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What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet? Here, we dive deep into the meaning and causes of inflammation, plus get a list of anti inflammatory foods and what foods to avoid.

What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet? Here, we dive deep into the meaning and causes of inflammation, plus get a list of anti inflammatory foods and what foods to avoid.

**This post originally appeared in November 2015. It was updated in July 2017 to reflect new information, tips, a list of anti inflammatory foods and a helpful quiz.

When I was first diagnosed with PCOS and Leaky Gut, my doctor recommended I eat an anti-inflammatory diet. I honestly had no idea what that was–or what inflammation even meant, for that matter.

After a few Google searches and reading articles online, I turned to the amazing Clean Cuisine Book for help. My eyes were opened! Within a week, my digestion had improved by nearly 100 percent and I truly felt better, lighter and so much less bloated.

And the change in my diet wasn’t even that drastic. I couldn’t believe how simple and powerful the anti-inflammatory diet was.

My friends and family are always asking me “can you eat this?” and the truth is, an anti-inflammatory diet isn’t totally restrictive.

You don’t have to completely cut out entire food groups to reduce inflammation in your body. Instead, it’s about eating more of the good (real, whole food) and simply less of the bad (processed, refined junk). The 80-20 rule at its best.

And now, nearly three years later, I can proudly say that following the anti-inflammatory diet is the number one thing I did to reverse chronic diseases like IBS, hormonal imbalances, and hypothyroidism.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning:

What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet? Here, we dive deep into the meaning and causes of inflammation, plus get a list of anti inflammatory foods and what foods to avoid.

What Is the Definition of Inflammation?

You’ve likely heard the term inflammation thrown around before, but if (like me), you’re not sure what inflammation means, this section is for you.

The best way I heard inflammation described was to think of how your body swells and becomes red and hot when you cut or burn yourself. That’s inflammation. It’s simply your body’s immune response to protect it from harm and begin healing.

While acute inflammation (think infections, sore throats, cut, viruses, and other temporary conditions) is a GREAT thing, there is another type of inflammation. And what I had (and what millions of Americans have) is chronic inflammation.

This is bad. Really bad. Chronic inflammation, meaning your body is constantly inflamed, can cause a host diseases and debilitating conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, digestive disorders (from IBD and IBS to Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), asthma, ulcers, sinusitis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, hay fever, active hepatitis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.

Inflammation is truly one of America’s most deadly diseases. That’s why inflammation is SO scary!

How To Tell If Your Inflamed: Signs, Symptoms + A Quiz for Chronic Inflammation

Though inflammation can cause these more serious conditions, there are some early signs of inflammation you can watch for.

While acute inflammation symptoms include pain, redness, immobility, swelling and heat, chronic inflammation symptoms are a little more complicated. But fear not! I’ve created a handy quiz here to help you figure out whether or not your body is inflamed.

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What Causes Inflammation?

While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what causes inflammation (it can be a whole host of things and/or a combination of things), we know that harmful bacteria and pathogens, injury, infections with some types of viruses, lack of quality sleep, smoking, chronic stress, persistent foreign invaders, and overactive immune system reactions all play a role.

While some of these things might be out of our control, there’s a big one that is not: persistent foreign bodies, aka FOOD! Or more specifically, harmful food.

Of course, it always comes back to food. Or rather, health starts with food.

Yes, finally the good news! There is a treatment for inflammation and it’s as simple as changing the way we eat.

Think of it like this: the food we eat can either be nourishing or harmful. So when we eat inflammatory foods (deep-fried junk, refined, white flour, excessive caffeine and alcohol, processed food), our body’s immune response flares up = acute inflammation.

And when we keep eating that way, it never gets “turned off”. As a result, our cells start attacking our body and causing those chronic diseases we talked about above.

But when we eat anti-inflammatory foods, we reduce the inflammation in our body, and thus reduce any symptoms caused by inflammation and ultimately our risk for chronic disease. YES!

So what foods are inflammatory?

A Guide to Our Favorite Healthy Brands + Exclusive Discounts

The anti-inflammatory diet: What foods reduce inflammation?

Ok before I give you a list of anti inflammatory foods, let’s quickly go over the basics of the anti-inflammatory diet.

In short, an anti-inflammatory diet is chockfull of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also rich in good fats (like almonds and avocados), lean protein (think beans and fish) and fiber-rich carbs (that’s veggies and whole grains, not refined flours and sugars).

It’s very similar to the Mediterranean diet and more about balance than you might expect.

In fact, what I’ve found after nearly 3 years of eating this way, is that reducing inflammation in your body isn’t about cutting out entire foods groups and following some restrictive, depressing diet.

Instead, it’s centered around this basic concept: eat more good and less bad.

What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet? Here, we dive deep into the meaning and causes of inflammation, plus get a list of anti inflammatory foods and what foods to avoid.


RELATED:  How to Stock a Real Food Fridge with Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Make Eating Healthy Easy

What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet? Here, we dive deep into the meaning and causes of inflammation, plus get a list of anti inflammatory foods and what foods to avoid.

The anti-inflammatory diet: What foods cause inflammation?

Just as some foods reduce inflammation, there are others (those persistent foreign invaders) that cause inflammation. This could be because you have a sensitivity, intolerance or allergy to that food, or simply because the food is unhealthy, full of toxic chemicals, or not easy to digest.

The food you eat also determines the types of microbes that live in your gut, so it’s so important to feed all the right bugs. To wit:

a list of inflammatory foods to avoid to reduce inflammation:

Be sure to wash it all down with plenty of good old fashioned water–staying hydrated is another key component to reducing inflammation.

RELATED:  How to Stock a Healthy Pantry: A Checklist for Real Food Pantry Staples

It’s important to note that we all have bodies that are unique with personalized microbiomes, food sensitivities, medical history, etc. While the list above is a great guideline, the best way to really get to know what foods are best for you is to do some testing.

A couple of my favorite companies that provide you with affordable tests you can take at home are Viome for gut tests and EverlyWell for food sensitivities test (EverlyWell also has awesome hormonal tests, vitamin + mineral deficiency tests and more). For more details, read about my first hand experiences with Viome in Metabolism + Microbiome Testing From Your Couch, and with EverlyWell in the posts The Best At Home Health Tests and Women’s Health Tracking Tools to Track Periods, Increase Fertility + Balance Hormones.

What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet? Here, we dive deep into the meaning and causes of inflammation, plus get a list of anti inflammatory foods and what foods to avoid.

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet + 80-20 Rule

I truly believe balance is the secret to living a long, healthy and happy life. So while I do eat an anti-inflammatory diet, I also allow myself indulgences in moderation and swear by the 80-20 rule: be as healthy as you can 80 percent of the time, and learn to let go and celebrate life the other 20 percent.

Life isn’t worth living without the pleasure food provides, but it’s no fun living with chronic disease, either. Find the balance that works best for you. Cheers!

RELATED:  The 80-20 Rule: A Practical Diet Approach for a Healthier Relationship with Food

If you want to learn more about the anti-inflammatory diet, I highly recommend the following books:

Likewise, food isn’t the only way to reduce inflammation. There are also anti-inflammatory supplements and herbs and lifestyle changes (including tossing toxic products) you can make to reduce inflammation in your body and put yourself on the fast track to your best.

Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I've linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.

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34 comments on “What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?”

  1. Pingback: Kitchen Therapy With Food Blogger Kate Kordsmeier - Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine Clinic in Fort Lauderdale, FL

  2. It was a gift from a woman on the other side of the world. From the kindness of her heart, she took pity on my suffering and taught me how to completely reverse my arthritis.

  3. I love your website; it gives me hope that I can cure my pcos one day. I also have an endometrial polyp, adrenal, and thyroid issues and I had a miscarriage last year. I have been to tons of doctors, herbalists, and naturopaths and I’ve followed their advice for a month or two before throwing in the towel. I don’t know why I have such a hard time sticking to it! I am currently starting with a new naturopath and hoping that I’ll trust his advice and work with him long term. I just hate changing my lifestyle because it feels hard to give up the food I like. I barely have dairy and white sugar though and I have coffee once a day with soy milk, trying to switch to almond. I eat lots of fruits and veggies and mostly complex carbs like quinoa and brown rice. I just never feel any better, my periods are all over the place, my hair is falling out and I have hirsutism that gets worse every month. I feel like a mess. I’ll take supplements from one herbalist and then my husband (who’s a naturopath!) suggests something else and I get all confused and end up doing a few treatments at the same time and never get anywhere. Wow that was long! If you have any ideas of how to have consistency with these changes I’d love to hear. Thanks!

    • Hey Michal – That sounds so tough, and I completely get how confusing it can all be. It’s easy to get disheartened but I find that sometimes you really have to stick with some of the lifestyle, diet and supplements for more than a month or two before seeing results – so consistency and commitment is key. Have you been tested for food allergies + sensitivities? If you’re eating foods your body doesn’t like, that will definitely keep you inflammed and may led to other issues. I also recommend doing whatever you can to reduce stress, create time for self care + nurture, and do gentle movements regularly like yoga, T-Tapp or whatever types of movement you enjoy. Hope that helps some, and really hope to start to find some relief soon!

  4. Great site! I too have worked to overcome inflammation-related issues and this is the first site that’s really talked much about that or how to help yourself heal. This would have been a game-changer for me a few years ago, but it’s still applicable to me now and will save folks who are just starting their journey so much time and stress. There is hope, my constipated friends! 😉

    • Aw, thanks Chelsea! I so appreciate your kind words. Glad to hear that you’ve overcome your challenges. Yes, there is hope for everyone! <3

      • I have been completely overwhelmed by my diagnosis of PCOS, LEAKY GUT, HASHIMOTOS, INSULIN RESISTANCE, LOW VITAMIN D,AND IRON DEFICIENCY. NOT TO MENTION BATTLING WEIGHT. YOUR SITE has given me a since of understanding this battle I think I may now understand. My physician didn’t come close to the info you have provided.

        You gave me so much info and a starting place. My pity party is over as of now. I’m getting myself in gear and moving forward.

        Thank you a million times over.

        • Ooh, Tammy – this warms my heart to hear! I am thrilled that you feel more optimistic and have a better understanding of what’s going on in your body. That’s exactly why I started this site – to share info and hope it helps people. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and best wishes on your healing journey!

  5. I was randomly googling and came across your site. I decided to try the Paleo thing and didn’t work well for me at all since I don’t like red meat or any kind of meat that much ( I maybe eat steak twice a year, if that). I’ve been leaning more towards the vegetarian route.
    Anyways I’m so thankful to have come across your site and all this awesome info. It has really been helpful in changing the way I eat to help heal the inflammation in my body.

  6. Great post! I’m loving your whole site. I too overcame PCOS, or at least have minimized symptoms (and conceived naturally!) through a natural lifestyle.

  7. This is a great post! I honestly believe that avoiding inflammatory foods has helped me tremendously. Especially when it comes to how my body feels with intense workouts. Trying to get my parents on an anti-inflammatory diet.

  8. This post is absolutely informative. it is very important to understand the anti inflammatory diet and also its importance. Especially what should be consumed in this diet.

  9. This is such a useful resource! I feel like so many of us have inflammation and don’t know what to do about it, so I appreciate that this post gives great insight with practical approaches for incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into our lives. Thanks Kate!

  10. Love your site! I was recently diagnosed with PCOS in January and I really trying to fix my diet, especially since we are TTC as well. Question for you, with all of my research on PCOS, I see a lot of low carb and Low GI diets. Is this something you recommend or do as well, or can I see great benefits with just eating more anti-inflammatory? Thanks!

    • Hi, Courtney: Thanks so much for the kind words. I don’t really believe in a low-carb diet per say; rather I try to eat primarily real, whole foods rather than refined, processed foods. So that means I don’t eat a lot of flour and sugar, the two primary components of most “carbs”. However I get tons of carbs from whole gluten-free grains and fruits and vegetables. Hope that helps!

  11. Wow. I’m really happy to have ran across your site today! I have been dealing with some indigestion issues for well over a month now (in truth it has been coming and going since 2015, but never a spell like this – I do have a dr appt scheduled for this week). In doing some “googling” I discovered that some of the newest research suggests that inflammation might be the cause. It makes a lot of sense because I was recently “diagnosed” (use parenthesis because it is a harmless condition) with geographical tongue by my dentist – which is auto-immune related and has been going on for the past several years with me not realizing what it was. I have been researching different diets and it all seems so difficult because everything seems so all or nothing and with a small child, a busy family, and a bit of a love for wine, chocolate, and good beer I might lose my mind if I had to completely drop everything. It is nice to hear that you have had success with the 80/20 rule. I’m excited to read more and get started using your blog. Thanks!

    • Hey, Ashley! Yes, I am SO glad you’re here, too. Inflammation and an unbalanced microbiome can definitely cause indigestion, as can food allergies and intolerances. I haven’t heard of geographical tongue before, but I’m glad you’re working with a doctor who can help you treat that. Yes, the 80-20 has totally saved me! I hope it helps you, too.

  12. I am so interested in trying this out. I have been suffering from IBS C and completely miserable.
    I have a question though do you eat eggs?

  13. Hi , was really really glad to read your post.Its mighty useful and I think it will help me a lot.You look a lot like Scarlett Johansen…..And I’m not lying just to make you happy.
    At 47 it’s very tough for me to loose wt….I’m 80 kg…5ft 4 in in HT.i suffer from constipation and have hypothyroidism and was diagnosed vasculitis 1 year back. Since 7 years I also have pain in joints off and on…..So …..What I’ve read on your site will definitely help me.

    • Aw shucks, thanks for the compliment, Leena. I responded to your email yesterday and look forward to connecting more with you in this community!

  14. Great information!! Thanks for sharing! I am following almost all your advise already for adrenal fatigue. Any idea how long each phase might take? or how long your phases were? I’ve been fighting this for a year and expected to be better than I am at this point. Definitely one of the best articles I’ve seen regarding these issues! Thanks again!

    • Hi, Vicky: So glad you’ve found some helpful info here. It’s hard to say how long each phase will take without knowing where you started, and how rigorously you’re treating your adrenal fatigue. For me personally, it took about 6 months for my hormones to start balancing and then about another 6 months to start really feeling my best. Would be happy to chat more with you about your specific situation, so feel free to email me! 🙂

  15. Wow this is extremely helpful, thank you! I’ve been struggling with chronic constipation for about four months now. I cut out dairy due to my intolerance, and since this summer have been a vegetarian. I will definitely try incorporating more healthy fats and non-wheat grains and see if that helps 🙂

  16. Hi Kate!
    I’m interested in adopting a more anti-inflammatory diet. My six year old complains frequently of tummy aches and I think it’s a good allergy. Are there any meal delivery services you’d recommend to supplement/jumpstart an anti-inflammatory diet, such as HelloFresh or anything similar? I am AWFUL at meal planning so something to kickstart us would be great.

  17. Great article! Thanks for the helpful information

  18. Thank you for this!