Health & Wellness: Dietary Approaches to Reduce Inflammation

Oct. 17, 2022
Dana Harrison provides actionable measures for firefighters to reduce or resolve inflammation, which can be at the root of numerous health problems.

Inflammation: It feels like a buzzword in the health and wellness industry. You might have heard about it in the media, on social media or at your doctor’s appointment.

If you ever wondered, “What is inflammation, and how do I avoid or improve it?”, I’m here to simplify it for you.

Understanding inflammation

Unlike acute inflammation (your body repairs itself and moves on, such as when you cut your finger and inflammatory response occurs and the finger heals), chronic inflammation is a constant state: Your body has an accumulation of inflammation, which can, in turn, cause disease.

The diseases that chronic inflammation can cause include autoimmune disease, metabolic conditions (including Type 2 diabetes), neuro-inflammation (i.e., memory and mood), and specific diseases that occur at higher rates within the fire community, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Effect on firefighter operations

Following an anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t just allow for firefighters to be the best at their jobs performance-wise, it allows you to live in better health, both on and off shift. It also allows you to enjoy life past retirement, which is a large concern within the fire industry, particularly with health concerns, such as heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

In addition to stress management, reducing toxic load, incorporating movement and prioritizing optimal sleep, following an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, with diet at the forefront, should be a primary goal of any health and wellness program that can best support firefighters in their jobs and life.

A common question that I receive at firehouses is, “What is the best diet and lifestyle approach to prevent, manage and/or reverse disease?” My response: Any diet and nutrition behavior that focuses on an anti-inflammatory approach. This includes any specific nutritionally sound diet that falls into the category of an anti-inflammatory approach, such as the Mediterranean diet, the ketogenic diet and a low-carbohydrate diet. An anti-inflammatory diet is one that calms or reduces inflammation.

Of course, firefighters might look for a simple approach to an anti-inflammatory diet and actionable steps that are feasible for them to implement into their routines. However, there’s confusion as to what causes inflammation, why we should want to reduce it and how to reduce it from a variety of areas. What follows focuses on simplifying how you can decrease chronic inflammation via diet.


Diet, exercise, stress, toxic load and sleep have big effects in regard to easing or driving inflammation. The idea that “food is medicine” is relevant in the fight against inflammation, healing and preventing disease. It’s important to look at foods that increase or promote inflammation and foods that fight inflammation (see “An Anti-inflammatory Diet” on next page).

This approach supports the body, lessens the effects of disease and even helps to prevent disease. It focuses on optimal nutrition (ensuring a healthy, adequate and balanced diet) while supporting blood sugar stabilization, fighting inflammation, and supporting gut, immune and brain health.

Pro-inflammatory vs. anti-inflammatory

A poor diet is pro-inflammatory, which means that it creates inflammation and the perfect environment to lead to a disease state. The standard American diet, which is made up primarily of sugars, refined carbohydrates, processed vegetable oils and trans-fats, is pro-inflammatory.

In contrast, an anti-inflammatory diet reduces inflammation and involves nutrient-dense whole foods, with a large focus on variety (for example, different colors of produce provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants). An ideal anti-inflammatory plate involves a heavy dose of plants (vegetables and fruits as the focus) and a smaller dose of protein (animal or plant protein) and healthy fats (healthy oil of choice, nuts, seeds and sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids). Percentages can vary based on personal preference, lifestyle and behavior, among others.

Putting it into practice

Look at your current diet and focus on how you can start to implement changes to resolve or reduce inflammation. The most important focus should be on making anti-inflammatory dietary choices that work for you and can fit into your diet and lifestyle.

Consistency over time creates sustainable change and results. Focus on understanding how different foods affect your body and health on both a short- and long-term basis.

Ultimately, approaching an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle is up to you. It’s important to tailor an approach that’s individualized to you and that you’ll be consistent with.

Tune into your body and listen to it. Figure out what works for you and keep going, one step at a time. Understand that small steps over time truly add up and can affect long-term and sustainable changes for the better. They can improve your health both on and off shift, now and beyond retirement.

About the Author

Dana Harrison

Dana Harrison, MS, is a nutritionist and educator who is based in Massachusetts. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Vassar College and a master’s degree in nutrition science (community nutrition concentration) from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Harrison is the founder of The Cultural Shift Method, which is a nutrition education program that makes nutrition, health and wellness easy, individualized and attainable. She presents simple, realistic, sustainable and dynamic plans for positive health and wellness behaviors, which allow for changes to occur on a cultural level. For more information, visit or contact her at [email protected].

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