Anti-inflammatory diet guide: Foods, benefits and meal plan

Anti-inflammatory diet guide: Foods, benefits and meal plan

Ignore chronic inflammation at your peril. Recognised as a contributor to many deaths globally, half of these are partly attributable to inflammation-related diseases including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes.

“Whilst helpful in the short term – as part of the body’s healing process in response to injury or an infection – inflammation becomes harmful if it becomes chronic,” says Dr Sammie Gill, a dietitian and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) specialist. 

“And it can cause damage to tissue and cause disease.” 

Diet is a huge influence. “Some foods such as the highly processed Western style diet, with high levels of saturated fat, fuel inflammation. Others, such as a Mediterranean-style diet, with its plant-based healthy fats and lean protein content, have an anti-inflammatory effect, which can be helpful in preventing and managing chronic diseases.” 

Jump to:

  • Understanding inflammation
  • What is the anti-inflammatory diet?
  • Foods to include
  • Foods to avoid or limit
  • Health benefits
  • Tips for starting an anti-inflammatory diet
  • Seven-day meal plan

  • Autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis).
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Sarcoma.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
  • Mental illnesses such as depression.
  • Inflammatory foods include those high in saturated fats such as meat (including processed meat) and butter, as well as processed foods (such as cakes and biscuits) which contain palm oil.

    Marcela Fiuza, a registered dietitian at Marcela Nutrition, says in her practice she uses a Med-style anti-inflammatory diet because it’s easy to follow and has the best evidence base. 

    “As well as metabolic health it’s very beneficial for your joints, reducing your risk of certain types of cancer, and it’s important for brain health and cognitive function. There are also benefits for your emotional health including reducing the risk of depression and improving mood.”

    sardines, mackerel, herring and fresh tuna (but not tinned),’ says Arens. “They are rich sources of  long-chain omega fatty acids which have a strong evidence base for reducing inflammation, particularly in arthritis. “The UK government recommends eating two portions a week of fish, one of which would be oily. This probably wouldn’t be enough on its own to help with something like arthritis though, you would need to take fish oil supplements as well and medication. Large amounts of omega-3s will help but won’t cure the condition.”
  • Olive oil and rapeseed oil.
  • Wholegrains including wholemeal bread, pasta and rice .
  • Tea, including black tea and green tea. “Tea has a high anti-inflammatory index score, it doesn’t matter whether it’s black or green, although there’s some evidence  adding milk might reduce the effects,” says Arens.
  • Coffee is also anti-inflammatory as it contains polyphenols (but doesn’t score as highly as tea).
  • Lean protein such as chicken or turkey, or vegetarian alternatives such as tofu.
  • Dark chocolate (look for 70 per cent cocoa and above and stick to a few squares).
  • Herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger and turmeric are anti-inflammatory agents. Use to flavour food instead of salt. 
  • Red wine, although while it is anti-inflammatory due to its high content of resveratrol, experts don’t advocate drinking too much alcohol. Whole grapes and berries are better sources of resveratrol.
  • some margarines.
  • Crisps.
  • Alcohol.
  • Takeaway and processed pizzas. 
  • Coconut oil and butter.
  • Full fat milk and hard cheese.
  • getting better sleep.

    Heart health 

    Most evidence for the health benefits of the anti-inflammatory diet lies in the heart health field. Going back to the 1950s, the Seven Countries Study by the American physiologist Ancel Keys found dietary patterns in the Mediterranean were associated with lower rates of heart disease and death. 

    The Lyon Diet Heart Study, built on these findings, showed the Mediterranean anti-inflammatory diet had a striking protective effect on heart attack recurrence. “Since then, large-scale epidemiological and intervention trials have consistently shown compelling evidence on cardiovascular health including lowering hypertension (high blood pressure) and blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides),” says Dr Gill.

    Type 2 diabetes and weight management 

    The anti-inflammatory diet has shown promise in metabolic health with previous studies showing improvements in glycaemic (blood sugar control). 

    A study published last year found that the Mediterranean diet was effective in helping to control blood sugar in people with Type 2 diabetes. An anti-inflammatory diet is also linked to a lower body weight and body mass index (BMI), as well as a lower risk of gaining weight over time.

    Mental health 

    The Smiles trial found people with moderate to severe depression who followed a Med style anti-inflammatory diet, eating 50g of fibre a day, had a 32 per cent reduction in depression symptoms compared to eight per cent in a control group. Since then, other studies have reported similar findings.

    One study found that apples, tea, and onions were the foods with the most anti-inflammatory effects, so that might be a good place to start,” says Arens.

    Compiled by Dr Sammie Gill


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    Kerri Waldron

    My name is Kerri Waldron and I am an avid healthy lifestyle participant who lives by proper nutrition and keeping active. One of the things I love best is to get to where I am going by walking every chance I get. If you want to feel great with renewed energy, you have to practice good nutrition and stay active.

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