If you have chronic inflammation, it can cause both daily and long-term problems. But lifestyle choices — including diet — can help.
Beyond the pain and inconvenience it causes, chronic inflammation also may contribute to serious health conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health. Conditions associated with inflammation include:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Multiple types of cancers.
- Metabolic syndrome.
The good news is that dietary choices can have a notable effect on systemic inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet could help you relieve symptoms and even prevent future diseases.
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What Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
There is no specific recommended diet to reduce inflammation. It’s also important to note that any type of diet that claims to reduce inflammation with any type of pills or supplements is likely not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and claims are not supported by research-based evidence. But in general, an anti-inflammatory diet means consuming foods that can control inflammation while minimizing those that can cause flare-ups.
Whole, unprocessed foods that are rich in nutrients are important components of anti-inflammatory diets. Meanwhile, you should limit foods that are processed and/or come with high amounts of added sugars.
What Are the Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet incorporates foods that reduce inflammation while steering you away from the ones that increase it. For many people struggling to calm internal inflammation, the potential benefits are well worth making the change.
Limiting inflammatory foods lowers your risk of the serious diseases mentioned above. It can ease symptoms of arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.
The right combination of factors can help offset weight gain, mood swings, and chronic pain. An anti-inflammatory diet is an important piece of that puzzle.
Foods That Reduce Inflammation
An anti-inflammatory diet contains many components that you’d expect to find in a normal diet. Foods that reduce inflammation include fruits and vegetables high in fiber, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals. Some nuts, herbs, and spices, along with fish, legumes, and more also can combat inflammation.
Try some of the following if you’re looking to follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Leafy greens. Think collard greens, mustard greens, kale, spinach, turnip greens, and Swiss chard. If you want to find creative ways to incorporate more of these rich, dark greens into your diet, the USDA has a handy list of ideas.
- Green tea. Plant compounds called polyphenols are known anti-inflammatory agents. Green tea’s active ingredient is among the most effective of them all. It’s called epigallocatechin 3-gallate, or EGCG. According to the Arthritis Foundation, EGCG is up to 100 times stronger than vitamin C or E.
- Fruits. According to research published in the scientific journal Nutrients, berries, apples, grapes, and tomatoes — as well as other juicy fruits — contain quercetin, resveratrol, quercetin, and lycopene. These are powerful suppressants of inflammation.
- Fatty fish and fish oils. The omega-3 fatty acids found in seafoods like mackerel, salmon, and sardines support an anti-inflammatory diet. They can prevent or reduce joint pain. Aim for two or three servings per week, and consider boosting your intake with a quality fish oil supplement. Fish oil supplements can cause interactions with some medications, so talk to your doctor before starting a supplement.
- Nuts and seeds. Some nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and chia seeds provide fiber along with fats and proteins that break down into amino acids. Those amino acids help create antibodies, which in turn fight disease. Walnuts are also the only nuts that are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats found in fish.
- Legumes. Beans (pinto, black, red kidney, and garbanzo) and lentils are a good source of protein, fiber, folic acid. They also contain several key minerals, including magnesium — a key fighter against inflammation.
- Garlic, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. Many herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory properties. These four are among the most recommended ones. Swap out salt for these flavor boosters to make anti-inflammatory meals even healthier. Turmeric is especially helpful when used with black pepper and a small amount of healthy fats. Instead of just putting salt and pepper on eggs, use turmeric and pepper instead.
- Olive oil. According to the Arthritis Foundation, olive oil contains oleocanthal, a compound that can lower inflammation. It also includes monounsaturated fat, which can lower your LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) levels. Extra virgin olive oil is best. Try incorporating olive oil into salad dressings or as a cooking oil.
Instead of concentrating on one or two good ingredients, aim to incorporate a variety of them into your meals every day.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Adding healthy, nutrient-rich foods to your daily fare is great. But you’ll also likely need to cut back on inflammation’s notorious troublemakers:
- Refined white sugar.
- High fructose corn syrup.
- Processed meats and refined carbohydrates.
- Canned goods that are high in sodium.
- Foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, like fried foods.
Cutting back on ultra-processed foods — those foods that you can find most often in a package — is important. Ultra-processed foods are high in unhealthy fats, added sugar, and sodium. All of those are bad for inflammation and for your overall health. According to a 2019 study in the journal BMJ, higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with a higher risk of mortality.
If you’re looking for guidance on healthy diets, including anti-inflammatory, UPMC Nutrition Services can help. We provide diet and nutrition resources and counseling, medical nutrition therapy, and more. To find a nutrition expert close to you, visit our website.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
About UPMC Nutrition Services
Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.