What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

The human body uses inflammation to help fight illness and also protect areas from further harm. In most cases, inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process.

However, some medical conditions cause faulty inflammatory responses. These are called chronic inflammatory diseases.

One of the best measures a person can take to prevent or reduce inflammation is to try an anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet involves eating certain foods and avoiding others in order to minimize the symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases.

What is an anti-inflammatory diet?

vegan stew with chickpeas and vegetables, including tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers.

The anti-inflammatory diet includes nutrient-dense plant foods and avoids processed foods and meats.

An anti-inflammatory diet consists of foods that reduce inflammatory responses. This diet involves replacing sugary, refined foods with whole, nutrient-rich foods.

An anti-inflammatory diet also contains increased amounts of antioxidants, which are reactive molecules in food that reduce the number of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules in the body that may damage cells and increase the risk of certain diseases.

Many popular diets already follow anti-inflammatory principles. For example, the Mediterranean diet contains fish, whole grains, and fats that are good for the heart. Research has shown that this diet can reduce the effects of inflammation on the cardiovascular system.

What conditions can an anti-inflammatory diet help?

Doctors, dietitians, and naturopaths recommend anti-inflammatory diets as a complementary therapy for many conditions that are worsened by chronic inflammation.

An anti-inflammatory diet can help many conditions, including:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • psoriasis
  • asthma
  • eosinophilic esophagitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • colitis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • heart disease
  • lupus
  • Hashimoto’s disease

Additionally, eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce the risk of certain cancers, including colorectal cancer.

Foods to eat

Cherries and blueberries piled up.

Cherries and blueberries contain antioxidants, which may help to ease inflammation.

Good choices for a person following an anti-inflammatory diet include the following:

  • dark leafy greens, including kale and spinach
  • blueberries, blackberries, and cherries
  • dark red grapes
  • nutrition-dense vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower
  • beans and lentils
  • green tea
  • red wine, in moderation
  • avocado and coconut
  • olives
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, and almonds
  • cold water fish, including salmon and sardines
  • turmeric and cinnamon
  • dark chocolate
  • spices and herbs

Foods to avoid

The main foods that people following an anti-inflammatory diet should avoid include:

  • processed meats
  • sugary drinks
  • trans fats, found in fried foods
  • white bread
  • white pasta
  • gluten
  • soybean oil and vegetable oil
  • processed snack foods, such as chips and crackers
  • desserts, such as cookies, candy, and ice cream
  • excess alcohol
  • too many carbohydrates

Some people find that foods in the nightshades family, such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes, can trigger flares in some inflammatory diseases. There is limited evidence of this, but a person can try cutting nightshades from the diet for 2–3 weeks to see if their symptoms improve.

There is some evidence that suggests a high-carbohydrate diet, even when the carbs are healthful, may promote inflammation. Because of this, many people on an anti-inflammatory diet choose to reduce their carbohydrate intake.

Can a vegetarian diet reduce inflammation?

People considering an anti-inflammatory diet may also want to consider eliminating meat in favor of vegetarian protein sources or fatty fish.

Research suggests that people following a vegetarian diet have higher levels of plasma AA, a marker of overall health that is associated with lower levels of inflammation and heart disease.

A 2017 study found that eating animal products increased the risk of systemic inflammation, while another study suggests that reduced inflammation is one of the key benefits of a vegan diet.

Anti-inflammatory diet tips

Anti-inflammatory diets may be a big adjustment for people who tend to eat different kinds of food.

There are several things a person can do to make the transition to an anti-inflammatory diet easier, including:

  • eating a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • reducing the amount of fast food eaten
  • eliminating soda and sugary beverages
  • planning shopping lists to ensure healthful meals and snacks are on hand
  • carrying small anti-inflammatory snacks while on the go
  • drinking more water
  • staying within the daily calorie requirements
  • adding supplements, such as omega-3 and turmeric, to the diet
  • exercising regularly
  • getting the proper amount of sleep

What is inflammation?

Woman with asthma using inhaler outside

Conditions such as asthma, diabetes, arthritis, and psoriasis may be managed with an anti-inflammatory diet.

Inflammation is the body’s response to illnesses including infections or injuries. The body’s immune system sends an increased amount of white blood cells to the area fighting off the infection or injury.

Inflammation is not usually a bad thing — it is just the body trying to protect itself from further injury or illness by increasing the immune response in the area being threatened by bacteria or injury.

However, there are several chronic inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, psoriasis, and asthma that can cause the immune system to go into overdrive and attack healthy tissues.

In addition to taking any prescribed medications, a person with an inflammatory disease can try to reduce inflammation by making changes to their diet.

Also,

Anti-inflammatory diets promote a reduction in inflammation. A person may be able to reduce their body’s inflammatory response by implementing these healthful dietary changes.

Reducing inflammation may help a person feel more comfortable by alleviating some symptoms of inflammation.

Also, it may help the person avoid some of the potential health problems that chronic inflammation can cause or decrease the need for medication.

A dietitian can help a person develop a dietary plan to tackle a chronic inflammatory condition.

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