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  • Jessica Lechman, RD and Nicole Rubenstein, MS, RD, CSSD, CDE

Eating to Reduce Inflammation

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Inflammation is a vital part of our body’s immune response. Inflammation helps protect our bodies through a number of chemical reactions, a few of these involving the ability to fight off infections, to increase white blood cell production to heal injuries or repair damaged tissues, and to generate pain to alert our body that something is wrong. However, a chronic low-grade inflammatory state is also characteristic of several different medical conditions.

A few of the medical conditions linked to chronic inflammation include:

· Metabolic Syndrome

· Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

· Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

· Cardiovascular Disease

· Arthritis

· Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis)

· Asthma

· Cancer

· Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

If you are concerned that you might have too much inflammation, you should inform your doctor of such concerns. A common test that can be done involves measuring the level of C-reactive protein that is present in your blood. High levels of C-reactive protein signify chronic inflammation accompanied by oxidative stress. The inflammation triggered by this oxidative stress is the cause of many of these chronic diseases.

Increase Anti-Inflammatory Food Intake

The standard American diet is rich in processed foods, red meats, and low in fruits and vegetables, therefore making it a pro-inflammatory diet. It can also tend to be high in processed food consumption, which is a huge concern for inflammation. Processed foods can alter the bacteria that live in our gut, which may cause an interaction with our immune system that leads to chronic inflammation. In addition to this, high consumption of these foods is associated with a higher intake of calories, salt, fat, and sugar. This creates a higher likelihood of weight gain, which is itself a risk factor for inflammation.

Foods that may heighten inflammation include:

· Refined carbohydrates: white bread, pastries, pastas

· French fries and other fried foods

· Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages

· Red meat: burgers, steaks

· Processed meat: hot dogs, sausage

· Frozen foods: pizza

· Margarine, shortening, and lard

Foods to incorporate into our diets to reduce inflammation include:

· Cold water fish: salmon, herring, tuna

· Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower

· Nuts: walnuts, almonds

· Onions

· Plant-derived oils: olive oil, avocado oil

· Fruits: watermelon, berries, cherries, apples, and oranges

· Whole grains

· Spices: ginger, rosemary, turmeric, oregano, cayenne, cloves, and nutmeg

There are a lot of anti-inflammatory foods that you can easily incorporate into your everyday lifestyle. Commonly, a large majority of these foods are found in diets like the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet. The dietary patterns involved in these diets involve an elevated intake of vegetables, green leaves, whole grain cereals, fruits, nuts, fish and olive oil, along with a low consumption in the common pro-inflammatory foods. Both of these diets are associated with an improved weight control and lower inflammation.

Mediterranean Diet:

  • Core foods to enjoy every day: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts and healthy fats such as olive oil

  • Twice weekly servings of fish and seafood.

  • Moderate portions of dairy products

  • Limit intake of red meats and sweets.

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet:

· Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains

· Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils

· Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils

· Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.

Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition Tips

1) Increase fruit and vegetable intake

The more colorful your plate is, the better. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants and the protective compounds found in plants. A good goal to strive for is to consume a minimum of 4-5 cups every day. When consumed on a daily basis, they are capable of reducing oxidative stress and low-grade inflammation.

2) Incorporate more nuts

Nuts are high in “healthy” fats (monounsaturated and omega 3 fats) and fiber, therefore having a positive effect on inflammation, along with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Due to their fat content, however, nuts and nut butters are higher in calories and portion sizes should be kept small.

3) Eat low glycemic load

Foods with a low glycemic load involve complex carbohydrates that are also rich in proteins, fats, and fiber to help prevent the body from breaking them down as quickly, ultimately keeping blood sugar and lipid levels more stable. Examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, starchy vegetables, and whole fruits.

4) Add Fiber

Diets high in fiber help to decrease inflammation. Fiber works to slow the digestion of carbohydrates, which can help to regulate blood sugar levels and keeps you full longer. Whole grains, beans, lentils, and peas are all great sources of fiber. Switching from fruit juices to eating whole fruits is another way to increase your fiber intake.

5) Choose whole grains

Whole-grains are more nutrient-dense than refined-grains and contain many more vitamins and minerals. Whole grains also contain more fiber, which helps to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. Steel-cut oats, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread are a few good sources.

6) Limit refined carbohydrates

Foods high refined starches (white flour, white rice, white bread) and added sugars (white or brown sugar, soda, energy drinks) are less nutrient-dense foods that promote inflammatory symptoms such as weight gain. In addition, they are very easily broken down by the body, which can cause large spikes and elevated blood glucose and lipid levels.

7) Limit red meat

Especially limit high-fat meat, such as prime rib, bacon, and sausage. Processed meats, like bologna or hot dogs, are also going to be higher in saturated fat and should be limited. Consuming proteins of plant origin and white meats may positively influence low-grade inflammation. Substitute fish, poultry or beans for red meat when possible. Eggs, legumes, and fat-free Greek yogurt are also quality sources of protein, as well as additional sources of calcium, vitamin D, probiotics and unsaturated fat.

8) Choose monounsaturated and omega 3 fats

Incorporating more monounsaturated and omega 3 fats into your diet, while keeping saturated fat intake low has been shown to display positive effects on the inflammatory state. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Good sources of omega 3 fats are found in wild salmon and tuna, walnuts, and ground flaxseed.

Ultimately, a balanced and varied diet, rich in natural foods and with the least number of processed foods, is capable of reducing the low-grade inflammation and associated diseases.

Anti-Inflammatory Supplements

1) Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat that our bodies cannot make, so we must obtain it from dietary sources or supplements. Therefore, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids is especially important if you are vegan and may not be getting enough through sources like fatty fish in the diet. You may want to consider taking a supplement if you are not getting 2-3 servings of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet each week. If you are on a blood thinner, consult with you doctor before adding fish oil supplements.

2) Curcumin

Curcumin is a substance in turmeric that gives this spice its yellow hue. Curcumin-containing supplements may yield anti‐inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that curcumin can play a beneficial role in certain conditions like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and fatty liver disease. You can incorporate it into your diet by either using it as a spice in cooking that can be found in other products as well, or through the supplemental form. Curcumin can interact with some medications, so be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new supplements.

3) Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is linked to increased inflammation. Good sources of magnesium come from dark leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for Mg is 320 mg/day and 420 mg/d for women and men over age 31. Intake beyond this amount does not provide an additional benefit. If you are unable to get this recommended amount through your diet, a supplement is recommended.


Minihane AM, Vinoy S, Russell WR, et al. Low-grade inflammation, diet composition and health: current research evidence and its translation. Br J Nutr. 2015;114(7):999-1012. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002093.

Hussain T, Tan B, Yin Y, Blachier F, Tossou MC, Rahu N. Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: What Polyphenols Can Do for Us? Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:7432797. doi:10.1155/2016/7432797.

Brenda Kelly Souza Silveira, Thatianne Moreira Silva Oliveira, et al. "Dietary Pattern and Macronutrients Profile on the Variation of Inflammatory Biomarkers: Scientific Update", Cardiology Research and Practice, vol. 2018, Article ID 4762575, 18 pages, 2018.

Griffiths K, Aggarwal BB, Singh RB, Buttar HS, Wilson D, De Meester F. Food Antioxidants and Their Anti-Inflammatory Properties: A Potential Role in Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer Prevention. Diseases. 2016; 4(3):28.

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