8 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Eat

Anti-inflammatory foods benefit your overall health. Find out which foods experts recommend and how to incorporate them into your diet.

nuts, olive oil, leafy greens, citrus fruits
Bright, colorful foods are often rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that help tame inflammation.Adobe Stock (2); Canva

The foods we choose to eat can help tame (or flame) inflammation.

“Foods labeled as ‘anti-inflammatory’ typically have natural chemical compounds that help the body avoid or fight inflammation,” says Priya Reddy, MD, a rheumatologist with Southwest Florida Rheumatology in Tampa Bay and board member of the Association of Women in Rheumatology.

While some inflammation is good (it’s part of the body’s natural immune response), chronic inflammation can contribute to or worsen many chronic health issues (such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis), Dr. Reddy says. Research suggests that incorporating certain foods in your diet is one of many interventions that can help reduce overall inflammation, which may help prevent chronic health conditions, lower your risk for cognitive decline (including memory loss), and slow disease progression.

Polyphenols, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and pre- and probiotics are the main chemical compounds found in anti-inflammatory foods, Reddy says. “Foods naturally containing these compounds are high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, or other important nutrients.”

8 Top Anti-inflammatory Foods to Include in Your Diet

You can’t necessarily tell just by looking at a food whether it will help quash inflammation. However, naturally bright and colored whole food options are often a good bet (think fruits, vegetables, and plants), says Jen Scheinman, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in Ossining, New York. “Aim for a wide variety of colors to ensure you get all the powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients they contain.”

Start your anti-inflammatory diet with the following foods.

1. Whole Grains

A meta-analysis of nine randomized trials reveals that people who eat higher amounts of whole grains tend to have lower inflammatory markers (substances in the body that signal inflammation).

“Whole grains have several nutrients that make them anti-inflammatory,” says Scheinman. “For starters, they are high-fiber superstars, helping to keep the gut microbiome balanced and inflammation in check. They also have several vitamins and antioxidants that help to counterbalance chronic inflammation.” These include phenolic acids, phytic acid, lignin, and B vitamins.

Scheinman adds that whole grains’ impact on blood sugar also helps lower inflammation. “They have a low glycemic load, meaning they won't cause a spike in blood sugar. This is a good thing, since excess sugar has been linked to chronic inflammation,” she explains.

Swap out refined-grain foods like white rice, all-purpose flour, and white bread for whole-grain foods like brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat flour.

2. Fatty Fish

Fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and anchovies contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats with anti-inflammatory effects.

?These fats help reduce inflammation by stopping the production of inflammatory substances like cytokines (a type of protein) and counteracting the inflammatory effects of omega-6 fatty acids in your diet.

A study published in 2021 found that people at high risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease had reduced markers of inflammation after consuming 4 grams of oily fish daily for eight weeks.

And, fish are also a top source of lean protein, which tend to be more anti-inflammatory than red and processed meats.

3. Nuts

Nuts are a protein-rich food, full of healthy fats and antioxidants, which?can help to reduce inflammation,” Scheinman says. A study published in 2023 suggests that almonds and walnuts, for example, can decrease C-reactive protein (a protein released in response to inflammation) and other markers of inflammation in the blood.

Meanwhile, the same study reveals that Brazil nuts might fight oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radicals (dangerous molecules that attack helpful molecules that play a role in body functions) and antioxidants (substances that combat free radicals). This imbalance can trigger an inflammatory response.

Try adding a portion of nuts to home-baked muffins or brownies, sprinkle some atop your oatmeal, or eat a handful as a snack.

4. Berries

Berries get their jewel tones from antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Research suggests these antioxidants help limit cytokine activity and maintain a healthy balance of free radicals and antioxidants.

Reddy recommends incorporating these tasty, anti-inflammatory fruits into meals, snacks, and desserts. Load up on fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries when they’re in season, or keep a bag in your freezer year-round.

5. Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes are a lean, anti-inflammatory source of plant protein. The key to their impact lies partly in their fiber content. “Beans are rich in protein but also fiber, so they'll help to balance out the gut microbiome, which may help to suppress the inflammatory process,” Scheinman says.

Plus, beans like black beans and kidney beans pack antioxidants. The darkly pigmented anthocyanins in berries are also present in black, red, and blue-violet-colored beans.

?Lentils (a type of legume), meanwhile, are rich in antioxidants called polyphenols.

Incorporate canned or dried beans and legumes into salad or soup, or mix them into a dip for an anti-inflammatory snack.

6. Citrus Fruits

Oranges contain vitamin C and other powerful antioxidants, such as flavonoids, that may help inflammation.

For example, a scoping review of 21 studies including 307 healthy people and 327 people at risk for chronic disease found that those who drink 100 percent orange juice daily significantly reduced markers of inflammation. (The duration of the studies ranged from two hours to 31 weeks.)

Other bright and sunny citrus fruits to work into your diet include lemons, limes, and grapefruit. They all provide vitamin C, fiber, potassium, B vitamins, flavonoids, and carotenoids — nutrients that may play a role in quelling inflammation.

?

7. Leafy Green Vegetables

Whether you layer them on sandwiches, stuff them in pasta shells, or use them as a salad base, leafy greens are an excellent inflammation-fighter. A study published in 2019 found that people who ate a diet abundant in leafy green vegetables had reduced levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.

?Salad greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and arugula contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids that act as antioxidants.

Carotenoids, for example, block inflammatory pathways within cells, stopping the production of cytokines.

8. Olive Oil

There’s a reason olive oil is a staple in the oft-touted anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet: It’s been extensively studied for its effects on inflammation, with generally positive results.

Olive oil is 70 to 80 percent oleic acid, a fatty acid that helps balance pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines.

?In addition, olive oil contains an antioxidant known as oleocanthal. Past research shows that oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory properties similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen.

Reddy recommends using olive oil in recipes where you’d normally use butter. Use olive oil when baking, sautéing, and roasting.

The Takeaway

Inflammation is helpful in the short term, but chronic inflammation can contribute to health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and even cancer. Many foods contain nutrients that may help you keep inflammation under control. Be sure to include a variety of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, beans and legumes, nuts, and olive oil.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy. We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.

Sources

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  10. Betteridge DJ. What Is Oxidative Stress? Metabolism. February 2000.
  11. Khoo HE et al. Anthocyanidins and Anthocyanins: Colored Pigments as Food, Pharmaceutical Ingredients, and the Potential Health Benefits. Food & Nutrition Research. 2017.
  12. Al Bander Z et al. The Gut Microbiota and Inflammation: An Overview. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. October 2020.
  13. Ombra MN et al. Phenolic Composition and Antioxidant and Antiproliferative Activities of the Extracts of Twelve Common Bean (Phaseolus Vulgaris L.) Endemic Ectotypes of Southern Italy Before and After Cooking. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2016.
  14. Ganesan K et al. Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. November 2017.
  15. Cara KC et al. Effects of 100% Orange Juice on Markers of Inflammation and Oxidation in Healthy and At-Risk Adult Populations: A Scoping Review, Systematic Review, and Meta-Analysis. Advances in Nutrition. January 2022.
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