Inflammation happens when your immune system responds to an infection or injury with a rush of blood, white blood cells and chemicals. It’s important for fighting infections and repairing damage, but if it lasts too long, chronic inflammation can cause serious health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. The foods you eat play an important role in reducing inflammation and keeping it at bay.

In general, the best foods to eat to reduce inflammation are whole foods rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds, like berries, leafy greens, avocados, nuts, fish and olive oil. Aim for a balanced diet with moderate amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates.

Sugary foods and beverages release inflammatory messengers that raise your risk of chronic inflammation, so cut out processed sugar. That means avoiding candy, cookies, pastries and sodas. Opt for sparkling water, iced tea, coffee or unsweetened milk instead.

Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to hinder processes that lead to inflammation. Try to eat them a few times a week. Walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds are also good sources of omega-3 fats.

Lean meats such as pork, chicken and beef contain proteins that help to control inflammation. Choose meats that are 90 percent or higher in leanness, and avoid processed meats such as hot dogs and lunch meats, which are linked to inflammation.

The spices ginger, turmeric and cinnamon are rich in antioxidants that can help to slow the process of inflammation. Try adding a sprinkle of these to your meals or sip a cup of warm tea with one of these spices in it.

Eating anti-inflammatory foods isn’t the only way to keep inflammation at bay, but it’s a great start. Other strategies include getting regular exercise, managing stress, getting a good night’s sleep and ceasing smoking.

If you are struggling with chronic inflammation, work with a nutrition professional to develop an individualized eating plan and find healthy recipes that will suit your needs. You can also find a registered dietitian or nutritionist through your health insurance provider or a local community organization. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any dietary changes, especially if you have a preexisting condition. They can refer you to a qualified health practitioner who can help you better understand where your inflammation is coming from and what treatments are right for you.