Foods to Eat on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Kale, sweet potatoes, walnuts, beans, blueberries, broccoli, and eggs

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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The anti-inflammatory diet is an eating plan that is thought to prevent or reduce chronic inflammation, a key risk factor for a variety of health problems. The typical anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.

This article explores what chronic inflammation is and how diet can counteract its harmful effects. It also lists some of the foods to eat and avoid as well as offering tips on how to build a healthy anti-inflammatory diet plan.

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body's normal response to infections, diseases, injuries, and anything it considers harmful. After the harm is neutralized, the inflammation is stopped and the body has time to heal itself.

Chronic inflammation is inflammation that persists for a long period of time. When this happens, it causes changes at the site of the inflammation and elsewhere in the body that can lead to a host of health problems.

There are many reasons why a person may have chronic inflammation. One example is obesity, in which excess fat tissue causes hormonal and immune system changes that create inflammation that affects the entire body.

Other causes of chronic inflammation include:

Over time, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Though these diseases can occur without chronic inflammation, severe chronic inflammation can cause them to develop 10 or more years earlier than would generally be expected.

Recap

Chronic inflammation is essentially "too much of a good thing." The persistent inflammatory stress can lead to changes in the body that contribute to the development of heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and other aging-related diseases.

Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Certain foods are known to cause inflammation in the body. One example is red meat, which contains a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fat is one of the substances, along with trans fat and refined sugar, that cause certain immune cells to release inflammatory proteins into the bloodstream.

Other foods do not trigger this effect and, in some cases, can reduce inflammation. This includes foods that are rich in substances called antioxidants. Antioxidants fight chemicals known as free radicals that cause long-term damage to cells and can increase inflammation,

Since our food choices influence the level of inflammation in our bodies, the anti-inflammatory diet is thought to curb chronic inflammation and help prevent conditions like heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. However, how much the diet can help is still unknown.

There is some evidence of a benefit. According to a 2016 study in the journal Endocrine, an anti-inflammatory diet led to a 37% decrease in inflammatory substances, such as C-reactive protein, in people with type 2 diabetes after just one year.

Other studies exploring variations of the anti-inflammatory diet, such as vegetable-rich diets or seafood-rich diets, have shown similar benefits, particularly in people with heart disease.

Recap

An anti-inflammatory diet is thought to help prevent conditions like heart disease, arthritis, and even cancer by reducing the level of inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of all of these diseases.

Foods to Eat

Research suggests that people who eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and fish have a reduced risk for inflammation-related diseases. Substances found in certain foods, especially antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, may also have anti-inflammatory effects.

Foods high in antioxidants include:

  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Avocados
  • Beans (such as red beans, pinto beans, and black beans)
  • Berries (such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
  • Broccoli
  • Cherries
  • Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale, spinach, and collard greens)
  • Nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Whole grains

Omega-3 fatty acids are "good fats" that may help protect against heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and other conditions. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Flaxseed
  • Oily fish (such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies)
  • Omega-3-fortified foods (including eggs and milk)
  • Walnuts

There is also evidence that certain herbs and spices, such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic, can help alleviate inflammation.

Recap

Foods that are rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids are key to the anti-inflammatory diet.

Foods to Avoid

Foods that increase inflammation include those that are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Although these fats are important to bone health, brain function, and metabolism (the conversion of food to energy), consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids can increase inflammation.

Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids include:

  • Dairy products (such as milk, cheese, butter, and ice cream)
  • Margarine
  • Meats
  • Peanuts
  • Vegetable oils (such as corn, safflower, soybean, peanut, and cottonseed oil)

To keep inflammation under control, it is important to balance your omega-6 fatty acids with your omega-3 fatty acids.

Food with a high glycemic index (GI) can also increase inflammation. These are foods like sugar and refined grains that raise your blood glucose (sugar) level too much and too quickly.

To help rein in inflammation, avoid sugary drinks, white bread, desserts, and processed foods. Instead, eat low-GI foods like chicken, whole grains, leafy greens, and non-starchy vegetables.

Recap

To help reduce inflammation, limit the amount of foods you eat that are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Also, choose foods with a low glycemic index that are less likely to raise your blood sugar and inflammation levels.

Tips and Advice

There is not one set eating plan for the anti-inflammatory diet. You can mix it up and even tailor it to your family's tastes and needs. But there are certain guidelines that can help you make healthy choices. Among them:

  • Eat five to nine servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables each day.
  • Limit your intake of foods high in omega-6 fatty acids, while increasing your consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Replace red meat with lean poultry, fish, beans, and lentils.
  • Swap margarine and vegetable oils for healthier fats like olive oil.
  • Replace refined grains like white bread, saltines, and pastries with fiber-rich whole grains like oats, quinoa, brown rice, and pasta.
  • Rather than seasoning your meals with salt, use anti-inflammatory herbs like garlic, ginger, and turmeric.

Meal Examples

Here are some examples of what you can eat on an anti-inflammatory diet:

  • Breakfast: A breakfast smoothie, chia bowl, or oatmeal
  • Lunch: A green salad with quinoa and vegetables, soup with vegetables and lentils, or grilled salmon
  • Snacks: A fresh blueberry fruit salad, apples and nut butter, walnuts, chia seed pudding, or guacamole with whole-grain crackers
  • Dinner: Skinless roast chicken breast, grilled mackerel on a three-bean salad, or stir-fried vegetables with brown rice
  • Beverages: A cup of ginger-turmeric tea, golden milk, green juice or smoothie, herbal tea, turmeric tea, or green tea

Summary

An anti-inflammatory diet is an eating plan that is thought to reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease, arthritis, COPD, and cancer. It involves eating foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation, while limiting food that can increase inflammation, such as high-glycemic-index foods and those rich in omega-6 fatty acids.

A Word From Verywell

The basic rules for an anti-inflammatory diet can be beneficial to anyone. If you don't know where to begin, speak with your doctor or a nutritionist.

But it's important to remember that diet alone cannot prevent or treat any health condition, whether it be high blood pressure or diabetes. It is just as important to exercise regularly, stop smoking, lose weight if needed, and take any medications your doctor prescribes as directed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are eggs an anti-inflammatory food?

    Yes. Eggs are a source of vitamin D, which has anti-inflammatory effects. They're also a good source of protein and B vitamins.

  • What foods are anti-inflammatory for arthritis?

    A Mediterranean diet can help curb the inflammation caused by arthritis. Fish, nuts, beans, fruits, vegetables, and olive oil have all been found to be beneficial in maintaining healthy joints.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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