Inflammation occurs with many health conditions, and some foods appear to make it worse. Eating less processed food, alcohol, and red meat and consuming more plant-based foods may help manage inflammation.
However, some people have a medical condition in which the immune system does not work as it should. This malfunction can lead to persistent or recurrent low-level inflammation.
Chronic inflammation occurs with various diseases, such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma. There is evidence that dietary choices may help manage the symptoms.
An anti-inflammatory diet favors fruits and vegetables, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, lean protein, healthful fats, and spices. It discourages or limits the consumption of processed foods, red meats, and alcohol.
The anti-inflammatory diet is not a specific regimen but rather a style of eating. The Mediterranean and DASH diet are examples of anti-inflammatory diets.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
Some foods contain ingredients that can trigger or worsen inflammation. Sugary or processed foods may do this, while fresh, whole foods are less likely to have this effect.
An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables. Many plant-based foods are good sources of antioxidants. Some foods, however, can trigger the formation of free radicals. Examples include foods that people fry repeatedly in heated cooking oil.
Dietary antioxidants are molecules in food that help remove free radicals from the body. Free radicals are the natural byproducts of some bodily processes, including metabolism. However, external factors, such as stress and smoking, can increase the number of free radicals in the body.
Free radicals can lead to cell damage. This damage increases the risk of inflammation and can contribute to a range of diseases. The body creates some antioxidants that help it remove these toxic substances, but dietary antioxidants also help.
An anti-inflammatory diet favors foods that are rich in antioxidants over those that increase the production of free radicals. A wide variety of antioxidants occur in plant-based foods, such as blueberries, green leafy vegetables, cocoa, and beans.
Omega-3 fatty acids which are present in oily fish, may help reduce the levels of inflammatory proteins in the body. According to the Arthritis Foundation, fiber can also have this effect.
Types of anti-inflammatory diet
Many popular diets already adhere to anti-inflammatory principles. For example, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and fats that are good for the heart.
Inflammation appears to play a role in cardiovascular disease, but research suggests that the Mediterranean diet, with its focus on plant-based foods and healthful oils, can reduce the effects of inflammation on the cardiovascular system.
Who can it help?
An anti-inflammatory diet may serve as a complementary therapy for many conditions that become worse with chronic inflammation.
The following conditions involve inflammation:
inflammatory bowel disease
Metabolic syndrome refers to a collection of conditions that tend to occur together, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
Scientists believe that inflammation plays a role in all of these. An anti-inflammatory diet may, therefore, help improve the health of a person with metabolic syndrome.
Eating a diet that is rich in antioxidants may also help reduce the risk of certain cancers Antioxidants help remove free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging.
Foods to eat
An anti-inflammatory diet should combine a variety of foods that:
are rich in nutrients
provide a range of antioxidants
contain healthful fats
Foods that may help manage inflammation include:
oily fish, such as tuna and salmon
fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cherries
vegetables, including kale, spinach, and broccoli
nuts and seeds
olives and olive oil
raw or moderately cooked vegetables
legumes, such as lentils
spices, such as ginger and turmeric
probiotics and prebiotics
No single food will boost a person’s health. It is important to include a variety of healthy ingredients in the diet.
Fresh, simple ingredients are best. Processing can change the nutritional content of foods.
People should check the labels of premade foods. While cocoa can be a good choice, for example, the products that contain cocoa often also contain sugar and fat.
A colorful plate will provide a range of antioxidants and other nutrients. Be sure to vary the colors of fruits and vegetables.
Foods to avoid
People who are following an anti-inflammatory diet should avoid or limit their intake of:
foods with added sugar or table salt
processed carbs, which are present in white bread, white pasta, and many baked goods
processed snack foods, such as chips and crackers
premade desserts, such as cookies, candy, and ice cream
In addition, people may find it beneficial to limit their intake of the following:
Gluten: Some people experience an inflammatory reaction when they consume gluten. A gluten-free diet can be restrictive, and it is not suitable for everyone. However, if a person suspects that gluten is triggering symptoms, they may wish to consider eliminating it for a while to see if their symptoms improve.
Nightshades: Plants belonging to the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes, seem to trigger flares in some people with inflammatory diseases. There is limited evidence to confirm this effect, but a person can try cutting nightshades from the diet for 2–3 weeks to see if their symptoms improve.
Carbohydrates: There is some evidence that a high carb diet, even when the carbs are healthy, may promote inflammation in most people. There is also a link between sugar and inflammation. However, some carb-rich foods, such as sweet potatoes and whole grains, are excellent sources of antioxidants and other nutrients.
Anti-inflammatory diet tips
It can be challenging to transition to a new way of eating, but the following tips may help:
Pick up a variety of fruits, vegetables, and healthful snacks during the weekly shop.
Gradually replace fast food meals with healthful, homemade lunches.
Replace soda and other sugary beverages with still or sparkling mineral water.
Other tips include:
Buy organic food when possible.
Talking to a natural health practitioner about supplements, such as cod liver oil or a multivitamin. Schedule an appointment to see which supplements help reduce inflammation in your body.
Incorporating 30 minutes of moderate exercise into the daily routine such as walking, swimming or yoga.
Practicing good sleep hygiene, as poor sleep can exacerbate inflammation. A natural health practitioner can help with this too.
An anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of some common health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
There is no single anti-inflammatory diet, but a diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthful fats may help manage inflammation.
Anyone who has a chronic health condition that involves inflammation should ask a natural health professional about the best dietary options and supplements are best for them.