Here’s how to tamp down inflammation and reduce your chronic disease risk in as little as one day.
The subject of inflammation is everywhere lately, and the hype is for good reason. Not only can adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle reduce chronic inflammation to help you stay healthy and slow down aging, but research also suggests it can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases, joint pain, and cancer.
Best part? You don’t have to wait for months or years to start seeing results and feeling better! Small changes you make today can start reducing your inflammation overnight. Here’s what to do ASAP to start reaping the health benefits.
Eat a salad every day.
Keep a package or two of leafy greens on hand to toss in your lunch bag or on your dinner plate. Having a cup of leafy greens—like baby spinach, arugula, kale, or lettuce—each day is one of the most beneficial diet habits you can adopt. These leafy greens offer an anti-inflammatory double-punch, thanks to antioxidants and bioactive compounds that reduce inflammation and prevent free radicals from creating new inflammation.
Avoid getting hangry.
Skip the vending machine and sweetened coffee drinks, and opt instead for a fiber-rich snack with a little protein like apple slices and peanut butter, raw veggies and hummus, or a few almonds and cheese cubes. The reason is that eating a balanced snack without added sugars and refined carbs is key to keeping blood sugar within normal parameters, which in turn helps you avoid cravings, hunger, and irritability. Not only is this nicer for those around you, but avoiding peaks and drops in blood sugar also prevents inflammation in the body that can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Go to bed.
Turn off Netflix, get off social media, and head to bed a little earlier. While it may seem a little indulgent, getting 7 to 8 hours of continuous sleep is what’s considered adequate for adults and we should all aim for that as our norm. Routinely not getting enough sleep (6 hours or less) triggers inflammation—even in healthy individuals—which research suggests increases risk for metabolic issues that can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Take your dog for a walk.
Missed your workout today? Take a quick walk around the block! While regular exercise is ideal for treating and preventing most all health issues, some days there’s not enough time for a full-blown workout. However, results from a 2017 study suggest that getting just 20 minutes of movement reduces inflammatory blood markers. So, lace up your shoes and get going!
Spice things up.
Look for ways to add a little garlic or spice when you’re cooking dinner tonight. Fragrant and pungent spices seem like they would have the potential to aggravate inflammation, but research suggests they actually do the opposite. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest incorporating garlic, or herbs and spices such as turmeric, rosemary, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and fenugreek, decreases inflammation that could eventually lead to heart disease, brain degenerative conditions, cancer, and respiratory issues.
Take a break from alcohol.
If you like having a nightly cocktail or glass of wine, consider abstaining for a few days. This doesn’t have to be long-term, but cutting out alcohol briefly (while making other anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes) helps the body calm down and reduce existing inflammation. While research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption offers some benefits, the problem is that it’s easy to cross the line from beneficial and anti-inflammatory to harmful and inflammatory.
Swap one coffee for green tea.
If you drink 1 to 3 cups of coffee or other caffeinated drinks a day, consider swapping one of those for a cup of green tea instead. Green tea leaves are packed with polyphenol compounds, which can help reduce free radical damage to stop further inflammation. Studies suggest that regularly drinking green tea can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and joint conditions.
Be gentle to your gut.
There’s lots of hype around probiotics, but are you supporting those good microbes already living in you? Protect those existing good bacteria by cutting out added sugars, trans fats, and focusing on choosing primarily whole and minimally processed foods. It’s also worth consuming probiotic-rich foods—such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, or kimchi—every single day. Strengthening the gut’s microbe barrier is one of the cornerstones to reducing inflammation long-term.
Consider a fast.
Granted, it’s not for everyone, but research continues to find benefits when it comes to intermittent fasting (IF), largely due to the anti-inflammatory effects the eating pattern induces. There are several ways to approach fasting, but an easy way to start is with a 12-hour fast. This means if you finish dinner at 7 p.m., then you only consume water or black coffee until 7 a.m. the next day. Studies suggest regularly doing IF may reduce heart disease risk and improve insulin sensitivity, brain health, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Cut out dairy and gluten (temporarily).
Dairy and gluten are not usually inflammatory in healthy individuals (unless you have an allergy, intolerance, or celiac disease), but they can be irritating when there’s already existing inflammation. Some people may find it beneficial to cut out dairy, gluten, or both for a few weeks while eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and low in inflammatory ones. The thought is that this gives the body time to “calm down.” After which, you can slowly start to incorporate dairy or gluten-containing foods to see if they cause any irritation.
No matter how healthy your diet, low-grade inflammation isn’t going away if stress levels run continuously high. And even if stress isn’t too much of daily problem, learning how to manage and cope when it does occur is key for preventing new inflammation. Finding healthy ways to escape that stress—for example, by practicing yoga, meditating, or taking a short walk—provides quick relief psychologically and anti-inflammatory effects physiologically.
Be picky about ingredients.
Additives, dyes, preservatives, and other ingredients regularly added to foods all have the potential to trigger or aggravate inflammation—particularly if you have a weaker gut barrier—so take a look at the ingredient list on products in your pantry and fridge. Are the ingredients listed what you might use if making the food from a recipe at home? If yes, then this is likely a minimally processed product and a good choice. If not, opt for another brand or substitute when shopping next time.
Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award. You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.