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What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

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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 learn how to balance gentle nutrition with Intuitive Eating and trusting your body’s innate wisdom.

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 learn how to balance gentle nutrition with Intuitive Eating and trusting your body's innate wisdom.

**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. It’s been updated again in August 2019 as our approach to food has evolved into more of an intuitive eating mindset.

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.

RELATED:  Read This: Five Books To Nourish Your Body

And the change in what I was eating wasn’t even that drastic. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to completely cut out entire food groups to reduce inflammation in my body.

Instead, I learned, it’s about nourishing your body with health-promoting nutrients. Think about what you can ADD IN instead of what you have to CUT OUT.

NOTE: I want to take a second here to say that as my approach to food has evolved, I no longer think of food as being either good or bad, like I once did when I first wrote this post on the anti-inflammatory diet.

In fact, the crux of my evolution comes down to the fact that I believe things aren’t so black and white, and there absolutely is NO ‘one size fits all’ approach to health and wellness, not even the anti-inflammatory diet. Because guess what?

Not only do we each have our own unique bodies, health history, environment, and genes, but perhaps more important than that: Diets, no matter how unrestrictive they might seem, don’t work. Let me say that again.

DIETS DO NOT WORK. 

There are literally hundreds of studies that show that not only are diets not a long-term solution, but they also often result in people gaining back more weight than they lost and creating other health problems from the yo-yo dieting and stress of it all.

So, yes, the anti-inflammatory diet was an amazing tool in the beginning of my healing journey that provided me with incredible support and results. And it’s not that I don’t recommend it, per se. But following this way of eating (and I did it for over 3 years!) was not sustainable in the long-term, and it wound up causing me a lot of stress due to feelings of guilt, shame and fear that I developed around food. Even with the 80-20 rule–which was still a “rule”, a way of eating that followed something other than my body’s own intuition.

I’ve seen firsthand the role stress plays in my own life, and the more I’m learning about it and discovering new research, along with my own empirical evidence, I’m now convinced of this:

MORE important than the actual food we eat is HOW we think and feel about food.

This includes our mindset, our stress levels, our emotions, and our energy towards how we approach food–and ultimately–how we approach life at large.

I now believe that we should first listen to what our bodies are saying, what are they asking for, what do they need, what makes us feel good, and decide what we eat based on that, rather than arbitrary rules someone else put in place.

YOU are the expert of your own body, nobody else, no matter how many degrees or certifications they might have.

Our bodies truly do have their own wisdom, and it’s our job to slow down and get into receptive mode so we can hear what they have to say.

NOT what the latest fad diet is preaching, NOT what your friend swore made her lose 10 pounds, NOT even what some blogger (cough cough, that was me) promised reversed her PCOS or cured her digestion woes.

Now that I’ve had my digestion, hormones, and thyroid balanced and optimized for several years, I realize that food is just ONE piece of the puzzle. What you eat can certainly help you feel better; there’s no arguing that. But so can how much movement you incorporate into your lifestyle, how you practice self-care, what kinds of medications and supplements you take, where your stress levels are, what kind of spirituality you may or may not have, what kinds of products you use on your skin, in your home, and what is happening in your environment. Not to mention genes. Hello!

OK…so now, and I know this might come as a shock, I want to talk about inflammation. But from a different perspective than I used to… from an intuitive eating perspective that applies gentle nutrition to get your feeling your best: mind, body and soul.

If something doesn’t resonate with you along the way, that’s okay. TRUST YOURSELF! YOU know what makes your body feel good.

Ok… ready?

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.

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. (source)

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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 (my guess is this may be one of the BIGGEST factors in those struggling with chronic inflammation), persistent foreign invaders (i.e. food that doesn’t make our body feel good), and overactive immune system reactions all play a role.

NOTE: Again, this is a reminder that it’s not ONLY about the food. There are a lot of things that can cause inflammation, some of which are out of our control. 

RELATED:  The Gut Microbiome: A Guide to Digestive, Skin, Immune System & Mental Health

While I used to recommend avoiding foods like deep-fried junk, refined, white flour, excessive caffeine and alcohol, and processed food, I now believe the stress of this kind of deprivation may be even worse for our bodies than the food itself. So instead, I now recommend a more balanced and realistic approach you can sustain for the long-term.

That being said, if you have a legitimate food allergy and you continue eating that food, you are going to feel the negative repercussions of that food; so in the case of allergies, I do recommend removing the food trigger from your diet.

If you don’t have a food allergy, I recommend instead focusing on adding in more nourishing foods to your diet that will reduce the inflammation in your body, and thus reduce any symptoms caused by inflammation and ultimately your risk for chronic disease. YES!

A Guide to Our Favorite Healthy Brands + Exclusive Discounts

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 (like veggies and whole grains), much like the Mediterranean diet.

In fact, what I found after 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.

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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.

A LIST OF ANTI INFLAMMATORY FOODS TO EAT MORE OF:

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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 foods cause inflammation?

I used to include a section here about foods that cause inflammation, but I’ve decided to remove it because short of a sensitivity, intolerance or allergy to a specific food, I truly believe there is room for ALL foods in a balanced diet.

Of course, I don’t recommend subsisting solely on fast food, refined sugar, soybean oil, caffeine and alcohol. There’s nothing balanced about that!

But life requires we make space for pizza on Friday night family game night, or some margaritas and tacos when you’re out with your friends, or convenient fast food during a road trip if you’re craving some Chick-Fil-A.

This is life and we need to ENJOY it, not stress about it. How liberating is that?!

No matter what you eat, be sure to wash it all down with plenty of good old fashioned water–staying hydrated is another key component to reducing inflammation.

It’s important to note that we all have bodies that are unique with personalized microbiomes, food sensitivities, medical history, unique genes, 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 to get to the bottom of any physical issues you may be experiencing in your body.

RELATED:  The Best At Home Health Tests

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 + Intuitive Eating

Technically, those two phrases don’t belong together. Intuitive Eating is the opposite of a diet. And while I am a proponent of gently nourishing your body with “healthy” foods, I also am a firm believer that it’s healthy to let loose and not constantly worry about every bite you put into your mouth.

Everything in moderation, including moderation.

It’s one of my all-time favorite quotes, and I truly believe balance is the secret to living a long, healthy and happy life. So while I do try to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods onto my plate, I’ve also learned to let go and celebrate life, too.

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!

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


Likewise, food isn’t the only way to reduce inflammation. There are also natural supplements and herbs you can take, stress-reducing lifestyle changes you could employ, and the detoxing of your products and environment that can help you reduce inflammation in your body and put yourself on the fast track to your best.

RELATED:  Green Living Guide: 7 Ways to Transition to a Non-Toxic Life

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Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser

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

  1. Love this approach and the importance of focusing on a truly holistic viewpoint… not enough people do and it’s so key! I’m so glad that you’re finding what works for you. 🙂

  2. I had chronic inflammation for years and it was literally ruining over my life. Then I found out about these simple herbs and now I feel healthier than I have in 20 years:

    https://www.healthwise101.com/

    Best of luck!

  3.  How about a diet for adrenal fatigue my adrenals are so exhausted I’m walking with a walker but I know once one gland is affected all three which are thyroid and pituitary 

  4. I cried myself to sleep last night feeling overwhelmingly discouraged and confused about my body. I was diagnosed with PCOS and insulin resistance two years ago after forcing doctors to take my health concerns seriously. I had dozens of doctors appointments in the summer after my freshmen year of college after not having my period for a year, where physicians told me I might have PCOS but there was no way to prove it and no treatment so I shouldn’t care about being diagnosed. My insulin was tested and my results came back in the pre-diabetic range, my doctors said nothing to me and after I scheduled a follow up appointment they asked me why I was there. I begged for an appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist to get my health back on track and when I became emotional they set up a phone interview with a psychiatrist instead. I was confused then because I have always eaten healthy and exercised regularly but I was hopeful I could reverse the effects. With no help from my medical provider I began to educate myself and read dozens of articles, peer-reviewed research papers, and blog posts. I found out about pro-biotics, and after taking one for two weeks got my period back. I heard about metformin and emailed my doctor to get a prescription to start taking it- I have now been taking it for almost two years and have had zero follow up or any updated blood work done. I began exercising every single day along with walking 5 miles a day. I cut out carbs, an additional stress to my diet as I had already cut my calories to 1,000 – 1,200 a day for the past year. I ate keto for over a year and in the past 10 months now have switched to a paleo diet (completely cutting out diary) but still restrict most carbs. I have had issues with chronic constipation on top of this for years and have reached out in desperation to my doctors after trying absolutely everything (phylum husk, magnesium oxide, miralax, senna, detox teas etc.) and was met with ‘some people just don’t go to the bathroom as much as others, and you might just have to take miralax everyday for the rest of your life’. I tacked on intermittent fasting as well 10 months ago and do a 20 hour fast each day of the week (Monday – Friday) but have nothing to show for it. After restricting myself for so long, trying to push off eating for as long as possible every day, eating as little as possible, and working out as much as possible without losing a pound I feel like there is nothing else to do but give up. I have tried everything and have reached a point of self failure. Last night felt like my point of giving up and accepting that I will never lose weight and will forever be unhappy with my body.
    Part of me wants to rethink my eating habits, to up my calories in hopes of fixing my broken metabolism or to try cutting out night shades or artificial sweeteners but then another part of me knows I will put in all this effort just to be disappointed.
    What did you do when you wanted to give up, was there anything you did that helped you lose weight, where should I go next in my health journey?

    • Hi Lindsey – thanks for sharing your story, and I’m so sorry to hear about frustrated you are! I feel you. It sounds like you’re restricting yourself a lot, so first I would say to do your best to relax and not have to follow so many rules. If you’re hungry, eat. Don’t feel like you have to eat as little as possible, or only in certain windows. Your body needs nourishment and not eating enough can trick your body into thinking it’s starving, and it will want to hold on to the weight. I know this may sound counterintuitive at first, but letting go of all that pressure and stress around all this and doing your best to accept where you’re at with your body and health works wonders. I’ve found paying attention to the mental and emotional aspects often works better than all the physical things we make ourselves do. So, focus on self care, things that make you happy, spending time with loved ones, nurturing yourself. Sending you love and best wishes for your healing!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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?

  16. 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.
    Thankyou.

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

  17. 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! 🙂

  18. 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 🙂

  19. 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.

  20. Great article! Thanks for the helpful information

  21. Thank you for this!