Your ultimate guide to reducing inflammation with a FREE anti-inflammatory foods list PDF that you can print off and refer to daily!
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You’ve probably heard that foods like berries, spinach, and nuts are some of the best anti-inflammatory foods (and they are), but did you know that herbs and spices have more anti-inflammatory properties than any other foods?
For example, cloves have 50x more antioxidants than the prized blueberry.
In this article, I’m breaking down the top anti-inflammatory foods by category and giving you practical tips to start incorporating them into your diet today.
You’ll also discover the symptoms and causes of inflammation, foods to avoid that contribute to inflammation, and recipes for following an anti-inflammatory diet.
Keep reading to find out what foods made the list, or access the printable list of anti-inflammatory foods right away.
Table of Contents
What is Inflammation?
First, it’s important to know that not all inflammation is “bad.” Some inflammation is necessary and even helpful to keep us alive and healthy.
Inflammation is the body’s natural defense mechanism against infection, injury, and foreign invaders that could potentially pose a threat to our survival.
When the immune system detects a “threat,” our immune cells release inflammatory chemicals (like C-reactive protein and cytokines) which are meant to help the body fight off infections and injuries.
Free radicals are also released as part of the immune response to help destroy the infection, toxin, or substance that the body has detected as a threat.
While free radicals are a normal part of the inflammatory response, they’re extremely damaging to our health when present long term.
The inflammatory process is a good thing in the short term because it’s the body’s way of destroying whatever’s causing harm and returning us to optimal health and homeostasis. This is referred to as acute inflammation.
Acute inflammation is a natural process that disappears once the immune system has done its job in fighting off the infection, healing the injury, or removing the “threat” from the body.
If you cut your finger, for example, you’ll notice that it swells up and turns red, but this is only for a short time. Once the infection is healed, the inflammation disappears.
When inflammation goes on for too long though, it turns into chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation persists for several months and even years, which harms our health and puts us at greater risk for disease.
Let’s take a closer look at the dangers of chronic inflammation.
Why is Chronic Inflammation a Problem?
The term inflammation is Latin for “inflammare” which means “to set on fire,” and this is essentially what chronic inflammation does:
Chronic inflammation is like a low-grade fire that damages every cell and system in the body, causing it to gradually break down and accelerate the aging process.
- Free radicals damage the energy-producing mitochondria within our cells, leading to chronic and persistent fatigue.
- Free radicals damage cell membranes and cellular DNA, which causes mutations in our genes and cell death (causing you to age faster).
- Mutations in our genes can lead to cancer and other diseases because cells with too many mutations stop functioning normally, grow out of control, and eventually become cancerous.
It makes sense then why chronic inflammation is an underlying factor in almost every illness, disease, and health condition (3).
Chronic inflammation is considered a driving force and major contributor to several diseases including (4):
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Obesity & metabolic syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Chronic respiratory diseases
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and lupus
According to researchers, “chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world” with 3 out of 5 people dying due to chronic diseases each year.
This is an alarming statistic, but the good news is that chronic inflammation is preventable through diet and healthy lifestyle changes.
Next, we’re going to talk about what causes chronic inflammation and how you can eliminate it.
Causes of Inflammation
In today’s society, inflammation is usually not because we have an infection or injury. Instead, it’s in response to other diet and lifestyle factors including:
- Cigarette smoking
- Lack of exercise
- Poor diet/inflammatory foods
- Elevated blood sugars
- Exposure to toxins/chemicals
- Stress (related to work, family, finances, and other modern-day stressors)
- Having a chronic disease like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or cancer
Fortunately, YOU have control over the majority of the factors that contribute to inflammation which means you can take steps to reduce and eliminate chronic inflammation for good.
Symptoms of Inflammation
Symptoms of inflammation can range from person to person but often include (5):
- Chronic pain, joint pain, or body aches
- Fatigue and debilitating exhaustion
- Depression, anxiety, irritability, and mood swings
- Acne, psoriasis, eczema, rashes, and other skin issues
- Digestive issues including bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and acid reflux
- Weight loss or weight gain
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, then avoiding foods that promote inflammation and emphasizing anti-inflammatory foods is a great place to start with addressing these symptoms and experiencing improvements.
Foods to Avoid that Promote Inflammation
Eliminating or reducing your intake of the following foods will help to reduce inflammation and put you on a path to better health:
- Sugar & Refined Carbohydrates: Added sugars, soda & sugary drinks, and refined carbohydrates (white flour and grains) lead to elevated blood sugars which drive inflammation.
- Inflammatory Fats: From fast food, fried foods, and vegetable oils (hydrogenated vegetable oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, most of the common vegetable oils).
- Ultra-Processed Foods: Such as freezer meals, convenience foods, chips, Little Debbies, etc. contain high amounts of sodium, sugar, chemicals, artificial ingredients, and refined carbs that trigger inflammation.
- Processed Meats: Processed meats like hot dogs, brats, sausage, pepperoni, and lunch meats contain nitrites and nitrates which increase inflammation and the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease (6).
- Conventional Meat & Dairy: Conventional red meat, poultry, and dairy are high in omega-6 fats. In contrast, wild game and pasture-raised/grass-fed meat and poultry have lower amounts omega-6 fats and contain 2-3x more omega-3 fats than conventional meat and dairy (7, 8).
- Excess Alcohol: Defined as >1-2 drinks per day for women or 2-3 drinks per day for men.
- Gluten: Gluten activates a protein called zonulin which causes the space between the cells lining the gut to loosen or become “leaky,” contributing to leaky gut, digestive issues, and food sensitivities (9).
These foods are perceived as “toxins” or foreign substances to your body because we were not designed to process them.
We evolved eating whole, real foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that can be found in nature. That’s what the body expects and requires to function optimally.
Your body doesn’t recognize foods that are highly processed and full of sugar, chemicals, and additives, which triggers the inflammatory response as a result.
The most well-known anti-inflammatory diets include:
- Mediterranean Diet: Associated with longevity and disease prevention, this diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, olive oil, and red wine in moderation.
- DASH Diet: The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products while limiting sodium, saturated fat, and sugar.
- MIND Diet: Includes components of the DASH and Mediterranean diets, emphasizing foods that slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A commonality among each of these anti-inflammatory diets is their emphasis on minimally processed, whole foods including plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, herbs, spices, healthy fats, and quality protein sources.
These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that have been shown to reduce inflammation and support a healthy gut microbiota, which also plays a major role in regulating inflammation in the body.
Determining the Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Foods
The anti-inflammatory properties of foods are based on various factors including:
- Antioxidant Content: Antioxidants are plant compounds that protect our cells from the damage that free radicals cause. The ORAC score is used to measure the antioxidant content of foods (10, 11).
- Nutrient Composition: Foods that are rich in nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E), minerals (zinc, selenium), and omega-3 fatty acids are often considered anti-inflammatory.
- Omega-3 to Omega-6 Ratio: Foods that have a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats are considered more anti-inflammatory. Examples include salmon, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
- Glycemic Index (GI): Foods that have a high-GI can spike blood sugar levels which promotes inflammation. Low-GI foods help to stabilize blood sugars and prevent inflammation associated with elevated blood sugars.
It’s important to note that no single food is a magic bullet for reducing inflammation, and a balanced diet with a variety of anti-inflammatory foods is the best way to reduce inflammation and the risk of disease.
In addition, the dietary choices that work best for one person may not work the same way for another.
If you have specific dietary concerns related to inflammation, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian for personalized guidance and medical advice.
Tips for Using the Anti-Inflammatory Foods List
Below you’ll find the top 5 anti-inflammatory foods in each category, as well as the recommended intakes based on the leading anti-inflammatory diets and research.
In general, anti-inflammatory foods will be whole, minimally processed foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Aim to incorporate a variety of foods from each category, as each type of food has its own unique nutrients, antioxidants, and health benefits.
You can download the printable anti-inflammatory foods list for a comprehensive list of the best foods for reducing inflammation.
This list also includes the ORAC scores in order from highest to lowest antioxidant content.
The ORAC score measures the antioxidant capacity of foods, which can help combat inflammation by destroying free radicals and reducing oxidative stress in the body (12).
ORAC scores are based on 100 grams of the foods and apply to plant-based foods only, since antioxidants are plant compounds.
Research shows that consuming a diet with high total antioxidant capacity is associated with decreased risk of death from all-causes (13).
It’s recommended to consume a minimum of 8,000 ORAC units daily for maximum benefits in reducing inflammation and the risk of disease.
You’ll notice in the printable list of anti-inflammatory foods that the darker-colored produce tends to be higher in antioxidants. For example, iceberg lettuce has an ORAC score of 438, while spinach has a score of 2,732.
In addition, fresh produce has a higher ORAC score than canned produce. For example, fresh peaches have an antioxidant score of 2,472 while canned peaches have a score of only 476.
Now let’s get to the list of anti-inflammatory foods.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods List
Vegetables & Dark Leafy Greens
Aim for 3+ servings of vegetables per day, with at least one serving of leafy greens.
- Kale, spinach, arugula, and other green leafy vegetables
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, Bok choy
Fruit & Berries
Aim for 2-3 servings of fruit per day, especially berries.
Aim for 2-4 servings of minimally processed whole grains per day.
- Wild Rice
Herbs & Spices
Incorporate a variety of these antioxidant superstars into your diet daily.
- Ground cloves
- Ground sumac
- Ground cinnamon
- Dried oregano
- Ground sage
Eat healthy fats every day, including a serving of nuts and seeds most days.
- Nuts: walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts
- Seeds: flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Coconut oil
Aim for a serving of nuts/seeds and beans most days, and fish 2+ days per week.
- Fatty fish: salmon, sardines, tuna, anchovies, herring, shellfish
- Beans & legumes: kidney beans, pinto beans, soybeans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas
- Nuts & seeds (see Healthy Fats)
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed organic meat & poultry
Beverages & Chocolate
Enjoy antioxidant-rich tea, coffee, chocolate, and red wine.
- Tea: matcha, green tea, black tea, & herbal teas
- >72% dark chocolate
- Cocoa powder (non-dutch processed)
- Red wine (1-2 glasses/day)
How to Incorporate Anti-Inflammatory Foods
- Add spinach and berries to smoothies
- Eat a handful of nuts most days (especially walnuts, which have the highest omega-3 content)
- Add cocoa powder to smoothies and baked goods
- Experiment with herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cinnamon
- Add cinnamon to smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt; add turmeric to soups, meats, rice/quinoa, and main dishes; add fresh herbs like basil and cilantro to salads
- Eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods daily
- Aim for at least 1 serving of berries and 1 serving of leafy greens daily
- Add ground flaxseed to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, and baked goods
- Incorporate fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines into your diet 2+ days per week
- Drink green tea, herbal teas, and coffee daily
- Replace refined grains with whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat
- Swap regular potatoes for sweet potatoes
- Replace inflammatory vegetable oils with extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil that are cold-pressed and stored in dark green glass bottles
- Try adding new foods from the anti-inflammatory foods list to your diet each week!
Below is a sample one-day meal plan incorporating foods from the anti-inflammatory foods list.
- Breakfast: Pumpkin Pie Protein Shake
- Lunch: Kale Salad with Pomegranate and Apple
- Midday Boost: Lemon Ginger Turmeric Shots
- Dinner: Chicken and Shrimp Tacos
- Dessert: Chia and Flaxseed Pudding
Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Plan & Resources
Check out my 4-Week Longevity Meal Plan for more anti-inflammatory diet recipes. It includes over 100 recipes and a supplemental shopping list specifically created to reduce inflammation and slow aging at the cellular level.
You might also enjoy the Aldi-Lover’s Ultimate Healthy Shopping Guide with the top anti-inflammatory foods from Aldi + a FREE printable grocery list.
Don’t forget to download the printable list of anti-inflammatory foods! Hang it on your refrigerator or bring it to the grocery store to help you incorporate these foods into your lifestyle.
I hope this information helps you reduce inflammation and improve your overall health!