Interested in an anti-inflammatory diet?
Inflammation is an immune response to illness or injury. Normally, it’s protective, drawing more immune cells to the inflamed location so that healing can happen faster (1).
On the contrary, widespread, long-term inflammation can harm your health. For example, it’s been linked to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and many other health conditions (1, 2, 3).
Thankfully, you may be able to reduce your body’s level of inflammation through diet modifications. Thus, if you’re dealing with chronic inflammation, you may be interested in learning how to eat a more anti-inflammatory diet.
Here are some tips for eating an anti-inflammatory diet, along with a 7-day meal plan and some simple recipes to get you started.
Here are the building blocks of an anti-inflammatory diet. These foods should make up the bulk of what you eat.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of phytochemicals – a group of plant chemicals, many of which offer anti-inflammatory effects. Additionally, other nutrients found in plants, like vitamins and minerals, can have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
A good example is vitamin C, which is found in high amounts in most yellow, red, orange, and green fruits and vegetables (4, 5).
Vitamin C is a key player when it comes to immune health and can help regulate your body’s inflammatory response. High blood levels of vitamin C have been associated with a lower risk of certain health conditions, like heart disease and metabolic syndrome (4, 5, 6).
Potentially anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables include citrus fruits, berries, pomegranate, and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. These are rich in antioxidant pigments, like anthocyanins and carotenoids, that have protective effects (7, 8).
For instance, studies have shown that drinking orange juice can reduce inflammatory markers — for example after drinking it after a meal high in carbs and fat (9).
Another study in just over 1,000 women associated a higher cruciferous veggie intake with lower levels of inflammatory markers, and vice versa (10).
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables in a multitude of colors — including green, blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, and white — is an easy way to include these and many other anti-inflammatory compounds in your diet (7, 8 ).
Whole, minimally processed grains
Minimally processed whole grains — like whole wheat, quinoa, oats, and rice — are rich in carbs and fiber. Being plant foods, they also contain anti-inflammatory phytochemicals.
The fiber from these foods may similarly have anti-inflammatory effects.
Fiber is a prebiotic, meaning it functions as food for your healthy gut bacteria. These bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) when they metabolize prebiotics, and these SCFAs may help decrease inflammation (11, 12).
This is worth keeping in mind if you follow a low carb eating pattern and choose to avoid or eat smaller amounts of these foods.
Good protein sources include meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products like tofu and tempeh.
Some of these foods may provide anti-inflammatory effects, making them good to include with each meal. For example, salmon is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, while legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products contain phytochemicals and fiber (13).
Fermented soy products, like tempeh and natto, may also have some anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects thanks to the beneficial bacteria they contain (14).
Fats and oils
Healthy fats and oils contain several anti-inflammatory compounds and may provide a number of benefits that improve your overall health.
Olive oil, for example, is rich in anti-inflammatory oleic acid. It’s one of the key foods in the heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet (15).
Likewise, avocado oil contains some oleic acid and similar fatty acids. It has exhibited anti-inflammatory activity in several test-tube studies. For example, it may inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes known as COX 1 and COX 2 (16).
Finally, coconut oil — which is rich in saturated lauric acid — may also provide some anti-inflammatory benefits, especially when used instead of other types of oils like palm oil or butter (17, 18).
Coffee, green tea, and black tea are rich in various phytochemicals and antioxidants that may offer anti-inflammatory benefits.
For example, a type of green tea known as matcha has been shown to reduce inflammation in several mice studies (19, 20, 21).
In addition to the foods mentioned above, consider including probiotic-rich fermented foods in your diet.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that reside in your large intestine and support your good health. Thereby, they can affect your immune system and help regulate inflammation (22, 23).
Fermented foods include:
- Fermented veggies: kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented pickles
- Fermented dairy: yogurt, kefir, some cheeses, sour cream
- Fermented beverages: Kombucha, certain ginger ales, water kefir
Foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein sources, and fermented foods.
Some foods have been shown to be pro-inflammatory, so try to limit them if your goal is to reduce chronic inflammation.
Highly processed foods
Highly processed foods — like frozen meals, chips, crackers, cookies, and ice cream — are typically made with refined grains, added sugars, and artificial ingredients.
They’re often high in calories, fat, and sugar or salt. They’re also easy to overeat, as they’re designed to be as flavorful as possible (24).
Research shows that eating these foods may increase your cravings for them. This may be because they signal the release of dopamine, also known as the pleasure hormone (24).
Eating a lot of them is not ideal, since a diet high in ultra-processed foods could increase your risk of inflammation-mediated conditions like heart disease (25, 26, 27).
Added sugars are sugars that aren’t naturally present in foods. They’re common in many processed foods, spanning from dried fruits and desserts to ketchup and pasta sauce.
Added sugars can trigger a rapid inflammatory response in the cells that are involved with digesting and processing them. This inflammation can be taxing on the liver and increase your levels of the stress hormone cortisol (28).
It’s best to keep your added sugar intake low by limiting foods and beverages high in added sugar like candy, soda, ice cream, and baked goods.
When you can, opt for natural sugars like those found in fresh fruit.
Refined seed oils
Finally, you may want to avoid refined seed oils like soybean and corn oil. These are high in omega-6 fats, which can promote inflammation if they’re not balanced with your omega-3 fat intake (29).
They also easily become unstable when heated, which can lead to the formation of harmful compounds that could promote inflammation (30).
These oils are among the most commonly used oils in food manufacturing and restaurants.
Limiting your intake of processed foods and avoiding fried foods when ordering in or eating out are two ways to minimize your intake of these ingredients.
Foods to limit or avoid on an anti-inflammatory diet include highly processed products like fast food, desserts, and chips, refined seed oils, and added sugars.
Here are a few anti-inflammatory cooking tips:
- Add spices and seasonings. Herbs and spices are loaded with antioxidants and flavor, so feel free to liberally season your food with them. Great options include turmeric, ginger, rosemary, cinnamon, oregano, cumin, cayenne pepper, and many others (31, 32).
- Cook with garlic and onion. These veggies are rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds and are easy to incorporate into many lunch or dinner recipes. Add to marinades, salad dressings, bolognese, stews, stir-fries, and much more (33, 34).
- Make your own dressings and marinades. Using combinations of oil, vinegar, herbs, and spices, you can make your own flavorful dressings and marinades that are full of anti-inflammatory compounds.
- Keep it simple. If cooking complicated recipes with new ingredients each night sounds daunting, keep it simple. Choose a protein source like salmon or chickpeas and combine it with a vegetable and a grain.
To increase the anti-inflammatory properties of your homecooked meals, try using plenty of herbs, spices, garlic, onion, and homemade dressings. Oftentimes, simple recipes get the job done just as well — or even better — than complicated ones.
This simple, 7-day meal plan features 28 easy-to-prepare meals and snacks. Use it as a jump-off point to provide some inspiration and ideas for your anti-inflammatory diet.
- Breakfast: mashed avocado on whole grain toast
- Lunch: tuna salad sandwich with a side salad
- Dinner: Chickpea spaghetti with no-sugar-added pasta sauce, ground turkey meatballs, and roasted broccoli
- Snack: Greek yogurt with mixed berries
- Breakfast: overnight oats with cherries
- Lunch: Shrimp, avocado, and lettuce wrap with fresh herbs and lemon juice
- Dinner: grilled salmon with asparagus and sweet potato
- Snack: turmeric latte and a handful of nuts
- Breakfast: Chia pudding with orange slices and blueberries
- Lunch: Chicken and pesto flatbread pizza with asparagus
- Dinner: Tempeh, bok choy, and mushroom stir-fry with rice, ginger, and soy sauce
- Snack: sliced pears and Gouda cheese
- Breakfast: Yoghurt parfait with blueberries and walnuts
- Lunch: Cobb salad with hard-boiled eggs
- Dinner: Fish tacos with red cabbage slaw
- Snack: matcha latte and nut butter on whole grain toast
- Breakfast: Protein berry and avocado smoothie
- Lunch: Pasta salad with chicken and spinach
- Dinner: Grilled steak with roasted butternut squash and a side salad
- snack: bottled kefir and a pomegranate
- Breakfast: spinach and mushroom egg scramble
- Lunch: Hummus, turkey breast, and veggie sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Dinner: Turmeric-spiced baked chicken thighs with roasted cauliflower and a baked sweet potato
- Snack: Hibiscus tea and seed crackers with nut butter
- Breakfast: banana pancakes
- Lunch: sushi bowl with rice, avocado, crab meat, sesame seeds, seaweed strips, and soy sauce
- Dinner: Roasted chickpea salad with whole grain pita bread triangles, lettuce, tomato, feta cheese, and Greek dressing
- Snack: Lacto-fermented pickles and fresh fruit
An anti-inflammatory diet should include fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources, and healthy fats and oils. You may also want to include coffee or tea, fermented foods, and minimally processed whole grains.
Further, it’s a good idea to include a variety of spices and seasonings — not only for their flavor but also because they’re rich in anti-inflammatory compounds.
On the other hand, try to avoid highly processed foods, added sugars, and refined seed oils like soybean and corn oil.
This 7-day meal plan can provide some meal and snack ideas and serve as a good starting point for your anti-inflammatory diet.