What’s an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet is when you eat more foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory and avoid foods that trigger inflammation. If you have a condition that causes chronic inflammation, it may ease some of your symptoms. An anti-inflammatory diet is generally considered safe, but you’ll want to work with your doctor to figure out what's best for you.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet Types
Mediterranean diet. This plan focuses on:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil as your main fat source
- Fatty fish
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- Seasoning with herbs and spices
And less of these:
- Added sugars in food and drinks
- Ultra-processed foods
- Refined carbohydrates (like white bread or flour tortillas)
- Tropical oils like coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Saturated fats
- High-fat red or processed meats
DASH diet. Short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, this eating plan is similar to the Mediterranean diet. It has a greater focus on limiting salt and including more low-fat dairy products.
MIND diet. This diet mixes parts of the Mediterranean with the DASH diet. It’s considered a “brain-healthy” eating plan because it may guard against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The MIND diet emphasizes:
- Whole grains
- Vegetables, especially leafy greens
- Nuts and beans
- Poultry and fish
- Olive oil
At the same time, try to limit items such as:
- Pastries and other foods with added sugar
- Meat made from beef, pork, lamb
- Cheese and fried foods
- Butter or margarine
Vegetarian and vegan diet. These are plant-based diets that don’t include meat, fish, poultry, or seafood. A vegan diet goes further and avoids everything that comes from animals, including eggs, dairy products, and honey. Studies suggest long-term vegan and vegetarian diets may be associated with lower levels of body-wide inflammation compared to people who eat meat, as long as you swap highly-processed goods for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other nutrient-rich foods.
What Conditions Can an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Help?
There’s ongoing research in this area, but an anti-inflammatory diet may help with:
Autoimmune diseases. Anti-inflammatory foods may lower certain kinds of inflammatory proteins associated with health conditions where the immune system attacks healthy tissue. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). An anti-inflammatory diet for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease may ease symptoms of IBD.
Cardiovascular disease. Heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and stroke are less common in people who eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods.
Allergies and asthma. Genes and environment play a big part in. But an anti-inflammatory diet may curb your immune response to allergens, which lessens the severity of your symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Anti-inflammatory diets that lower your odds of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer may also protect the brain.
So what’s the fastest way to ease inflammation in your body?
There’s no single superfood that’ll work overnight. But you may lower inflammation over time if you can eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods every day, including:
Fruits and veggies. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain natural antioxidants and polyphenols. These are chemicals in plants that guard against inflammation. Research shows that vitamin K-rich leafy greens like spinach and kale, berries, and yellow and orange fruits and vegetables may be particularly protective.
Whole grains. The fiber in oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and other whole grains may help with inflammation.
Beans. They're high in fiber. Plus they're loaded with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory substances.
Tofu and tempeh. Soy-based products are high in polyunsaturated fat, fiber, calcium, and vitamins but low in saturated fat. Studies suggest people who eat soy-based foods have lower odds of inflammation-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
Nuts and legumes, Tree nuts like almonds and walnuts, along with peanuts, are rich in unsaturated fats, along with anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals.
Fish. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Spices
People have used plants as medicine for thousands of years, and some research suggests herbs and spices may target pathways that lead to inflammation. There’s ongoing research in this area.
Curcumin, the active compound in the spice turmeric, has the most anti-inflammatory research behind it. Studies show that 1,000 milligrams a day of this plant compound may ease pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis and protect the bones of people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Examples of other anti-inflammatory herbs and spices include:
- Black pepper
You can add flavor to your meals with dry or fresh herbs and spices. Some come in teas, oil extracts, powders, and pills. Talk to your doctor first before trying any of these plant compounds as high-dose supplements.
Along with the foods you eat, what you drink may impact your health. Examples of anti-inflammatory drinks include:
Tea. Green, white, and black teas have polyphenols, a strong antioxidant. Opt for green or white teas if you want the most anti-inflammatory effects. (Avoid drinking tea shortly before bedtime. Most have caffeine, which can interfere with sleep.)
Coffee. Like tea, coffee contains antioxidants and caffeine. Studies suggest people who drink it are less likely to have ongoing inflammation. Chemicals in coffee may also protect against other conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Too much caffeine can make you feel anxious or impact your sleep. But it’s generally considered safe for most people to drink 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day with a maximum of 400 milligrams of caffeine. Work with your doctor to find what’s best for you.
Green smoothies. Drink your fruits and vegetables. Blend berries along with leafy greens like spinach and kale with ice and non-dairy or low-fat milk to get an anti-inflammatory boost.
Water. The amount of hydration you need depends on many factors, including your body size and activity levels. But in general, drink when you’re thirsty.
Foods That Cause Inflammation
These include foods with few nutrients that are often ultra-processed, fried, and high in added sugar, salt, or saturated fat. Think potato chips instead of potatoes.
Examples of inflammatory foods include:
Sweets, cakes, cookies, and soda. They aren’t dense in nutrients and they're easy to overeat. This can lead to weight gain, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol (all related to inflammation). Sugar causes your body to release inflammatory messengers called cytokines. It’s best to avoid or limit food and drinks with added sugars, including agave and honey, if possible.
Red and processed meat. Red meat comes from cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. It includes things like burgers and steaks. Along with processed meat like bacon, hot dogs, and sausage, these meats have a lot of pro-inflammatory saturated fat.
Butter, whole milk, and cheese. These foods tend to be high in saturated fat, unlike low-fat dairy products.
Fried foods. Some vegetable oils like corn oil, safflower oil, and soybean oil are high in omega-6 fatty acids. You need some omega-6s, but if you get too much, you throw off the balance between omega-6s and omega-3s in your body and end up with more inflammation.
Anything with trans fats. These often show up on packaged food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils.” A diet high in trans fats can raise LDL cholesterol and your chances of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Gluten-containing foods like wheat, rye, and barley. They aren’t harmful to everyone. But people who have celiac disease have an immune reaction when they eat gluten, and they have to avoid this protein completely. Gluten may also promote inflammation in folks with a non-celiac gluten or wheat sensitivity.
Alcohol. Light or moderate drinking may lower certain types of inflammation. But if you drink more than a glass of wine or beer a day, the opposite may happen. Ask your doctor how much alcohol, if any, is safe for you.
Tips for Anti-Inflammatory Diet
You can start by talking to your doctor. They can refer you to a dietitian or nutritionist who’ll help you fit an anti-inflammatory eating plan into your daily routine.
Other tips include:
- Slowly add anti-inflammatory foods into your diet.
- Swap processed snacks or desserts for whole foods like fruit and nuts.
- Pick colorful fruits and veggies to get the most anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
- Opt for sparkling water instead of soda or other sugary drinks.
- Ask your doctor if supplements are right for you.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet Risks
- If you have a low income, you may not be able to afford fresh fruits and vegetables or other anti-inflammatory foods.
- You might have trouble making anti-inflammatory meals every day if you’re not used to cooking.
- An anti-inflammatory diet may help you maintain a healthy body size, but it’s not a weight-loss plan. You could gain extra fat if you eat more calories than you burn.
- Some types of anti-inflammatory foods come with health risks if you’re allergic to them, including whole grains, fish, eggs, lactose, or nuts.
- You may have more bloating or gas if you aren’t used to eating high-fiber foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- If you follow an anti-inflammatory vegan diet, it can be more of a challenge to get all of your vitamins and nutrients. A dietitian can help you round out your eating plan.
Risks of Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process that helps you fight germs and heal from an injury or infection. But inflammation that never goes away can hurt your body or make you sick.
Chronic inflammation is linked to several diseases such as:
- Heart disease
- Metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Autoimmune conditions
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia
Remedies to Reduce Inflammation
Along with a nutrient-rich diet, there are other steps you can take to guard against long-term inflammation. An anti-inflammatory lifestyle includes the following healthy habits:
- Treat health problems that cause chronic inflammation.
- Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI).
- Try to exercise 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Limit alcohol to 1 drink a day or less.
- Manage stress with meditation or other relaxation techniques.
- Aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night.
Tell your doctor if you have trouble adopting anti-inflammatory habits, especially if you can’t manage stress or get good sleep. They can refer you to health professionals who can help.
An anti-inflammatory diet may lower your odds of chronic inflammation and diseases. While more research is needed, there’s some evidence it may lessen symptoms caused by conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
There isn’t a specific food or type of anti-inflammatory diet that works best for everyone. Your best bet is to follow an eating plan that includes a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats, and other plant-based foods.
Along with a healthy diet, it’s important to adopt healthy habits that include regular exercise, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and working with your doctor to manage health conditions that may cause or worsen inflammation.
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about the anti-inflammatory diet:
What can you eat on an anti-inflammatory diet?
- Fruits and veggies
- Whole grains
- Tofu and tempeh
- Nuts and legumes
- Green smoothies
- Herbs and spices
What is the fastest way to reduce inflammation in the body?
There is no magic bullet that works overnight. You can lower inflammation over time by eating foods rich in nutrients.
What are six anti-inflammatory foods?
Berries, fatty fish, nuts, leafy greens, oatmeal, and olive oil can all be part of an anti-inflammatory diet. But it’s best to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
What meat is anti-inflammatory?
The Mediterranean diet includes anti-inflammatory omega-3 rich fatty fish. The DASH diet allows poultry (chicken and turkey) because eating moderate amounts of lean meat is less likely to boost inflammation in the body compared to high-fat red and processed meats.