Looking for natural ways to reduce inflammation in your body? Check out my dietitian-approved anti-inflammatory foods list and free shopping guide!
Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet is a great way to reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to health problems ranging from arthritis to heart disease, so taking action is essential. Luckily, plenty of tasty and nutritious foods can help combat inflammation. Consider adding these top anti-inflammatory foods to your diet for optimal health.
Before I share my top anti-inflammatory foods list and meal plan, let’s discuss what inflammation is and how you can fight it with foods and lifestyle.
What is inflammation?
You may remember having a cut, sprain, or sore throat. The area feels painful and hot and looks red and swollen. These are telltale signs of inflammation. Inflammation is a natural and essential process that your body uses to defend itself from infections and heal injured cells and tissues.
Inflammation is sometimes compared to a fire. It produces specific biochemicals that can destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses, increase blood flow to areas that need it, and clean up debris. So it can be a good thing. But, sometimes, having too much of a good thing is possible.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
There are two kinds of inflammation: acute and chronic. Let’s take a look at each type.
Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s like a flaming fire that produces the painful, red, hot, swollen symptoms described above. When inflammation is acute, it’s usually at high levels in a small localized area in response to an infection or some damage to the body. The inflammatory response is needed for proper healing and injury repair.
When your cells detect infection or damage, they send out warning signals to call over your immune system to help out. For example, your immune system sends over many white blood cells to help fight off invading pathogens and clean up damage so you can heal.
Symptoms of acute inflammation may need short-term treatment, such as pain relievers or cold compresses. More serious symptoms like fever, severe pain, or shortness of breath may need medical attention.
In general, acute inflammation disappears after the damage is healed, often within days or hours. Acute inflammation is the “good” kind because it does an essential job and then quiets itself down.
Chronic inflammation is different. It’s more of the slow-burning and smoldering type of fire. This type of inflammation can exist throughout your whole body at lower levels. This means the symptoms aren’t localized to one area that needs it. Instead, they can appear gradually and last much longer—months or even years. This is the “bad” kind of inflammation.
- Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
- Allergies and asthma
- Autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s disease, thyroid disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic pain
- Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Lung disease (emphysema)
- Mood disorders (anxiety, depression)
- Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome)
- Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s)
How does chronic inflammation begin? It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then, instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent.
Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight gain.
Diet Tips for Reducing Chronic Inflammation
Research shows that reducing inflammation via lifestyle and diet can lower the risk of several of these conditions, including autoimmune disease (3), Alzheimer’s disease (4), cardiovascular disease (5), and more.
Medications help lower inflammation to treat some conditions such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, several lifestyle changes—including a healthy diet—can be very helpful in preventing and scaling down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body.
“For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases.
An estimated 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet. So the good news is we have many diet and lifestyle tools in our anti-inflammatory tool chest.
What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
If you search for “what is an anti-inflammatory diet,” you’ll likely encounter a variety of diets, including the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND, all of which are great options for getting started. They all include many delicious high-fiber, anti-inflammatory whole foods and antioxidant-rich foods you can enjoy daily.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods List: What to Eat More Of
Anti-Inflammatory Foods List: Vegetables
All veggies are great, but make lots of room for the following colorful, phytonutrient-rich vegetables:
- Bell peppers
- Cruciferous vegetables (i.e., broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower.)
- Leafy greens (i.e., arugula, collard greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard)
- Sweet potatoes
Anti-Inflammatory Foods List: Whole Grains
Fiber-rich whole grains are a delicious component of an anti-inflammatory diet. Whether you consume a gluten-free diet or not, there are many options to choose from. Gluten-containing grains are marked with an * below:
Anti-Inflammatory Foods List: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These polyunsaturated fats can help reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in seafood, algae, nuts, and seeds. If you don’t eat fatty fish regularly, check with your dietitian or qualified healthcare provider about supplementation.
- Algae oil
- Chia Seeds
- Hemp seeds
- SMASH fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Herring, Sardines)
Anti-Inflammatory Foods List: Other Healthy Fats
In addition to omega-3 fats, you’ll want to include heart-healthy monounsaturated fats like:
- Avocadoes and avocado oil
- Olives and extra-virgin olive oil
- All nuts and seeds, in addition to those mentioned earlier that are rich in omega-3 fats.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods List: Herbs, Spices, & Boosters
Most of these are low-calorie, and many have anti-inflammatory effects. Herbs, spices, and other “boosters” rich in anti-inflammatory compounds and flavanols to help fight free radicals include (6)
- Black pepper
- Chili peppers
- Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
- Dark chocolate (70% + cacao, low sugar)
- Tea (black, oolong, white, and green)
In addition to all these anti-inflammatory foods, round out your meals with lean proteins. These can be plant-based, animal-based, or both. Protein is satiating and helps maintain muscle mass.
Try to space it throughout the day, aiming for 20-30+ grams of lean protein per meal. Keep in mind your total needs will depend on your age, activity level, and health goals. Choose from:
- Beans & lentils (rich in fiber to help fill you up & keep your gut microbiome in tip-top shape!
- Cottage cheese (low or non-fat)
- Greek or Skyr yogurt (low or non-fat)
- Kefir (low or non-fat)
- Poultry (choose skinless chicken and turkey)
- Soy (choose organic edamame, soy milk, tofu, and tempeh)
Inflammatory Foods List: What to Eat Less Of
When discussing what foods to limit, I always stress “what to eat less of” vs. “what to eliminate,” as the only foods you should completely eliminate, IMO, are foods you have allergies or sensitivities to.
In my case, I avoid entirely gluten-containing foods, as I discovered I have non-celiac wheat/gluten sensitivity through an elimination diet trial. That being said, there is no evidence that everyone with inflammation needs to cut gluten from their diet. Still, research suggests minimizing the following foods to help ease inflammation:
- Foods made from refined grains, including white bread, crackers, cookies, etc. (7)
- Saturated fats and trans fats such as lard & shortening; coconut oil; full-fat dairy products; fatty cuts of red meat and pork-it’s ok to eat these occasionally, but in general, choose leaner cuts of red meat or wild game meats. (8)
- Other highly processed foods with large amounts of sugar, salt, artificial colors, and additives. When in doubt, read labels and choose products with ingredients you would cook with at home. (9)
- High-sugar foods and drinks, including soda, candy, and other desserts. (10)
Put It Into Practice! Free Anti-Inflammatory Foods List
Sign up for my newsletter and get your free anti-inflammatory shopping list. Start adding one or two of these delicious foods to your diet daily. Keep it up, and you’ll soon be on your way to lowering inflammation and living your healthiest life.
Sign up for my newsletter & get your free shopping list!
And if you need more help, inspiration, and motivation to get started eating an anti-inflammatory diet, I’d love to help! Here’s how…
- Join my Eat More Plants Challenge! It’s so much fun!
- Try out my customizable anti-inflammatory meal plan!
- Book a one-on-one coaching call!
- Consider genetic nutrition testing to discover how your DNA impacts your risk for inflammation and get a personalized nutrition, lifestyle, and supplementation plan for optimal health.
P.S. Looking for anti-inflammatory diet recipes? Start here!
Did you enjoy this post?
Please leave your comments or questions! And, please share this post with your friends and family-I truly appreciate your support!