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9 Swaps to Get Rid of Inflammatory Foods, Say Dietitians

May 31, 2024

If we want to improve our health, it’s important to address chronic inflammation. There are several ways to do that, and one of the most powerful is to remove inflammatory foods and replace them with more optimal ones. We spoke to dietitian experts to learn exactly which food swaps they recommend to heal inflammation over time.

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What is inflammation?

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 the 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.

If the body doesn’t resolve the inflammation, and it becomes chronic, that’s where the trouble lies. 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.

A healthy lifestyle can play a crucial role in reducing chronic 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.

How to reduce inflammatory foods in your diet

Make these simple swaps for less inflammation and better overall health.

1. Swap nuts for pretzels

“Swap your salty snack of pretzels and chips for a handful of roasted nuts,” advises dietitian Brittany DeLaurentis. “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.”

2. Swap tea for your second coffee

“Instead of an afternoon coffee, try enjoying a cup of green tea instead,” says dietitian Julie Balsamo. “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 smoothies for soda

“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,” notes dietitian Elyse Krawtz. “Try a berry smoothie with nut butter and seeds like ground flaxseed and chia for fiber and healthy fats.”

4. Swap kefir for water in smoothies

“Swap the water in your smoothie for kefir, which is a fermented dairy drink,” says dietitian Amanda Sauceda. “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.” Be sure to choose an unsweetened kefir to avoid added sugar.

5. Swap fish for some grilled meats 

Getting in a few servings of fish each week can be helpful, says dietitian Kristin Draayer. “Try substituting grilled meats with salmon in your meals,” she says. “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 whole grains for refined 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,” notes dietitian Wan Na Chun. “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.”

Related: 5 Ways to Control Blood Sugar That Don’t Involve Food

7. Swap spinach for iceberg lettuce

“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 dietitian Erin Davis. “Top it with a simple olive oil vinaigrette. You’ll be adding in antioxidant-rich ingredients that fight against inflammation.”

8. Swap extra virgin olive oil for vegetable oils

Vegetable oils have the potential to promote inflammation, while 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 dietitian Pam Hartnett. “It’s 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.”

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

9. Swap avocado for mayo

“Swapping mayonnaise for avocado is a smart choice when it comes to fighting inflammation,” says dietitian Jessie Hulsey. “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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