Key points about the anti-inflammatory diet

Key points about the anti-inflammatory diet

The Power of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Managing Inflammation with Food

Inflammation is a common factor in many health conditions, and certain foods can exacerbate it. However, eating a well-balanced diet rich in plant-based foods, while reducing the consumption of processed foods, alcohol, and red meat, may help manage inflammation. For those with chronic inflammation, such as individuals with psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, or asthma, there is evidence that dietary choices can help alleviate symptoms. This article will delve deeper into the concept of an anti-inflammatory diet, discuss the benefits of antioxidants, explore different types of anti-inflammatory diets, and provide food recommendations and tips for adopting this eating style.

What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

An anti-inflammatory diet is not a rigid regimen but rather a style of eating that emphasizes certain foods while avoiding or limiting others. This approach favors fruits and vegetables, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, lean protein, healthful fats, and spices. It discourages the consumption of processed foods, red meats, and alcohol. The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are notable examples of anti-inflammatory diets.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Fresh, whole foods are the foundation of an anti-inflammatory diet, as they are less likely to trigger or worsen inflammation compared to sugary or processed foods. Many plant-based foods contain antioxidants, which help remove free radicals from the body. Free radicals, by-products of bodily processes, are naturally occurring but can be increased by external factors such as stress and smoking. These potentially harmful substances can damage cells, leading to inflammation and an increased risk of various diseases.

While the body produces some antioxidants, dietary antioxidants play a crucial role in removing toxic substances. It is important to note that an anti-inflammatory diet focuses on foods rich in antioxidants and discourages those that promote the production of free radicals. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, and fiber have been shown to reduce levels of inflammatory proteins in the body, as suggested by the Arthritis Foundation.

Types of Anti-Inflammatory Diets

Many existing popular diets already align with anti-inflammatory principles. For instance, both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats. Studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet, with its focus on plant-based foods and healthful oils, can reduce the impact of inflammation on the cardiovascular system.

Who can Benefit from an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

An anti-inflammatory diet can serve as a complementary therapy for managing conditions that worsen with chronic inflammation. Some of these conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, eosinophilic esophagitis, Crohn’s disease, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome refers to a collection of conditions that commonly occur together, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

The role of inflammation in these conditions has spurred interest in the potential benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet. Additionally, an antioxidant-rich diet may also help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Foods to Include in an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

To harness the potential benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet, focus on incorporating foods that are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and healthful fats. Some key foods to include are:

  • Oily fish, such as tuna and salmon
  • Fruits: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, cherries
  • Vegetables: kale, spinach, broccoli
  • Beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Fiber-rich foods

A 2017 article also recommends including raw or moderately cooked vegetables, legumes like lentils, spices such as ginger and turmeric, probiotics, prebiotics, tea, and certain herbs in the diet. It’s important to remember that no single food alone can boost overall health. Variety is essential, and fresh, unprocessed ingredients are generally the best choices for maximum nutritional content. Additionally, reading food labels is crucial to avoid hidden sugars and fats.

Foods to Avoid or Limit in an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

To fully embrace an anti-inflammatory diet, it is important to be mindful of foods that may increase inflammation. These should be avoided or limited in intake:

  • Processed foods
  • Foods with added sugar or salt
  • Unhealthy oils
  • Processed carbohydrates: white bread, white pasta, baked goods
  • Processed snack foods: chips, crackers
  • Premade desserts: cookies, candy, ice cream
  • Excess alcohol

There are also certain items that some individuals may benefit from limiting:

  • Gluten: While a gluten-free diet is not suited to everyone, some individuals experience an inflammatory reaction when consuming gluten. If suspected, eliminating gluten temporarily may help assess its impact on symptoms.
  • Nightshades: Nightshade family plants like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes can trigger flares in some individuals with inflammatory diseases. Although evidence is limited, excluding nightshades from the diet for a few weeks may provide insights into symptom improvement.
  • Carbohydrates: Some evidence suggests that a high-carb diet, even when comprised of healthful carbs, can promote inflammation in specific cases. However, it’s important to recognize that certain carb-rich foods like sweet potatoes and whole grains are excellent sources of antioxidants and other nutrients.

Can a Vegetarian Diet Reduce Inflammation?

Following a vegetarian-based diet may be an alternative for those seeking to reduce inflammation. A 2019 review of 40 studies found that people who adhere to a vegetarian diet tend to have lower levels of various inflammatory markers. Another study from 2017 showed that diets rich in animal products increase the risk of systemic inflammation and insulin resistance. A vegan diet was also linked to lower inflammation levels in a 2014 study.

Tips for Adopting an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Transitioning to an anti-inflammatory diet may require some adjustment. The following tips can help ease the process:

  • Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, and healthful snacks into your weekly shopping.
  • Gradually replace fast food meals with homemade, nutritious lunches.
  • Substitute soda and sugary beverages with still or sparkling mineral water.
  • Consult a healthcare professional for guidance on beneficial supplements, such as cod liver oil or a multivitamin.
  • Include at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise in your daily routine.
  • Prioritize good sleep hygiene, as poor sleep can aggravate inflammation.


Embarking on an anti-inflammatory diet can be a powerful way to manage inflammation and improve symptoms of common health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. While there is no single prescriptive anti-inflammatory diet, adopting a style of eating that prioritizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthful fats may yield positive results. Individuals with chronic health conditions that involve inflammation should consult a healthcare professional to determine the best dietary options for their specific needs.

Q: Is coffee acceptable on an anti-inflammatory diet?

A: Coffee contains antioxidants, such as polyphenols, which contribute to fighting free radicals in the body. Moderate consumption of coffee can be included in an anti-inflammatory diet. However, it is important to be mindful of what is added to coffee. Avoid pro-inflammatory additives like sugary creamers, syrups, and whipped cream. Instead, consider adding coconut milk, cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla extract, or a small amount of raw honey to create a delicious and healthful cup of coffee.

(Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D. Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.)