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 (
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 (
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.
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 (
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 (
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 (
Another study in just over 1,000 women associated a higher cruciferous veggie intake with lower levels of inflammatory markers, and vice versa (
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 (
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 (
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 (
Fats and oils
Healthy fats and oils contain several anti-inflammatory compounds and may provide a number of benefits that improve your overall health.
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 (
Coffee, green tea, and black tea are rich in various phytochemicals and antioxidants that may offer anti-inflammatory benefits.
In addition to the foods mentioned above, consider including probiotic-rich fermented foods in your diet.
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 (
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 (
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 (
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
They also easily become unstable when heated, which can lead to the formation of harmful compounds that could promote inflammation (
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 (
- 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 (
- 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
How to make tuna salad
Combine canned, flaked tuna with avocado oil mayonnaise, whole grain mustard, diced pickles, salt, and pepper.
- 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
How to make overnight oats
Mix one part old-fashioned oats, one part yogurt, and one part plant-based milk. Refrigerate overnight, then add fresh lemon or lime juice and cherries before eating.
- 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
How to make chia pudding
Combine 2 tablespoons (20 grams) of chia seeds with 1/2 cup (120 mL) of plant-based milk, a sweetener, and flavors of your choice (like stevia and vanilla). Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes or overnight, then add fresh fruit and/or nut butter.
- Breakfast: yogurt 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
How to make red cabbage slaw
Make a dressing from 1/2 cup (115 grams) of mayo, juice from 1 lime, 1 teaspoon (2 grams) of chili powder, and 1–2 tablespoons (20–40 grams) of honey. Mix the dressing through 1 head of finely shredded red cabbage.
- 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
How to make protein smoothies and pasta salad with tuna and spinach
Protein smoothie: Blend 1 cup (240 mL) of plant-based milk, 1 scoop of protein powder, half an avocado, half a banana, 1/2 cup (95 grams) of frozen berries, and a handful of ice.
Pasta salad with chicken and spinach: Toss cooked whole wheat pasta, shredded or diced rotisserie chicken, and baby spinach with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- 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
How to make spinach and mushroom egg scramble
Sauté mushrooms and spinach in a little oil, then add two beaten eggs, salt, and pepper, and stir continuously until the eggs are fully cooked.
- 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
How to make banana pancakes
Combine one banana, two eggs, and a dash of vanilla extract in a blender. Cook the batter on a frypan and serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and fresh fruit if desired.
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.
Just one thing
Try this today: For more information about following an anti-inflammatory diet, be sure to check out our anti-inflammatory diet guide.