Nuts also contain antioxidants like vitamin E that help prevent internal inflammation. Bonus points if you choose unsalted nuts to help prevent inflammation associated with too much salt,” advises  Brittany DeLaurentis MPH, RD, CSO.

2, Swap your second coffee for tea

Julie Balsamo, MS, RDN weighs in with a simple after-lunch swap: “Instead of an afternoon coffee, try enjoying a cup of green tea instead! Green tea contains antioxidants known as catechins, which have been shown to help combat inflammation by reducing the formation of free radicals in the body!”

Related: These Supplements Can Help Reduce Inflammation in the Body

3. Swap soda for smoothies

“One simple swap to promote a nutrient-dense diet that supports your immune system is to choose a small smoothie instead of a sugar-sweetened beverage like a soda,” shares Elyse Krawtz, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LD. “Try a berry smoothie with nut butter and seeds like ground flaxseed and chia for fiber and healthy fats.”

4. Swap your smoothie filler with kefir

“Swap the water in your smoothie for kefir which is a fermented dairy drink,” Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD tells us. “Compounds in kefir have been found to act as an antioxidant and have anticancer activity, according to a 2021 meta-analysis in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Plus, the live and active cultures make this drink a source of probiotics which is good for your gut health.”

“Flavored kefirs can sometimes have a lot of added sugar so make sure to take a look at the label,” she adds.

5. Swap grilled meats for fish 

Kristin Draayer, MS, RDN provides a quick tip for swapping out your protein source. Draayer explains, “Try substituting grilled meats with salmon in your meals. Not only does salmon offer a rich, distinct flavor, but its high concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids is associated with reducing inflammation levels in the body.”

6. Swap refined grains for whole grains

A simple change to promote lower inflammation is swapping refined grains for whole grains. Instead of consuming white bread, white rice, or other refined grain products, choose whole grain alternatives like whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, or oats.

“This swap helps improve inflammation because whole grains are rich in fiber and contain beneficial nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals,” shares Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD. “Fiber plays a key role in reducing inflammation by promoting healthy digestion, maintaining balanced blood sugar levels, and supporting gut health. Whole grains also contain phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties. In contrast, refined grains lack these valuable nutrients and can lead to a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, potentially triggering inflammation in the body.”

7. Swap iceberg lettuce for spinach

“Instead of eating an iceberg lettuce salad with bacon bits and store-bought dressing, try tossing baby spinach with berries and walnuts for a flavorful, nutrient-packed salad,” says Erin Davis, MS, RDN, CDCES. “Top it with a simple olive oil vinaigrette. You’ll be adding in antioxidant-rich ingredients that fight against inflammation.”

Related: 7 Antioxidant-Rich Foods to Ward off Chronic Disease

8. Swap vegetable oils for extra virgin olive oil

Enhance your cooking oil of choice by substituting vegetable oils such as corn, soybean, and sunflower oils with extra virgin olive oil. Unlike vegetable oils, which have the potential to promote inflammation, extra virgin olive oil is a nutrient-rich option that offers numerous benefits for your health.

“Extra virgin olive oil stands out for its abundance of health benefits, including its impact on inflammation,” says Pam Hartnett, MPH, RDN, cancer coach, nutrition writer, owner of The Vitality Dietitians. “It is rich in monounsaturated fats, which are heart-healthy fats that help reduce inflammation in the body. What sets extra virgin olive oil apart is its powerful antioxidants, such as oleocanthal. This unique compound has been shown to possess strong anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen, according to this 2014 study in the International Journal of Molecular Science. Consuming extra virgin olive oil regularly has been linked to a decrease in markers of inflammation within the body, promoting better overall health.”

9. Swap mayo for avocado

“Swapping mayonnaise for avocado is a smart choice when it comes to fighting inflammation,” says Jessie Hulsey RD, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian. “Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, particularly oleic acid, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. These healthy fats help reduce inflammation in the body, supporting overall health and well-being. Additionally, avocados are packed with various antioxidants, including carotenoids and vitamin E, which play a role in combating oxidative stress and inflammation. When swapping mayonnaise for avocado, simply mash ripe avocado and use it as a creamy and nutritious substitute in sandwiches, wraps, salads, or as a dip.”

Read Next: 25 Healthy Ways to Fight Inflammation

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