What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

Learn more about what inflammation actually is, what an anti-inflammatory diet looks like, and get a few healthy anti-inflammatory recipes in this guide!

I feel like the words “inflammation” and “inflammatory” are everywhere.

Whether it’s an article talking about ways to reduce chronic pain or health claims for food products, we all seem to be in search of ways to reduce inflammation in our bodies. 

But what actually is inflammation? And what foods help reduce inflammation in the body? Let’s take a look!  

What is inflammation? 

Despite sounding scary, inflammation is actually an important process as it’s part of the body’s natural defense mechanism. 

While there’s a much more precise, scientific explanation for what happens, the general gist is that when something potentially harmful is in the body (like a virus or toxin), the immune system (specifically white blood cells) acts to remove the substance and start the healing process. 

This is known as acute inflammation, and it’s associated with symptoms including heat, pain, redness, and swelling. While it can be severe, acute inflammation generally only lasts for about two weeks. 

In summary, acute inflammation is important for keeping us healthy. 

However, chronic inflammation can have negative consequences for our health 

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is when this acute response morphs into a more low-level, lingering inflammatory state. 

This can happen for several reasons, including: 

  • When the immune system is unable to clear the original cause of the acute response.
  • Presence of an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system is attacking healthy tissue. 
  • Recurrent episodes of acute inflammation.
  • Repeated exposure to toxins, chemicals, or other types of irritants. 
  • Smoking, obesity, psychological stress, alcohol, and trans fat and high sugar intake, have all also been linked with increasing chronic inflammation in the body. 

And overtime, being in a constant state of inflammation can damage healthy cells, organs, tissues, and even our DNA. 

This can then further snowball into developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, obesity, certain types of cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

How can we decrease chronic inflammation? 

Okay, enough doom and gloom. Let’s talk about lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce levels of chronic inflammation in your body: 

  • Eating a diet focused on mostly whole, minimally-processed foods.
  • Exercising regularly. 
  • Getting adequate sleep (think quantity and quality!)
  • Not smoking.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. 
  • Managing stress.

What does an anti-inflammatory diet look like? 

Glass of healthy vanilla mint smoothie with chocolate chips

So, when we’re talking about an anti-inflammatory diet, this includes eating more foods that can help protect against and fight chronic inflammation due to their content of antioxidants and/or healthy fats, especially monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Antioxidants: essentially, antioxidants are naturally-occurring compounds found in plants that help protect our cells against damage caused by free radicals (compounds that can cause serious harm if their levels become too high in your body).

    Common antioxidants you may have heard of include:
    • Vitamins A, C and E
    • Flavonoids — found in tea, almost all fruits and vegetables, red wine, and cocoa. 
    • Anthocyanins — found in blue/purple fruits and vegetables including blueberries, blackberries, plums, purple cabbage, eggplant, and purple grapes.
    • Curcumin — found in turmeric 
    • Lycopene — found in red fruits like tomatoes, watermelon, and guava. 
    • Lutein and Zeaxanthin (important for eye health) — found mostly in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach.
  • Omega-3’s: these are essential fats (a.k.a fats that our bodies can’t make themselves so we have to get in the diet). One of the major roles of omega-3’s is to help reduce inflammation in the body. Good sources of them include fish (especially oily fish like salmon), hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. 

Now, an anti-inflammatory diet is going to look a bit different for every individual. Especially as some individuals may have food allergies or intolerances to foods that would otherwise be perfectly healthy to enjoy. 

But here’s a general idea of the types of foods to focus on for helping reduce and protect against chronic inflammation. 

One pan turmeric chicken

List of foods to eat more of on an anti-inflammatory diet:

  • Fruits and Vegetables, especially leafy greens, berries, cherries, and cruciferous veggies (like cauliflower and brussels sprouts).
  • Beans and lentils, ideally soaked and even sprouted.
  • Nuts and seeds, including chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp hearts, almonds, and walnuts. 
  • Oily fish, like salmon. 
  • Healthy fats like those from avocados and extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Spices, especially ginger and turmeric. 
  • Fresh or dried herbs.
  • Green tea.
  • Natural sources of probiotics, like kimchi and unsweetened yogurt.

Red wine and dark chocolate are also rich in antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. Of course, if you don’t drink, there’s no need to start. 

List of foods to eat less of to reduce inflammation: 

  • Foods high in added sugar.
  • Refined carbs.
  • Highly processed foods.
  • Foods with trans fat.
  • Foods high in saturated fat.
  • Excessive alcohol: limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women.
  • Processed meats: bacon, hot dogs, sausages, pre-packaged lunch meats, peperoni, summer sausage, ham, jerky. 

So is it okay to have these foods every once and awhile? Absolutely. The focus should be on eating MORE whole, minimally processed foods.

However, if you have an actual allergy or intolerance to a certain food, such as lactose-intolerance, then definitely put it on your “do not eat” list. 

Dark chocolate amaranth pudding

Anti-inflammatory diet recipe ideas

Want to start making more anti-inflammatory recipes? Below are a few to get you started with!

Easy anti-inflammatory breakfast recipes: 

Anti-inflammatory lunch and dinner recipes:

Healthy anti-inflammatory dessert recipes:

Anti-inflammatory snack and beverage recipes:

anti-inflammatory diet guide

The information contained in this website is not intended to recommend the self-management of health problems or wellness. It is not intended to endorse or recommend any particular type of medical treatment. Should any reader have any healthcare-related questions, promptly call or consult your physician or healthcare provider. No information contained in this website should be used by any reader to disregard medical and/or health-related advice or provide a basis to delay a consultation with a physician or a qualified healthcare provider. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products discussed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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I’m Kelli MS, RD. As a foodie with a background in nutrition research, I’m a firm believer that what we eat affects nearly every aspect of our wellbeing, and that food should taste freaking delicious.

Welcome to New Mind Nutrition!

My name is Kelli McGrane, and I’m a Denver-based registered dietitian with a Master’s degree in nutrition.

As a foodie with a background in nutrition research, I’m a firm believer that what we eat affects nearly every aspect of our wellbeing, and that food should taste freaking delicious.

My goal with New Mind is to help you find balance in both your mind and body through nutrition research and whole foods-based recipes.

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