Can Changing the Foods You Eat Really Reduce Inflammation in Your Body?

In today's health-conscious world, inflammation is something of a buzz word. You've likely heard that consuming turmeric (a source of curcumin) is helpful for those suffering from joint pain or arthritis—or maybe you've read that fatty fish or antioxidant-rich berries keep inflammation at bay. However, while adding these types of good-for-you foods to your diet is ultimately beneficial for your health, you first need to remove the ones that could be contributing to the overall problem. Think of it like this: Why douse water on the fire when you could simply remove the lighter fluid?

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According to Dr. Susan Blum, author of Healing Arthritis ($18.99, and founder of Blum Health MD, research shows that food, stress, gut, toxins, and infections are all at play when it comes to inflammation. Her team combines functional medicine with a comprehensive lifestyle and nutrition plan to help their patients determine the exact cause of inflammation in their bodies—and heal their chronic health issues. As for why they start with food? It's the most universal trigger for inflammation, notes Dr. Blum. Ahead, she explains why altering your diet can ultimately help quell the fire going on inside. enthusiasm

Related: 12 Anti-Inflammatory Foods Everyone Should Be Eating (and Drinking!)

Doctors look at your diet first when targeting inflammation.

Dr. Blum's process of determining the cause of a patient's inflammation begins with food. After that, she looks at their stress level, hormones, gut health, environmental toxins, and the possibility of latent persistent infection. "We now know inflammation is the underlying issue for most chronic illnesses. So, we have a checklist for where inflammation begins, and then we go upstream and look for it. I always start with food, because for some people, fixing the food foundation is everything," says Dr. Blum. "Food has the power to increase or lower inflammation, but if you change your food and you still don't feel well, you still have to move forward and do the deep detective work to find other sources."

Don't underestimate the role of a healthy gut.

A healthy gut is intertwined with what we eat; if your digestive track is off kilter, inflammation can occur. To improve your gut, Dr. Blum says food sensitivities should be identified and removed (for most patients, this is done through elimination diets, which involve removing a specific food from your diet for two weeks and reintroducing it to see how your body reacts). Once you've eliminated problem foods, build up digestive health using gut-friendly cuisine and probiotics.

Pay attention to the toxins in your food.

"The quality of animal fats and the highly processed sugar you're eating are relevant to the level of inflammation in your body," explains Dr. Blum. She recommends consuming mostly greens and plant-based foods with high-quality animal proteins, citing that sugar is a direct cause of inflammation.

Don't get discouraged.

Doing the work to uncover your food sensitivities is an intense, but therapeutic phase that usually lasts about one to two months, explains Dr. Blum. It requires real work: During this time, you need to be careful and restrictive about what you consume so you can sort through which foods do or do not work for you. She looks at this process as an anti-inflammatory project, followed by a phase she calls, "Finish What You Started." Arguably the most important step, this involves remaining dedicated to healing your gut and learning how to live with these changes. "For people who have a lot of serious food problems, it can take up to a year or two to fully heal the gut, but you don't have to be living in that restrictive phase the whole time," says Dr. Blum. "Instead you'll move into more of a Mediterranean diet without the foods you've discovered you have sensitivities to."