How to follow an anti-inflammatory diet: 6 foods to kickstart healthy eating and 6 foods to avoid (2024)

Scientists have recently started to realize just how dangerous inflammation is, finding links to deadly diseases like certain cancers and Alzheimer's.

Doctors often treat chronic inflammation with medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen, steroids, and supplements like fish oil. But recent research shows that one of the best treatments for inflammation may be the food you eat. Enter the anti-inflammatory diet.


What is an anti-inflammatory diet?

The anti-inflammatory diet is less like a diet with restrictive meal plans and more like a guide for eating nutrient-dense, unprocessed or minimally processed foods and a lot of vegetables, much like the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet, says Mari Ricker, MD, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Arizona.

"Inflammation is not always a bad thing; our bodies use inflammation as a signal for healing," says Mari Ricker, MD, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Arizona. This is what you see when an infected cut turns red and swells up.

However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it is linked to dangerous health conditions like certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. That's where an anti-inflammatory diet comes into play.

It's designed to reduce chronic inflammation in your body, a condition where your immune system stays constantly on high alert and ultimately may damage or impair normal tissues and cells. By calming the inflammation, you can mitigate this damage and reduce your risk of diseases.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet means eating whole foods with antioxidants like vitamin C in oranges and the lycopene in tomatoes. You don't have to ban inflammatory foods like red meat outright but you should only eat them in small amounts.

Below are six foods that may help reduce inflammation and are part of a healthy anti-inflammatory diet.


1. Fatty fish

The omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel have anti-inflammatory properties and are needed to balance out omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause inflammation.

2. Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil contains a special compound called oleocanthal which exhibits similar anti-inflammatory effects as ibuprofen.


3. Fruits and veggies rich in vitamin C

Multiple studies have found that vitamin C can reduce certain substances in the body that can cause inflammation including high-sensitivity C-reactive proteins and interleukin 6.

Foods rich in vitamin C include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, peppers, and fruits like kiwis and oranges.


4. Nuts

Researchers have found that nutrients in nuts, including omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and magnesium can help lower inflammation.

5. Berries

A 2015 review, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, found that berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries contain compounds that help prevent inflammation and heart disease, as well as lowering the risk of certain cancers risk.

Other berries that are anti-inflammatory include cranberries and blackberries. Like most fruits, it's best to eat berries whole instead of blending them into a smoothie or drinking them as juice.


6. Tomatoes

Researchers have found time and again that the lycopene in tomatoes is an effective anti-inflammatory that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Though scientists are still trying to understand exactly how lycopene helps reduce inflammation.

Six foods to avoid

The anti-inflammatory diet also focuses on limiting foods that contribute to body-wide inflammation. These foods include:

  1. Processed carbs like white bread and white rice
  2. Fatty cuts of red meat like steak and bacon
  3. Fried foods like onion rings and chicken nuggets
  4. Sugary drinks like soda and juice
  5. Alcohol
  6. High-fat dairy like sour cream and ice cream


Insider's takeaway

An anti-inflammatory diet can decrease your heart disease risk, whether you are overweight or not.

Ricker says that the diet is healthy and safe for most people to try. "There are very few people who cannot incorporate some aspect of the anti-inflammatory diet."

The anti-inflammatory diet is relatively easy to maintain and should be used throughout your life for best results, Ricker says. "To be successful in reducing inflammation this needs to be a lifestyle change. Changing the diet long term, not just for 3 to 6 months."

Madeline Kennedy

Madeline Kennedy is a health writer for Insider covering a wide range of topics including reproductive and sexual health, mental health, nutrition, and infectious disease. Before joining Insider, Madeline worked as a health news writer for Reuters, and a domestic violence therapist. She has a master's degree in social work from UPenn and is interested in the intersection of health and social justice.

How to follow an anti-inflammatory diet: 6 foods to kickstart healthy eating and 6 foods to avoid (2024)
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