Anti-Inflammatory Vegan Diet: Does It Help People With Cancer?

Woman holding a twig of blueberries between fingers to represent anti-inflammatory vegan food.

Are you concerned about the ill effects of inflammation?

Although inflammation is a natural response that is essential to keep us alive, can it also increase the risk of cancer?

The vegan diet has gotten a lot of attention lately, but is it actually anti-inflammatory?

What foods should you eat and are there ones you should avoid?

Relax, we’ve got you! We will walk you through the why, when, what, and how of inflammation and the vegan diet, so you can decide what’s best for you.

Are you ready? Let’s dig in!

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural response to things like infections, injuries, chronic diseases, and unhealthy lifestyle choices like:

  • A Poor Diet
  • Being Overweight
  • Not Exercising
  • Leading a Stressful Life
  • Drinking Alcohol
  • Smoking

Inflammation is our body’s way of dealing with that stress, and it’s essential to help keep us alive.

If a part of your body is inflamed, it usually hurts, it might feel warm, it’s probably going to be swollen, and hard to move around.

This happens because the immune system deploys an army of chemicals that helps your body recover.

In short, the whole point of inflammation is to get rid of damaged cells and start the healing process.

Types of Inflammation

There are two main types of inflammation, acute (or short-term) and chronic (or long-term).

When we talk about inflammation in this article, we mean chronic inflammation.

Why Does It Matter for Chronic Disease?

Chronic inflammation is particularly bad for your health because it can cause further diseases and cancer.

Above all, this happens because chronic inflammation causes non-stop damage to your body. Over time that damage can result in other chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.

However, cancer can also cause inflammation.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, it’s a bit like the chicken or the egg. Did inflammation cause diabetes, arthritis, and cancer, or was it the other way around?

Why Does It Matter for Cancer?

Inflammation matters for cancer because inflammation makes cancer cells able to grow more easily and drives all stages of cancer formation.

It’s involved from initiation to metastasis (spread beyond a local area), and may even play a role when cancer treatment stops working.

In other words, it’s involved all the way through the cancer process and puts you at a higher risk for worse outcomes.

On a cellular level, there are a couple of ways in which researchers believe that inflammation drives cancer formation.

The inflammatory response produces a steady flow of small particles called free radicals and cytokines. These particles can cause cells and genes to act in unnatural ways.

For instance,

  • Free radicals can break the genetic code in our cells. This can cause cells to keep dividing when they should self-destruct.
  • Cytokines can activate certain genes that increase cancer growth while slowing down those that stop cancer growth.

As a result, this makes cancer more likely to grow.

In a nutshell, the problem is that cancer can maintain inflammation. Consequently, it won’t get better until cancer gets better.

How Do I Know If My Body Is Inflamed?

Typically, if an area of your body is inflamed, it’s red, swollen, and hurting. You may also feel more tired than normal, or have diarrhea or a skin rash.

However, you could also have inflammation in your body and not feel any different.

To figure it out, your healthcare provider can draw blood to check for markers of inflammation.

Two tests, in particular, look for inflammation, namely C-Reactive Protein (CRP) or Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR).

These tests won’t tell you why there is inflammation, just that there is or isn’t.

Furthermore, they may not be elevated early on, meaning your provider may not be able to tell if you’re inflamed or not.

Consequently, it’s best to talk to your provider to see what needs to be done, if you think you might have inflammation in your body.   

Can Inflammation Spread in the Body?

No, inflammation can’t spread like an infection. Since it tries to heal an injury or deal with a stressor, it will either center around that injury, or be more widespread throughout the body.

But in short, no, it doesn’t spread like an infection.

The good thing is that inflammation may be preventable, keep reading to find out how!

Can You Significantly Reduce Inflammation by Eating Certain Foods?

Maybe, but research hasn’t proven yet that certain foods reduce inflammation.

What the research is showing is that there are certain healthy food choices and behaviors that have the potential to reduce inflammation. But not exactly how it’s done or that it’s a given.

What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

The anti-inflammatory diet is meant to lower inflammation. However, there isn’t enough evidence at this point to say that it does.

Since there isn’t an official anti inflammatory diet, but rather a list of foods with anti-inflammatory properties, we can’t call it a diet.

Similarly, we know that some foods have anti-inflammatory properties in them that might have the potential to lower inflammation, while others are more prone to ramp it up.

The problem is that we don’t know exactly what combination of foods is ideal or how much you need to eat to lower inflammation.

In summary, since research hasn’t proven what combination of foods can lower inflammation in the body, we can’t call it an anti-inflammatory diet.

Simple Anti-Inflammatory Vegan Diet Chart

The closest thing to an anti inflammatory vegan diet may be a combination of two well-researched diets. One that prevents heart disease and lowers blood pressure, and the other that prevents cancer:

By adding the vegan parts of the Mediterranean diet and the ACIR guidelines to the vegan diet, you’ve come pretty close to solving the anti-inflammatory diet equation.

Still, it’s not proven that this combination lowers inflammation.

To simplify things a bit, we’ve made a list of foods so you can see what we mean.

Again, this list doesn’t represent an anti-inflammatory diet, but it tells you which foods within these diets have anti-inflammatory properties.

It includes whole food items like fruits, berries, veggies, herbs & spices, whole grains, healthy fats, and green tea. Check out the table for examples and servings of each food group.

Graphic excerpt showing anti-inflammatory vegan diet.

Do you want the whole Anti-Inflammatory Vegan Diet List for FREE? Follow the prompts, and it’s all yours!

Besides choosing anti inflammatory foods, it’s best to LIMIT or AVOID:

  • Refined & Processed Foods
  • Sugary Drinks & Alcohol

…while AVOIDING:

  • Being Overweight
  • Being Sedentary
  • Smoking

AND:

  • Exercising Every Day
  • Getting Enough Sleep
  • Lowering Stress Levels

Consequently, the anti-inflammatory diet is less of a diet and more of a set of healthy behaviors that have the potential to reduce inflammation.

What Is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet does not include any foods of animal origin, thus, it’s a completely plant based diet that includes:

  • Fruits & Veggies (include root veggies like sweet potatoes)
  • Nuts, Nut Butters & Seeds
  • Whole Grains
  • Milk Alternatives (Almond, Coconut, Oat, Rice)
  • Sprouted or Fermented Foods (Tempeh)
  • Meat Alternatives (Tofu and Plant-Based Meat Products) & Beans
  • Algae, Nutritional Yeast & Unprocessed Oils

Is the Vegan Diet Anti-Inflammatory?

The vegan diet is most likely anti-inflammatory, but it’s not categorized as such.

Compared to the standard American, or western diet, there’s proof that the vegan diet lowers the risk for cancer.

Moreover, since it includes foods with anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also likely that it may help lower inflammation. The how and why are just not proven scientifically.

It could be because it’s HIGHER in:

  • Complex Carbohydrates – Incorporates Fiber and Nutrients
  • Fiber
  • Healthy Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
  • Essential Fatty Acids
  • Small Particles that Protect Cells

and LOWER in:

  • Calories
  • Cholesterol
  • Bad Fats

People following a vegan diet are also generally more active and weigh less, which prevents cancer and might also help lower inflammation.

But, depending on how it’s implemented, a vegan diet may be low in nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, and protein, and high in calories.

Subsequently, it’s unclear if that has any effect on cancer risk or inflammation one way or another.

Should I Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Vegan Diet?

Whether or not you should follow an anti-inflammatory vegan diet comes down to what you prefer.

While it’s unclear if the vegan diet is anti-inflammatory, we know that it helps to prevent cancer. However, there isn’t enough evidence to say that it’s better at it than the vegetarian or Mediterranean diets.

Furthermore, unless you are a vegan for ethical reasons, it doesn’t have to be absolute.

You don’t have to include/exclude all items always or become a vegan just because it’s become popularized. Doing it most of the time is a lot easier and probably just as effective.

Certainly, if you choose to follow a vegan, vegetarian, or Mediterranean diet, it should come down to what’s best for your lifestyle.

For examples of an anti-inflammatory vegan meal plan including snacks and vegan anti inflammatory recipes, check out this Eating Well article. It was composed and reviewed by registered dietitians.

Health is a function of daily choices. It’s best to aim for a healthy lifestyle and not focus on a single nutrient or popularized diet to prevent cancer.

How Long Should I Do This?

Our cells are hit by a continuous flow of particles that increase the risk for cancer. Since the assault never stops, neither should prevention.

The goal should be to adopt as many healthy habits as you can and stick to those for life.

That way you will give yourself the best chance of staying healthy.

How to Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Vegan Diet

To follow an “anti-inflammatory vegan diet” or to include foods with anti-inflammatory vegan properties, here’s what you can do.

It’s best to load up on a colorful variety of fruits, berries, and veggies, and add whole grains, herbs & spices, walnuts, olive oil, and green tea to your normal vegan diet.

Besides adding foods with anti-inflammatory properties, it’s also important to include foods from the other vegan food groups.

For example, by adding milk and meat alternatives, algae, nutritional yeast, etc., you can be sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need from your diet.

In some cases, supplementation may be necessary to complete your intake. Working with your healthcare provider can help determine this on an individual level.

The most important thing about a vegan diet is to eat a varied diet and include different foods from all food groups so you’re not missing out on any nutrients.

Questions

Can I Overdo This, Is There Such a Thing as Too Much?

It’s important to eat a varied diet. Just eating the same foods over and over again can result in shortages of some nutrients. This could potentially lead to a higher risk of inflammation and cancer.

In certain instances, food sensitivities or some conditions may dictate how much you can have of a certain nutrient.

If you are unsure, it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider to find out what’s best for you.

What Else Can I Do to Reduce Inflammation?

To reduce inflammation in your body, focus on getting healthy in general by following cancer prevention guidelines.

Further, it’s important to adopt as many as you can of these healthy eating and lifestyle behaviors to help reduce inflammation.

The American Institute for Cancer Prevention recommends:

  • Watching Your Weight Throughout Life
  • Avoiding Being Sedentary
  • Exercising Every Day
  • Avoiding Stress
  • Getting Enough Sleep
  • Limiting/Avoiding Alcohol
  • Avoiding Smoking

Final Thoughts

Inflammation is a natural response to things like stressors and it’s essential to help keep us alive.

The problem with inflammation is that it makes cancer more likely to form and it drives all stages of cancer formation.

Although there isn’t an official anti-inflammatory diet on the books, dietary choices and healthy behaviors do matter for reducing inflammation and preventing cancer.

While some foods have the potential to reduce inflammation, others are prone to ramp it up.

The closest thing to an anti-inflammatory vegan diet may be a combination of the Mediterranean and vegan diets, and the AICR cancer prevention guidelines.

This combination emphasizes eating a variety of colorful fruits, berries & veggies, and adding herbs & spices, whole grains, walnuts, olive oil, and green tea.

Moreover, since there isn’t much evidence to say that a vegan diet is better at preventing cancer than a vegetarian or Mediterranean diet. It’s best to choose whatever fits your lifestyle and adhere to that most of the time.

It’s also recommended to limit refined and processed foods and sugary drinks, and adopt healthy behaviors.

WANT MORE ON INFLAMMATION?

Does Sugar Feed Cancer | List of Alkaline Foods | Anti-Inflammatory Foods List | Inflammatory Foods
Disclaimer

These general ideas are only for your education. These are not meal plans, medical advice, or for weight loss. You may be sensitive to other foods that can lead to inflammation.

Most importantly, since inflammation can be maintained by a chronic disease, you may not get better. Please work with your health care provider for advice.

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