Understanding Inflammation: Nutritional Factors

By Lindsay Kent

In Part 1 of this post, I described how inflammation is at the root of most diseases humans suffer from today. When the body is injured, the immune system jumps into action, sending white blood cells to the affected area to promote healing. That is called acute inflammation, and you will experience bouts of it throughout your life. Chronic inflammation resides deeper in the body, often going unnoticed or undiagnosed while you are plagued with symptoms that seem unrelated—allergies, asthma, or general congestion as well as frequent colds and headaches, joint and muscle pain, ulcers, skin problems, fatigue, weight gain, anxiety and/or depression, and heart burn, just to name a few.

Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to much more serious conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, muscular sclerosis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and stroke. The information available on this subject is extensive and can be overwhelming, but if you understand a few key areas, you’ll be able to make simple lifestyle changes to fight back.

What You Eat Can Make a Big Difference

According to a report from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, “While today’s modern diet may provide beneficial protection from micro- and macronutrient deficiencies, our over-abundance of calories and the macronutrients that compose our diet may all lead to increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease.” 3

In other words, we eat too much of the wrong foods.

In an article published online at Harvard Health Publications, Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, sums up recent findings: “Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects.”2 So, by focusing on the nutrient density of our foods and removing some of the key pro-inflammatory foods from our diets, we can dramatically reduce the inflammation and, in turn, some of our pain and illness.

When discussing inflammation, one area to focus on is the general level of acidity or alkalinity in the body, which is measured on the pH scale. The scale ranges from zero to 14; a reading of seven is considered perfectly neutral, but anywhere from six to 7.5 is considered normal. If your pH becomes compromised, it means that there are high levels of acidity in your body. The kidneys help to maintain pH levels by regulating key electrolytes in the body, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Highly acidic diets force the body to work overtime in order to buffer, or neutralize, the acidic state, and in order to accomplish the balancing act, the body takes those key nutrients from teeth, bones, and muscle to combat the problem, creating a depletion.

For example, in a 2014 study on diet and irritable bowel disorder, 33 percent of the patients opted not to follow the anti-inflammatory diet prescribed. The remaining patients, who did follow the diet, reported drastic relief of symptoms and were able to come off of at least one of their medications.4

So the key to controlling inflammation is to identify the foods and beverages that contribute to the depletion of those important minerals and vitamins and the accumulation of acid in the body.

Here are some of the key acid-inducing players that that may be present in your diet:

  • Alcohol
  • Food coloring and preservatives
  • Excess hormones from food, beauty products, and plastics
  • Dairy products
  • Refined sugars
  • Excess amounts of non-grass-fed red meat
  • Sodium chloride, a.k.a. table salt (present in most processed foods)
  • Excessive amounts of protein (creates sulfuric acid buildup in blood)
  • Cold cuts
  • Corn flakes
  • Excessive amounts of grains
  • Peanuts
  • White bread
  • Lard
  • Fried foods

While the list is not exhaustive, it gives you an idea of the how many common food items in your diet can be causing high acidity in your body and, in turn, excess inflammation.

Many people assume that if a food tastes acidic, it will increase acidity in the body, but that is not the case. For example, while it would seems that a citrus fruit such as grapefruit is highly acidic, in fact grapefruit promotes alkalinity, as do lemons and limes, whereas calcium-rich dairy products don’t taste acidic but dramatically increase your body’s acidity. When your bloodstream becomes too acidic, your body steals calcium from bones, and studies indicate that calcium-rich dairy products are the cause of some of the highest rates of osteoporosis.1

Here is a partial list of the foods you will want keep on the menu to promote alkalinity and help reduce the acidity in your body:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Mushrooms
  • Almonds
  • Dates
  • Raisins
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines)
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Turmeric
  • Bone broth
  • Ginger

These foods are all high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols, protective compounds found in plants that help reduce the risk of inflammation in your body. Chewing your food slowly and completely will also help your body process and digest the nutrients. Raw fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals. If you find that eating vegetables raw causes some gas or discomfort, try lightly sautéing or juicing them, as it will help to maintain the alkalinizing minerals. You also want to make sure to focus on including exercise in your daily regimen and paying attention to your stress levels, which I discussed in part 1 of this post, as they are instigators of inflammation as well.

Have you visited the Digital Muscle Nutrition Blog Lately?

Lindsay Kent, Master Personal Trainer.

About the Author

As the captain of a Junior Olympic volleyball team, Lindsay Kent loved testing her limits and digging deep to push herself to the next level. Fitness and nutrition were such an ingrained part of her lifestyle that fitness was the obvious career choice. She’s a professor at the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) College of Exercise Science and also owns her own training business, Lindsay Kent Fitness. She holds the designation of Master Personal Trainer, with specialty areas in Fitness Nutrition, Strength and Conditioning, Exercise Therapy, Youth and Senior Fitness, and Athlete/Functional training. She is a spokesmodel for ISSA, writes for various fitness publications, and is a BeautyFit sponsored athlete.


1 Axe, Josh. “Balancing act: why pH is crucial to heath.” www.draxe.com/balancing-act-why-ph-is-crucial-to-health.

2 “Foods that fight inflammation.” Harvard Health Publications. Published online June 2014; updated August 2017.  www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation.

3 Myles, I.A. “Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity.Nutrition Journal. Published June 17, 2014. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24939238

4 Olendzki, Barbara C., et al. “An anti-inflammatory diet as treatment for inflammatory bowel disease: a case series report.” Nutrition Journal 13 (2014): 5. PMC.