Diet is a powerful tool to regulate inflammation in the body. If you want to take control of your health, an anti-inflammatory diet is a great place to start.
Inflammation is a natural process and part of the body’s immune system response. However, excessive or chronic inflammation also damages healthy cells.
Why is an anti-inflammatory diet so powerful? The WHO identifies chronic inflammatory diseases as the biggest health threat worldwide. Chronic inflammation can lead to conditions like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, COPD and cancer.
An anti-inflammatory diet means making two key changes. First, you’ll want to reduce or eliminate pro-inflammatory foods. Second, you’ll need to add more anti-inflammatory foods to the menu.
In this blog post, you’ll find:
- A list of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods
- How these ingredients affect the body
- My favourite anti-inflammatory recipes
Read on to learn all about inflammation and diet!
How Do Foods Cause Inflammation?
Inflammatory foods are those that encourage the body’s inflammatory reactions. A range of foods can cause inflammation, mainly processed and refined foods. These contain pro-inflammatory ingredients like sugars and trans fats, which can trigger inflammation.
The body’s inflammatory response is complex, involving different types of cells and chemical reactions. Different inflammatory foods will trigger or worsen inflammation in different ways.
That’s one reason consuming too many refined grains, sugars, and fried foods can lead to chronic disease. On the other hand, reducing your intake of these foods can help support long-term health.
High-calorie foods are also a factor in weight gain or obesity, and excess fat tissue produces pro-inflammatory chemicals. Research also shows obesity increases the body’s response to inflammation-causing foods. Since inflammation can lead to further weight gain and make it harder to lose weight, it’s easy to become stuck in a cycle of chronic inflammation.
In addition to chronic disease, inflammation can cause or worsen symptoms like:
- Muscle, back and joint pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
- Skin concerns (e.g. psoriasis)
- Depression and anxiety
- Digestive problems
- Recurring infections
Of course, other conditions can cause these symptoms too. If you have symptoms, speak to a health professional before you chalk them up to inflammation. Testing for markers of inflammation can also help determine if there is an inflammatory cause.
Reducing your intake of inflammatory foods is a great way to take control of your health. For optimal well-being, limiting these foods in your diet and replacing them with anti-inflammatory options is important.
Keep reading as I share a list of inflammation-causing foods.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
With the rate of inflammatory disease predicted to increase for the next 30 years, it’s time to take a closer look at what we put in our bodies. Unfortunately, inflammatory foods make up a large portion of the average diet.
Here are six top inflammatory-causing ingredients:
Sweetened drinks and treats spike blood sugar levels and prompt the release of inflammatory cytokines, which aids inflammation of the muscles. Refined sugars like high-fructose corn syrup are especially potent when it comes to inflammation.
Foods to Watch: Soft drinks, jams and spreads, lollies, honey, agave nectar, sauces
Be it bread, biscuits, pasta or a wrap, white flour is super high in refined carbs. High GI carbs convert to sugar in the body, which results in a massive spike in inflammation. If you can’t cut carbohydrates from your diet, choose a wholegrain variety with more grains and seeds to increase the fibre intake.
Foods to Watch: White bread, bakery treats, white rice, breakfast cereals
From the nitrates in cured meats to artificial sweeteners, processed foods are packed with pro-inflammatory chemicals. Preservatives and artificial flavours should also be reduced, as they can cause an inflammatory cascade in the body. These are often hidden in the ingredients list, so start getting label savvy and check what’s in your food.
Foods to Watch: Sugar-free drinks, processed meats (e.g. ham and bacon), some protein powders (that’s why I like the whole food or plant-based brands), pre-made snacks with lots of flavourings (e.g. flavoured chips and crackers).
Saturated & Trans Fats
Saturated fat is one of the worst foods for heart health and inflammation. Aim for leaner meat to help reduce your intake. For healthier meat choices, game meats (such as kangaroo) are the leanest option, but if that’s not your style just ask for the leanest cut (such as beef eye fillet, sirloin, or pork loin. Always opt for the leanest sausages if you’re buying snags. Avoid lamb as it’s one of the fattiest meats with a lower haem content (veal is also low in iron respectively). White fish and skinless chicken breasts are low in fat and a good option.
Food to Watch: Fatty meats, processed foods, full-fat dairy products
Processed oils such as vegetable and sunflower oil also stimulate inflammatory hormones. Repeatedly heated cooking oil (like oil used for deep-frying) is particularly nasty! These oils are common ingredients in processed foods as well. Soybean oil and corn oil frequently show up in packaged snacks.
Foods to Watch: Processed snacks, fried food, takeaway, pre-made meals
Alcohol is a tricky one, as it’s naturally inflammatory for the liver. However, wine also contains antioxidants that combat inflammation. The healthiest alcohol option? Sticking to one or two glasses of red wine is best to curb inflammation. Many cocktails and pre-mixed drinks are also high in sugar.
Foods to Watch: Beer, pre-mixed drinks, cocktails, any alcohol to excess
How Does an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Reduce Inflammation?
Anti-inflammatory foods fight inflammation by counteracting harmful free radicals and boosting protective chemicals like antioxidants. Fresh and whole foods are the best choices for an anti-inflammatory diet.
Free radicals are formed during the body’s inflammatory response. These are the compounds responsible for cell damage over our lifetime, and they also amplify further inflammation. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals before they can do damage, preventing tissue damage and reducing inflammation.
Examples of anti-inflammatory foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and seeds, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. salmon), and spices like turmeric or ginger. These foods can combat chronic inflammation, lowering your risk of disease.
Keep reading to learn what you should eat for an anti-inflammatory diet!
What are the Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods?
The best anti-inflammatory foods are whole foods naturally rich in antioxidants, healthy fats and fibre. Here are the top foods for fighting inflammation:
Omega 3-Fatty Acids
Research shows omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EHA fight inflammation in the body. The natural oils found in fish reduce inflammatory markers like TNF-alpha, CRP, and IL-6. While there are plenty of fish oil supplements on the market, diet is always the best source of nutrition!
Foods to Add: Fatty fish (e.g. salmon or mackerel), nuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, avocado
Antioxidants & Polyphenols
Antioxidants and polyphenols are commonly found in fruits, vegetables and spices. These help to reduce inflammation by tackling the free radicals which cause oxidative stress. Vitamin C is the most well-known antioxidant but it isn’t the only one. Vitamin E, zinc, and selenium also help fight oxidation (and inflammation) in the body.
Foods to Add: Fruits (e.g. blueberries, cherries, apples), green vegetables (e.g. cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage), tea, coffee, dark chocolate, cooked tomatoes, red wine
Dietary fibre does more than keep you regular! Adding soluble and insoluble fibre to your diet supports gut health, reducing levels of inflammatory chemicals like IL-6 and TNF-alpha. You don’t need to eat grains to get enough fibre either – packing your plate with veggies is the best alternative.
Foods to Add: Flaxseeds, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables (especially leafy greens)
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils contain healthy fats that help reduce inflammation. Extra virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal which has an anti-inflammatory effect. Switching to these oils for cooking and baking is a great way to reduce inflammation.
Foods to Add: Olive oil, avocado oil, good-quality canola oil, macadamia nut oil, coconut oil
Curcumin is a bright yellow compound found in turmeric which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Adding fresh or powdered turmeric to your diet is an easy way to tackle inflammation and boost flavour!
Foods to Add: Fresh turmeric, powdered turmeric
Magnesium is an anti-inflammatory mineral that often gets overlooked. Higher magnesium intake reduces pro-inflammatory compounds like hsCRP, IL-6, and TNF-alpha. It’s also great to help fight pain caused by inflammatory conditions and also can improve sleep quality.
Foods to Add: Bone broth, nuts, spinach, avocado, dark chocolate, seeds, fish
Vitamin D is another anti-inflammatory powerhouse! Research shows adequate vitamin D levels are linked to reduced inflammation, suppressing inflammatory mediators like prostaglandins. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish, egg yolks and fortified dairy products.
Foods to Add: Eggs, fatty fish, meat, vitamin-D enriched mushrooms
Probiotics are the healthy bacteria found in fermented foods and probiotic supplements. Research shows that probiotics help regulate inflammation in the gut. Adding probiotics to your diet is a great way to cultivate a healthy gut and control inflammation.
Foods to Add: Kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, unsweetened yoghurt, kefir
Best Anti-Inflammatory Diet Recipes
Here are some of my top recipes for an anti-inflammatory diet:
- Chia cups with berries: berries are packed with polyphenols and antioxidants, while chia seeds provide fibre and omega-3 fatty acids
- Crumbed fishy cakes: omega-3 rich tuna ticks off one of your two serves per week! Serve steamed broccoli on the side
- Homemade nut milk: swap processed dairy or soy milk for DIY nut milk, rich in omega-3s and minerals
- Buckwheat pancakes: start the morning right with high-fibre buckwheat and antioxidant-packed blueberries
- Anti-inflammatory cauliflower soup: full of antioxidants, phytonutrients, fibre, potassium and B vitamins
For more anti-inflammatory recipes, see my FREE downloadable ebook at the end of this article – it includes a full 1-week meal plan packed with inflammation-fighting ingredients.
An anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t have to be boring! Anti-inflammatory ingredients include plenty of colourful and delicious whole foods.
Start small with simple swaps, like swapping vegetable oils for extra virgin olive or avocado. Aim to fill your plate with fruit and vegetables, especially leafy greens.
Don’t underestimate the power of limiting inflammatory foods, either. Whenever you turn down a sugary drink or fried meal, you keep pro-inflammatory chemicals out of your body. If you’re not ready to give them up, gradually reducing your intake is still progress.
Remember that everything on your plate makes a difference to your health. Whether it’s curbing the bad or adding more anti-inflammatory superfoods, you have the power to fight inflammation!
Inflammatory Diet FAQs
Can foods cause inflammation in joints?
Yes, certain foods can trigger inflammation in the body leading to joint pain or other inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Common inflammatory triggers include sugar, processed foods, refined grains and vegetable oils.
What are the most inflammatory foods?
The most inflammatory foods include added sugars, processed meats (like bacon and ham), saturated and trans fats, refined carbs, vegetable oils, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners. All of these are typically found in processed foods.
What are the best anti-inflammatory supplements?
The best anti-inflammatory supplements include omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric (curcumin), probiotics, and vitamin D. However, dietary whole foods are a better source than supplementation. Always speak to a health practitioner before adding any supplement to your diet.
Download Your Free Inflammation Solutions eBook + Meal Plan
Ready to tackle inflammation and regain control of your health? Grab your copy of my FREE e-book, packed with expert advice on:
- How inflammation affects your body
- Warning signs of chronic inflammation
- Strategies to reduce inflammation naturally
- 1-week meal plan with recipes
Over 25 years as a nutritionist, I’ve seen the toll that chronic inflammation takes. I created this ebook to help you spot the signs and take control – before inflammation turns into chronic disease.
It’s your comprehensive toolkit for an anti-inflammatory lifestyle!
Download your FREE copy here: Inflammation Solutions eBook by Amelia Phillips (BHSc, MNut)