Eating less processed food, alcohol, and red meat and consuming more plant-based foods may help manage inflammation in some instances.
Anti-inflammatory diets are typically not specific regimens but rather eating styles. The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are examples of anti-inflammatory diets.
Dietary changes may help manage both short- and long-term inflammation in many cases, although its efficacy as a management tool will depend on a person’s overall health and the causes of inflammation.
For example, chronic inflammation can occur due to psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma. While diet changes may help manage some symptoms, it may not be effective in more severe cases.
Some foods contain ingredients that can trigger or worsen inflammation. Meanwhile, other foods contain compounds – such as antioxidants – that may, in fact, reduce it.
The role of antioxidants
An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are often good sources of antioxidants.
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. Free radicals can lead to cell damage. This damage increases the risk of inflammation and can contribute to various diseases.
An anti-inflammatory diet favors foods that are rich in antioxidants over those that increase the production of free radicals.
Types of anti-inflammatory diet
Many popular diets already adhere to anti-inflammatory principles. For example, both the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and fats that are good for the heart.
Learn more about the Mediterranean diet here.
An anti-inflammatory diet may serve as a complementary therapy for many conditions that become worse with chronic inflammation.
The following conditions involve inflammation:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Crohn’s disease
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- cardiovascular disease.
Eating a diet that is rich in antioxidants may also help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
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
The authors of a 2017 article also recommended the following:
- raw or moderately cooked vegetables
- legumes, such as lentils
- spices, such as ginger and turmeric
- probiotics and prebiotics
- some herbs
It is worth remembering that no single food will boost a person’s health. It is important to include a variety of healthful ingredients in the diet.
People who are following an anti-inflammatory diet should avoid or limit their intake of:
- processed foods
- foods with added sugar or salt
- unhealthful oils
- 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
- excess alcohol
Some people may also have intolerances to specific foods, meaning that eating them can cause inflammation and other adverse effects. Common intolerances include:
- nightshade vegetables
- cruciferous vegetables
Can a vegetarian diet reduce inflammation?
A vegetarian or vegan diet may be one option for people looking to reduce inflammation as these diets typically priortize natural, whole foods while reducing saturated fat intake.
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However, large, controlled studies into the anti-inflammatory mechanisms of vegan and vegetarian diets are lacking, and further research is neccesary to fully explore their positive effects.
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:
- Talking to a healthcare professional about supplements, such as cod liver oil or a multivitamin.
- Incorporating 30 minutes of moderate exercise into the daily routine.
- Practicing good sleep hygiene, as poor sleep can worsen inflammation.
Below are frequently asked questions relating to diet and inflammation.
What do you eat on an anti-inflammatory diet?
Anti-inflammatory diets typically prioritize, whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, while limiting processed food, alcohol, and red meat.
What is the fastest way to reduce inflammation in the body?
No food will immediately reduce inflammation in the body when someone eats it. However, eating a balanced, broad diet of whole foods and grains is proven to reduce inflammatory markers as part of a balanced lifestyle.
What are the worst foods for inflammation?
The ‘worst’ foods for inflammation will depend on a person’s specific tolerances, diet habits, and overall health status. However, highly processed foods items high in sugar, saturated fats, and salt, and alcohol are common causes of inflammation via diet.
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 healthy fats may help manage inflammation.v
Anyone who has a chronic health condition that involves inflammation should ask a healthcare professional about the best dietary options for them.