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Healing Inflammation with Nutrition: Anti-Inflammatory Diet

There are dozens of medical conditions related to inflammation. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, metabolic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, and neurological diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's all have inflammation as hallmarks of the disease process. In fact, virtually every medical condition is associated with some level of inflammation. I often am asked about the anti-inflammatory diet for healing inflammatory diseases. Here is what you need to know.

Healing inflammatory diseases with nutrition is a big ask. Even the diseases that are most directly influenced by inflammation are complex and often will require medical therapies. Many people report that nutrition changes helped them in their disease process, but often, those situations had medical treatments occurring at the same time. Still, for many, nutrition is a big part of recovery.

If you want to use nutrition to heal your inflammation, there are a few points to keep in mind. For many patients, it is crucial to avoid delaying medical therapies. Discuss with your physician what medical therapies they recommend. If you are considering delaying medical treatments to try nutrition first, it is important to find out the potential problems you may run into if you don't start medical treatments right away.

Starting a medication does not necessarily mean you need to take it for life. With some conditions, if symptoms are improving with diet changes that came along with the medical intervention, your physician may be comfortable with decreasing or stopping a medication. The reason why your physician might want to start with a medical intervention is that the symptoms of the disease are concerning in the short term--you might not have time to experiment with diet.

bowl of nuts

Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Nutrition

Once you have taken care of the medical interventions for healing your inflammatory disease, you can focus your efforts on nutrition and the anti-inflammatory diet. You will notice that the nutrition interventions in the anti-inflammatory diet for healing inflammation are quite similar to any other set of healthy nutrition advice. Foods that are known to be healthy in general are, for the most, part good for improving inflammation.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Eat for Healing Inflammation

Foods that are anti-inflammatory are plant-based foods. This includes whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. When looking to increase these foods, eating them once or twice per week is probably not enough. These foods need to become the basis of the diet.

The goal is for virtually all carbohydrates to be high in fiber. That means foods like beans, lentils, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, barley, and quinoa should be the carbohydrates of choice for every single meal every single day rather than usually choosing white bread, white pasta, and other refined grains. For most people wishing to optimize nutrition, a high fiber carb once a day is not enough.

Many people benefit from eating a serving of nuts every single day. This can be 2 Tbsp of nut butter of 1/4 cup of nuts. While increasing intake of nuts from rarely to weekly is definitely an improvement, for most people who want to see results with inflammation, nuts and seeds will be an every single day food.

Similarly with eating more vegetables to heal inflammation. An increase from eating a small portion of vegetables two or three times per week to four or five times per week is likely inadequate. The goal is often two cups of vegetables two times per day. Additionally, for those with a limited variety of vegetables they eat, eating a wider variety of vegetables is helpful to optimize having a variety of nutrients.

Pro-Inflammatory Foods to Avoid for Healing Inflammation

You may have also heard about pro-inflammatory foods--foods that increase inflammation. Pro-inflammatory foods are red meats, specifically processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and sugars.

Decreasing red meat and processed meat intake is often a key to reducing inflammatory symptoms in some diseases. Those who see the most benefit are not those who eat red meat five times per week instead of seven times per week. It is those who decrease red meat intake to one time per week or less. Included in red meat is ground beef, steak, and bacon. Processed meats are all lunchmeats or deli meats, sausages, hot dogs, and pepperoni. Because red meats and processed meats are often accompaniments of a meal, they tend to take a lot of intention to avoid. Sausage on pizza, bacon with eggs, beef dumplings in soup, and a lunchmeat sandwich can make red meat appear in your eating pattern multiple times per day.

Refined carbohydrates and added sugar are also proinflammatory. Again, those who see the most benefit are those who decrease intake to near zero, and not those who decrease their intake somewhat from their own baseline. Refined carbohydrates and added sugars come from pizza, sandwiches, pastries, sweetened oatmeal packets, flavored yogurt, and breakfast cereals. Decreasing those takes commitment and effort to prepare or purchase other foods.

Can you Heal Inflammation with Nutrition and Diet?

Healing your inflammation with nutrition and diet is hard. There is no specific anti-inflammatory food that will counteract an entire pattern of eating. An anti-inflammatory diet is merely a basic healthy pattern of eating. It is not the typical diet of Americans, and it will take time and mental work to make those changes. If you need help with your anti-inflammatory diet, reach out!

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