You’ll find lots of articles in the popular press about the value of anti-inflammatory diets. But many of them perpetuate certain myths about food and inflammation–in particular, that red meat is inflammatory and chicken is anti-inflammatory. I think that’s because many people simply assume that all the foods that we’re used to thinking of as “healthy” are anti-inflammatory and foods that we have been trained to view as “unhealthy” are inflammatory. In reality, the research on foods and inflammation challenges some of these assumptions.
A boneless, skinless chicken breast–that Holy Grail of diet food–is low in total fat and saturated fat, it’s true. But that’s not the whole story. Chicken is also relatively high in omega-6 fats, including arachidonic acid, a fatty acid that directly feeds cellular production of inflammatory chemicals. Beef tenderloin, on the other hand, is slightly higher in fat than a chicken breast but contains only half as much arachidonic acid and higher levels of anti-inflammatory nutrients such as monounsaturated fat, selenium, and zinc. When you look at all the facts, I don’t know how you could conclude that beef (per se) belongs on the inflammatory list and chicken on the anti-inflammatory one!