vegan anti inflammatory nutrition
  • Alyssa Fontaine, RD
  • Jul 26, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to an Anti-Inflammatory Vegan Diet

You might have heard about the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition, one early version was introduced by Barry Sears, PhD, in The Zone Diet back in 1995. 

Since then, other diets have been said to present with anti-inflammatory properties, including the Mediterranean diet, Okinawan diet and the vegan diet. 

What makes these diets so effective? Let’s discuss

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the way that the body can recognize and remove harmful and foreign stimuli and begin the healing process. 

During the healing process, inflammation will play a crucial role as the body’s first line of defense. During inflammation, the body’s immune system releases various chemicals and immune cells that work together to combat potential the threat.

In case of an infection, white blood cells are released to the site of invasion to neutralize and eliminate pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses. This helps prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body.

Injured tissues need repair and regeneration to restore their function. Inflammation helps initiate the process by increasing blood flow to the area. This increased blood flow brings in essential nutrients, oxygen, and growth factors, promoting tissue healing. Consequently, the increased blood flow leads to redness and warmth.

Acute inflammation 

Acute inflammation is the type of inflammation that people are most familiar with. It’s the redness, warmth, swelling, and pain that you might experience around tissues and joints when you get injured, such as after cutting yourself. 

When your body is hurt, your immune system reacts by releasing white blood cells to protect the affected area. Acute inflammation is like a quick and intense reaction – it comes on fast, gets severe quickly, lasts for a few days and then it’s done.

Chronic inflammation

Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation is usually slow and not easily noticeable. It can silently cause damage throughout the body over a long period like months to even years. 

Chronic inflammation plays an important role in the development and progression of many chronic diseases as the organs become damaged over time. 

Diseases that have been associated with chronic inflammation include diabetes, asthma and coronary artery disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , chronic diseases are ranked as the greatest threat to human health.

How to reduce your chronic inflammation?

While inflammation is not the only thing responsible for these chronic diseases, it is a process that can be greatly affected by changes made with your diet. This is why vegan dietitians promote an anti-inflammatory diet

If you’re thinking about changing your diet to see if it can help manage your condition, it’s a great opportunity to talk to a Vegan Registered Dietitian. They can guide you through the world of nutrition and offer personalized support and recommendations. Together, you’ll work to find the best nutritional plan or eating pattern that suits your needs and lifestyle.

Key Components of Inflammation

The effect of various foods on the inflammatory response

Carbohydrates

One of the main contributing factors to inflammation is the consumption of refined, high glycemic carbohydrates which quickly increase your glucose. 

When we regularly eat these high glycemic carbs, it can lead to ongoing high blood sugar levels, causing the body to produce more free radicals and proinflammatory substances that can harm our cells and tissues. 

Fats

Firstly, trans fats in the diet have a very strong proinflammatory effect on the body. This type of fat is usually found in foods that have been prepared in hydrogenated oil (ex: baked goods).

Another important contributor to inflammation is the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. 

Having an excessive intake of omega-6 fats relative to omega-3 fats can contribute to inflammation in the body, so it’s important to maintain a balanced ratio of both types of fats in our diet.

Omega-3 fats are responsible for supporting heart health, reducing inflammation in the body, and promoting proper brain function. 

Found in: 
-Walnuts
-Soybeans
-Flaxseed oils
-Ground flax seeds
-Chia Seeds
-Hemp seeds
Omega-6 fats play a role in promoting brain function, supporting skin health, and helping to regulate metabolism.

Found in: 
-Soybeans
-Corn
-Safflower and sunflower oils
-Nuts and seeds

Caloric intake

Consuming too many calories, especially when we don’t get enough exercise, can lead to increased body fat. 

This fat tissue is active and releases chemicals that promote chronic inflammation. 

As the fat cells get bigger, more inflammation occurs due to the release of inflammatory substances by certain immune cells.

Inflammation Causing Foods:

These foods should be avoided or limited as much as possible:

  • Refined, high glycemic carbohydrates (ex: white bread and pastries)
  • Sugary drinks (ex: soda and sweetened fruit drinks)
  • Ultra-processed foods 
  • Fried foods (ex: french fries)

However, it’s essential to recognize that our relationship with food, such as emotional eating and binge eating, can sometimes make it challenging to stick to these guidelines. If you find it difficult to manage your diet, consider seeking help from a vegan dietitian.

What are the key components of an anti-inflammatory diet plan?

Fruits and Vegetables

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables into your meals. These nutrient-rich foods are lower in calories and packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can benefit your health and help combat inflammation. 

Examples include: 

  • Blueberries, raspberries, cherries
  • Tomatoes 
  • Spinach, kale, collards
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage 

Protein

Emphasizing plant-based sources of protein is essential in an anti-inflammatory diet. Packed with phytonutrients, protein, and healthy fats, soy provides a powerful boost to your anti-inflammatory efforts, supporting your overall health and well-being. 

Examples of soy legumes as plant-based protein options include: 

  • Edamame 
  • Tempeh 
  • Tofu

Carbohydrates

While vegetables and fruits form the primary source of carbohydrates in an anti-inflammatory diet, other types are also included. Opt for whole grains with a low glycemic index, to make sure they retain all their parts for maximum nutritional benefits. 

Also, avoid refined grains, and be cautious with cracked or crushed grains to manage blood sugar levels effectively. 

Good whole-grain options include:

  • Buckwheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Wild rice

Healthy Fats

When it comes to plant-based fats, flax seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy fats include chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds. For cooking purposes, olive oil (primarily a monounsaturated fat) is the top recommended option, especially when used at low temperatures. Pro-inflammatory oils that should be avoided include: 

  • Soybean oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Corn oil 

Again, if you are unsure about which oils are healthy and have anti-inflammatory properties compared to those that are pro-inflammatory, it’s highly recommended to seek guidance from a vegan registered dietitian.

Herbs and Spices

Including various herbs and spices in an anti-inflammatory diet can enhance its overall impact on reducing inflammation. So, adding these natural wonders to your meals can be a flavorful and healthy way to fight inflammation. Herbs and spices known for their anti-inflammatory benefits include the following: 

  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Cayenne
  • Oregano

Tea 

Choosing tea over coffee or sugary drinks can bring anti-inflammatory benefits. Tea contains antioxidants and polyphenols that contribute to lowering inflammation in the body.

Examples include:

  • Green tea 
  • Black tea
  • White tea

Alcohol

For alcohol, research studies have demonstrated that moderate intake can be good for the heart and may help lower inflammation levels in the body. In fact, alcohol has been a longstanding component of the Mediterranean diet and the Okinawa diet. 

Some components in alcohol, like resveratrol, found in red wine, also have anti-inflammatory properties. 

However, it’s crucial to emphasize drinking in moderation since heavy drinking can be harmful to health, leading to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. 

Ultimately, consult with a vegan registered dietitian to see if drinking alcohol is good for you. 

Benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet

Following a vegan anti-inflammatory diet has been proven to help with the following conditions:

If you have any medical conditions or concerns, it’s always a good idea to consult with a vegan registered dietitian to improve your vegan diet

Sample 3-day anti-inflammatory meal plan

Although this is one meal plan option, it’s important to recognize that individual dietary needs can differ significantly, therefore seek an anti-inflammatory vegan registered dietitian who can help you plan your meals in a way that best supports managing your symptoms effectively.

Breakfast: Blueberry Anti-Inflammatory Bowl (Serving size: 2)

·  1 cup Quinoa Flakes

·  1 cup Unsweetened Soy Milk

·  1 tsp Cinnamon

·  1 tsp Vanilla Extract

·  1 cup blueberries

·  1/2 cup Walnuts (roughly chopped)

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, mix the quinoa flakes, ½ cup blueberries, soy milk, cinnamon, and vanilla over medium heat. 
  2. Bring everything to a boil, and then lower the heat to simmer for three minutes. 
  3. Serve in bowls, and add the rest of the blueberries and walnuts.

Lunch: Creamy Veggie & Hummus Pasta (serving size: 3)

  • 227 grams (1 box) of Chickpea Pasta (dry)
  • 2/3 cup Frozen Edamame
  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 cups Cherry Tomatoes (halved)
  • 4 cups Arugula
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 3/4 cup Hummus
  • 1 tbsp Everything Bagel Seasoning
  • Iodized Salt & Black Pepper (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Cook the chickpea pasta according to package instructions. In the last two minutes of cooking, add the frozen edamame. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and sauté for a few minutes until slightly softened.
  3. Add the cooked pasta and edamame to the skillet. Stir in the arugula, lemon juice, and hummus until everything is well-coated and creamy.
  4. Season with everything bagel seasoning, iodized salt, and black pepper to taste. Toss everything together and serve your delicious meal. Enjoy!

Supper: Vegan Chopped Salad (Serving size: 2)

·  1 cup Lentils (cooked and rinsed)

·  1 cup Corn (cooked)

·  1 Red Bell Pepper (diced)

·  1/2 Tomato (medium, diced)

·  1/4 cup Red Onion (finely chopped)

·  1 Avocado (chopped)

·  2 tbsps Extra Virgin Olive Oil

·  2 tbsps Lime Juice

·  1 tbsp Cilantro (very finely chopped)

·  1 Garlic (clove, small, minced)

Directions:

  1. Combine the lentils, corn, pepper, tomato, red onion, and avocado. In a small jar, combine the oil, lime juice, cilantro, and garlic by shaking well. 
  2. Pour this dressing over the salad, mix well, divide them into the number of portions you desire and enjoy.

With an anti-inflammatory vegan dietitian, we can help you understand the basics of chronic inflammation, bust common myths, and offer personalized nutrition recommendations, including plant-based alternatives. 

References:

Ricker, M. A., & Haas, W. C. (2017). Anti-Inflammatory Diet in Clinical Practice: A Review. Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 32(3), 318–325. https://doi.org/10.1177/0884533617700353 

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