Anti-Inflammatory Diet

By Parul Kharod

The term “anti-inflammatory diet" has become popular in the last few years. Sometimes it is used interchangeably with the Mediterranean diet. Different people have their own versions of what an anti-inflammatory diet is. Most health professionals advocate for it.

We have to understand what inflammation is and what the causes of inflammation are to follow a true anti-inflammatory diet.


Constant inflammation in the body is proving to be the cause of various chronic health problems. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders have been linked to uncontrolled silent inflammation in the body.

There are two main types of inflammation - acute and chronic:

• Acute Inflammation
Acute means short term. Inflammation is the body's natural response to stress and injury. When you stub your toe, it gets red and swollen. This indicates that the body is producing certain inflammatory hormones and chemicals that help fight the added stress and promote healing.

• Chronic Inflammation
When the body keeps producing these pro-inflammatory chemicals, it results in chronic inflammation. Over time, these extra chemicals act as a slow poison that affects various systems in the body. Chronic inflammation has also been associated with allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases like fibromyalgia, arthritis, and stroke.

What factors trigger chronic inflammation?

• Excess body fat, especially adipose tissue in the abdominal area, can produce pro-inflammatory response.
• Excessive sugar intake can cause impaired insulin function.
• Elevated blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugars, all create an immune response causing chronic inflammation.
• Sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diets promote weight gain and thus chronic inflammation.

How is Inflammation measured?

Since inflammation is a response by the body's immune cells, a blood test can be done to measure the level of these cells to gauge the amount of chronic inflammation in the body. The most common blood test for this is called high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP).

Blood tests for inflammation include:

• C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
• Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
• Plasma viscosity (PV)
• TNF-alpha (tumor necrosis factor-alpha)
• Interleukin biomarkers

These tests are used in research on inflammation but are not necessarily done in routine blood work or even by specialists. You would need to request a blood test from your doctor.

How to reduce inflammation in the body?

Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet has been shown to reduce inflammation. The specific eating pattern, which has been found to reduce the hs-CRP level, is a largely plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains such as the Mediterranean diet. It is also important to be mindful of your lifestyle.

Are there any foods that cause inflammation?

Foods do not cause inflammation directly. However, the foods that do promote inflammation are ones that cause weight gain and elevated blood sugar and lipid levels.

• Foods that contain trans fats
• Saturated fat
• Animal fat
• Excess animal protein
• Tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel)
• High glycemic index (GI) or high glycemic load (GL) foods and meals
• Foods/beverages high in simple sugars
• Processed carbohydrate foods
• Processed and red meats
• Alcohol
• Artificial chemicals, preservatives, pesticides

Are there any supplements that help?

Although it is best to get all the nutrients we need from food itself, certain supplements may help in fighting inflammation. If your Vitamin D levels are low, you may benefit from supplements. Fish oil or flax oil pills can be used as a source of Omega -3 fatty acids. However, use caution and consult your doctor before starting fish oil supplements as they are not without contraindications.

Anti-inflammatory Lifestyle

Be mindful. Create a routine for meals, sleep, physical and social activity.
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Make half your plate vegetables at meals. These can be salad, soup, stir-fry, steamed or sautéed vegetables. Eat a rainbow!
Eat a variety of whole grains - not just bread made with whole grains but actual cooked grains. Experiment with barley, brown rice, bulgur, couscous, quinoa, millet. Make a pilaf or a cold salad.
Eat a variety of beans and lentils. Include hummus or bean dips, make soups, stews or chili with beans, put beans on top of your salad, or fill a pita pocket with a bean salad.
Experiment with herbs and spices. Most of the spices have antioxidant properties. Use herbs to flavor your food instead of fat or salt.
Limit or avoid fast food and processed foods. Eat home cooked meals most of the time.
Look for ways to be more active. Exercise does not have to be at the gym. Find ways to move more.
Find ways to have good social interactions. Enjoy good food with good company. Invite friends and family for a potluck meal or a picnic. Join a book club, or other activities that you enjoy.
Stay hydrated. Avoid sugary drinks, juice, and soda. Drink plenty of water. If you are not a big fan of plain water, try flavored water or sparkling water with no sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Reduce stress. Try activities like yoga and Pilates. Other stress-reducing techniques include meditation and getting a massage. Taking a short walk out in the fresh air can also help you unwind.
Get enough sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at