Lina Cellante
Lina is a medical biotechnologist by training and adopted chemist, currently cutting her teeth in the medical writing world.

Lina Cellante
Lina is a medical biotechnologist by training and adopted chemist, currently cutting her teeth in the medical writing world.

I’m quite sure everyone is already aware of the concept of chronic inflammation and why it is dangerous or, at least, not beneficial for our health, right? NO?! Still some doubts and not-so-clear concepts? Yeah, sounds legitimate, so let’s have a recall of how inflammation works so we can later take a deep-dive into some advice to counteract it through diet.

What’s inflammation?

Inflammation is our body’s response to something disturbing its equilibrium, like infectious microorganisms, surgery or burns. The disturbing element triggering inflammation is called an inducer; molecules sensing the inducer are the sensors (quite intuitive, I know). Sensors activate chemical molecules called mediators that push cells and tissues to react to inducers. As a result, we feel pain, heat and we see redness and swelling. That’s inflammation in a nutshell.

There are two types of inflammation: acute— the good one— and chronic— the bad one. 

Acute inflammation is a physiologic response the body puts in place when something tries to alter its equilibrium. Acids, excessive heat, trauma or microorganisms like viruses or bacteria, are all stimuli that trigger acute inflammation. The body reacts rapidly and tries to resolve the damage as fast as it can. The main difference between acute and chronic inflammation is the amount of time the inflammatory stimulus persists: briefly for the former, protracted for the latter.   

Why is chronic inflammation so dangerous? 

During inflammation free radicals tend to accumulate in the tissues, platelets in the blood tend to aggregate causing trombi and the watery part of the blood tends to move to nearby tissue causing swelling. This situation leads to a fifth sign of inflammation that we can’t see nor feel immediately, a disturbance of function on which we will focus below. 

Poor diet can lead to low-grade inflammation 

Inflammation also exists in a more silent but equally dangerous form called low-grade inflammation. This body state happens when false inflammatory triggers (they’re called ‘false’ when they are not caused by infection or injury) like a high-fat diet, reduced physical exercise, stress, insufficient sleep and environmental pollution cause a chronic inflammatory state that has been linked to weight gain, high or uncontrolled glucose levels, elevated blood pressure, and increased cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Taken together all of these states can lead to diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and fertility problems. 

Boy working using computer and eating fast food and snacks. Unhealthy Lifestyle. Covid 19 Homeschool
Unhealthy lifestyles lead to low-grade inflammation, which is linked to diabetes, heart disease, low fertility and cancer.

Low-grade inflammation may lead to insulin resistance

Inflammation costs tons of energy. During inflammation the body has to adapt to continue supplying energy for everyday body functions. For example, insulin resistance may develop to allow glucose to remain in the blood to reach the brain. Meanwhile the pancreas tries to maintain optimal blood glucose levels releasing insulin, leading to hyperinsulinemia which can lead to type 2 diabetes. The abundance of circulating insulin also affects renal fluid reabsorption provoking high blood pressure.   

When tissues can’t use glucose due to insulin resistance, they shift to fats as their energy source; this shift causes a change in blood lipid concentration: cholesterol starts to accumulate in the tissues and blood to reach starving organs. This fat reallocation could jeopardize cardiovascular health, through formation of trombi, atherosclerotic plaques and dementia. Mind-blowing, right? Lucky for us, not all is lost!

Foods that cause inflammation

Let’s start by listing all the elements that, taken in high amounts, cause weight gain and induce inflammation: 

Sugars (of course)

High sugar intake puts our body under constant pressure to produce insulin, causing low-grade tissue inflammation. It’s also linked to allergies, high-blood pressure, cognitive decline and low microbial diversity in the gut.

High refined starches and saturated and trans fats

 Found in processed foods, they alter the functioning of the inner layer of blood vessels, impacting their ability to expand or dilate when necessary which leads to heart disease and blood circulation defects. 

Selection of food high in sugar, copy space
Foods high in sugar and trans-fats cause chronic inflammation. Sugar is also linked to allergies, cognitive decline, high-blood pressure and low microbial diversity in the gut.

The right foods can relieve inflammation

Food is a precious ally in fighting inflammation and preserving our health.


Fish is rich in eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids, better known as EPA and DHA. They  reduce triglycerides and cholesterol and slow blood coagulation, respectively. Fish also reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death and lowers inflammatory markers in blood. The American Heart Association recommends having at least 2 servings of fish per week. 

Nuts and legumes

Nuts reduce the risk of heart disease and lower inflammation due to their arginine content. They are also an excellent source of healthy fats. Legumes, such as entils, chickpeas, beans and soy are high in fiber. A daily intake of 24g of fiber, can  reduce inflammation by slowing down the absorption of sugar, allowing us not only to feel full but also avoid insulin spikes.  

Top view of a rustic wood table filled with a large assortment of nuts like pistachios, hazelnut, pine nut, almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, cashew and walnuts. Some nuts are in brown bowls and others are placed directly on the table. Predominant color is brown. DSRL studio photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mk II and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Whole grains

Whole grains include barley, oatmeal and millet. Their consumption helps normalize the glycaemic levels thus reducing abdominal fat and blood pressure, three factors counteracting inflammation.

Fruits and vegetables

They owe their strength against inflammation to their incredible amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well as their fiber content.  2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of veggies per day is the ideal combination to reduce your risk of dying from respiratory disease, heart disease, and cancer.

Variety of fresh organic vegetables and fruits in the garden. Balanced diet

Foods containing vitamin K

Reduced levels of vitamin K are connected with heart disease risk and inefficient protection against free radicals, thus making it difficult to contrast low-grade inflammation. Foods rich in vitamin K include dark leafy greens, berries, nuts and organ meats.

Foods containing vitamin C and vitamin E

Foods containing vitamin E include red bell peppers, almonds, collards greens, spinach, etc. Foods containing vitamin C include citrus fruits and tomatoes. Both have an antioxidant effect, which helps counteract free radicals 

Carotenoids and flavonoids

Carotenoids are found in pumpkins, sweet potatoes and cabbages. Flavonoids  are found in berries, red grapes skin, spinach, lettuce, etc. Both reduce inflammation by contrasting its mediators and also help to regulate glucose metabolism.

The bottom line

We should also bear in mind to not fear the fats. It’s the quality not the quantity we choose to eat that jeopardizes our health.

In general, it’s vital to remember that there is no miraculous remedy for wellbeing. A conscious food consumption, an active lifestyle, the right amount of supplements and even intermittent fasting can help contrast the drift of the Western way of life.