What is an anti-inflammatory diet? Well, the answer to that question will depend on exactly who you ask… But, in general, an anti-inflammatory diet boils down to eating foods that exert strong effects on inflammatory pathways within the body. It has been well documented in the research that habitually eating certain foods can either increase or decrease clinical markers of inflammation. For example, a simple blood test can detect two such markers (erythrocyte sedimentation rate and high sensitivity C-reactive protein) in which elevated levels of these markers can indicate systemic/whole body inflammation. Chronic systemic inflammation has been associated with metabolic conditions such as obesity, hypertension, and type II diabetes, as well as various chronic pain syndromes.
What are some examples of anti-inflammatory foods? According to Dr. David Seaman and his “DeFlame Diet,” these foods include grass-fed meat, wild game, wild caught fish, shellfish, chicken, omega-3 eggs, cheese, vegetables, leafy greens/salads, fruit, tubers/roots (potato, yams, sweet potato), nuts, hemp/chia/flax seeds, dark chocolate, spices of all kinds, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, cream, avocado, bacon, red wine, stout beer, coffee, and tea (specifically green tea). Foods to avoid on an anti-inflammatory diet include refined sugar, refined grains, grain flour products, trans fats, and refined omega-6 seed oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut, etc.).
It's not hard to see how far the standard American diet strays from the above recommendations. As a whole, Americans rely far too heavily on carbohydrate sources as their main food source. Think of the food pyramid we all became familiar with way back in the 90’s/early 2000’s. Remember the big base of the pyramid? Which was supposed to represent the food group that should make up the largest proportion of calories on any given day…? IT WAS BREAD, CEREAL, RICE, AND PASTA… All processed grain/carbohydrate sources… According to recent studies looking into the ideal anti-inflammatory diet, the consensus is that up to 2/3 of total food volume should consist of vegetables and fruit. Carbohydrate consumption should be kept at a minimum, and if you are going to eat them have it be from whole grain products like buckwheat, barley, rye, and wild rice.
When it comes to pain, especially chronic pain, it’s impossible to boil down the cause of pain to a single factor. Pain is multifactorial. Meaning many things contribute to an individual consciously experiencing pain. Things like mental/emotional state, relationships, job satisfaction, poor posture, physical inactivity, traumatic injury, and diet are all just pieces of the whole pain puzzle. So don’t trick yourself into thinking that changing your diet alone will be the answer you’re looking for. Having said that, if you find yourself doing everything else right… meditating daily, exercising daily, working a job you love, having meaningful relationships, etc… and you’re still in pain… diet might just be the next door you want to kick down.