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Anti-inflammatory Diet Basics

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Kebbie Stine, MNT

Inflammation is an important part of the healing process; it is crucial part of wound healing and a useful mechanism for destroying invading microorganisms. It allows for helpful antibodies to enter the space and stimulates other important parts of the immune response to aid in healing. We would be in trouble if we did not have an inflammatory response.

When studying the “good” and “bad” aspects of inflammation, understanding the difference between acute and chronic inflammation is key. Acute inflammation occurs within a few minutes to a few hours of injury or illness and symptoms will be obvious like swelling and pain. But chronic inflammation is very different; the onset takes days and the signs are much less obvious. This type of inflammation will stick around for a long time and is more likely to lead to severe and progressive tissue damage and inflammatory diseases. Conditions that are related to chronic inflammation include asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.


Causes of chronic inflammation include stress, lack of exercise, and poor dietary choices. The best way to combat inflammation is by making lifelong changes in our eating habits. An anti-inflammatory diet can quell systemic inflammation and actually reverse signs of an overactive immune system. There are certain foods that contribute to inflammatory response and certain foods that actually fight inflammation.

Foods that Cause Inflammation-

  • Sugar: sugar can activate inflammatory chemical signals that induce inflammatory pathways in the body. High fructose corn syrup is highly inflammatory, always check labels!

  • Trans fats: research has shown that consumption of trans fats can cause systemic inflammation.

  • Refined carbohydrates: consuming refined carbohydrates like cake, pasta, and cookies can contribute to inflammatory disease.

  • Gluten: people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease interpret gluten proteins as a threat to the body. This launches an immune response that attacks the intestines, causes the malabsorption of nutrients, and can lead to autoimmune disorders if left untreated.

  • Dairy and casein: consuming dairy if you are sensitive or allergic to lactose can contribute to inflammation in your body. The casein proteins found in dairy have a similar structure to gluten.

  • Artificial ingredients: aspartame, synthetic preservatives, food coloring and MSG

  • Alcohol: alcohol is known to contribute to many diseases and disorders, some of which are inflammation related.

Foods that Fight Inflammation-

  • Fiber! Eating at least 25g of fiber everyday reduces inflammation by supplying naturally occurring anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. To get your fill of fiber, seek out whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The best sources include whole grains such as barley and oatmeal; vegetables like okra, eggplant, and onions; and a variety of fruits like bananas (3 grams of fiber per banana) and blueberries (3.5 grams of fiber per cup).

  • Eat a minimum of 6 servings of vegetables every day. Not only will you benefit from the fiber vegetables offer, but also a wide array of nutrients to support the immune system. Add antioxidant rich spices like turmeric and ginger for an added bonus.

  • Eat four servings of alliums and cruciferous vegetables every week. Alliums include garlic, scallions, onions, and leek, while crucifers refer to vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts. Because of their powerful antioxidant properties, consuming a weekly average of four servings of each can help lower your risk of cancer.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis — conditions that often have a high inflammatory process at their root. Aim to eat omega-3’s every day. Include foods like:

  • Cold-water fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna

  • Flax seeds

  • Walnuts

  • Grass fed beef

  • Pastured egg yolks

  • Dark leafy greens

  • Choose healthy fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and grass-fed butter. Avoid cooking with vegetable oils like canola, safflower and sesame as they oxidize when heated creating free radicals. Consuming avocados, olives, and nuts are other ways to get healthy fats in your diet.

  • Most fruits and vegetables are loaded with important phytonutrients. To naturally sweeten your meals, try adding apples, apricots, berries, and even carrots.

  • For flavoring savory meals, go for spices that are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, including cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, rosemary, ginger, sage, and thyme.

Other Ways to Combat Inflammation-

  • Avoid antacids, antibiotics, and NSAIDS as much as possible. These drugs alter your microbiome affecting the body’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrients, and can negatively affect the immune system.

  • Find ways to relax every day. This could be yoga, meditation, a walk, or any other hobby that relaxes you. It is important to keep stress levels at bay because elevated levels of stress hormones circulating in the bloodstream lead to inflammation.

  • Exercise regularly. Researchers followed more than 4,000 middle-aged people for more than 10 years. They found that regardless of their weight or body mass index, people who did at least two and a half hours of moderate exercise each week lowered their markers of inflammation by at least 12 percent.

  • When your immune system encounters foreign substances—including environmental toxins—it can react by creating inflammation. Reduce your exposure to toxins by using natural cleaning products, natural beauty care products, and buy organic produce when possible.

  • Research shows that shorting yourself on even a few hours of sleep each night can trigger pro-inflammatory changes. Aim for at least seven hours of snooze time nightly. 

  • While too much exposure to sunlight is harmful to your skin, “sun phobia” can also be dangerous. The natural vitamin D you get from sunlight is a crucial immune system modulator, and a deficiency is associated with inflammation. Shoot for 10 to 15 minutes in the sun each day.

  • Enjoy a massage. Research suggests that a 45-minute massage can lower your levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. So don’t think of a massage as a guilty pleasure—think of it as therapy.

References: Kellyann Pertrucci, MS/ND; Dr. Gary Kaplan, MD

Kebbie Stine is a Master Nutrition Therapist in the Denver area. She practices nutrition therapy at Washington Park Chiropractic and is the owner of Whole Choice Nutrition Therapy. Contact Kebbie at


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