5 Science-Backed Diet Tweaks to Reduce Inflammation

by Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN
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5 Science-Backed Diet Tweaks to Reduce Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses. Heart disease, cancers and even Alzheimer’s disease can all be linked back to inflammation. Cooling down bodywide inflammation can help to reduce disease risk and improve overall energy levels and quality of life. One easy way to start fighting off inflammation is by making simple tweaks to your current dietary habits. With just a few adjustments, you can begin to experience marked health improvements. So what dietary tweaks are most effective at reversing inflammation? We turned to the experts to find out.

1. Adjust your ratio of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-6 unsaturated fats — found in corn, sunflower and safflower oils — can give rise to pro-inflammatory responses in the body, says Elana Natker, MS, RD. Choosing omega-3 fats for cooking, such as canola oil, more often can shift the body away from inflammatory production and also support anti-inflammatory responses. Better yet, she says, “eating foods rich in omega-3 fish oils EPA and DHA — such as salmon, herring and sardines — helps support heart and brain health, too.” Try filling your plate with a 3-ounce fillet of those fatty fish at least twice a week, and grab a handful of walnuts a few times per week for an omega-3 packed snack.

2. Fill your plate with color.

If you have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow,” then you already know a diet that contains a variety of colors can help promote health. However, certain colors can help fight inflammation more effectively than others. “Look for foods that are black, deep red, dark blue and purple in color,” says Marie Spano, MS, RD. “Instead of automatically choosing brown rice, pick up black rice. Instead of a sweet potato, try a purple potato or reach for purple carrots. Vegetables and fruits with these colors have been shown to decrease inflammation and promote artery health.”

3. Swap refined grains for whole grains.

Whole grains can lead to decreased inflammation, says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN,“When compared to refined grains, whole grains decrease the amount of time your blood sugar level is elevated post-meal — which means less inflammation for your body.” Identify the grains you eat each day. If you enjoy white pasta, try swapping it for pasta made with whole wheat or chickpea flour. If you are a rice lover, try switching out the white rice for quinoa. To help you identify if a food choice is whole grain, take a careful look at the ingredient list. For grain products, the first ingredient listed should be a form of whole grain, such as whole-wheat flour, bran or whole oats.

4. Cool off exercise-related inflammation.

An intense workout can be a great way to build muscle strength and endurance, but it can also lead to soreness and inflammation. If you suffer from post-workout soreness, consider adding ginger and cherries into your diet. “These foods have been shown to decrease inflammation and muscle soreness after a damaging bout of exercise,” says Spano, “In addition, there is some evidence showing ginger, when consumed daily, effectively reduces pain from osteoarthritis.” By simply adding ginger to your tea or a handful of cherries on top of your yogurt, you can help ease muscle soreness and inflammation.

5. Say ‘Yes!’ to Chocolate.

Well, this is certainly an easy dietary adjustment to make! “Unsweetened cocoa powder might help lower inflammation linked with heart disease,” says Gorin. By adding cocoa powder into smoothies, yogurts or your favorite beverage, you may be helping to cool off inflammation while satisfying your chocolate cravings. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that high-risk patients who drank skim milk mixed with unsweetened cocoa powder daily noticed a reduction in inflammatory biomarkers compared with those who drank plain skim milk. Try mixing one tablespoon of cocoa powder daily into the beverage of your choice.

By making small adjustments to your diet, such as increasing your intake of whole grains and adding more colorful fruits and vegetables to your plate, you may not only fight inflammation, you may reduce body fat as well. If body weight is improved and body fat is reduced, this change in overall body composition itself can promote an additional reduction in inflammation. “Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight in and of itself helps fight inflammation, since extra fat can promote inflammation,” says Natker.


  • ChattyCathy

    Excellent! Thank-you. All the facts succinctly put.

    • Divamsm

      I have sarcoidosis and it seems to affect my liver and joints more than anything. Every joint in my body was inflamed and swollen and painful, so I went to my rheumatologist who just seems to want to give me more drugs. She gave me a shot of Humira and I was supposed to start on it every 2 weeks. There was a mixup somewhere (I’m guessing her office – not very organized), and I was never contacted by the mail order company who would be filling the prescription. I didn’t really want to be on Humira anyway. One day I was discussing this with a friend who told me to take a shot of apple cider vinegar every morning because it has helped his arthritis tremendously. I started taking it, and also starting taking Tumeric extract capsules (with black pepper in them which helps with absorption). I began both of these around the end of August, and as of now, I have had no more problems with my chronic inflammation! I didn’t know if it was going to work, but I was willing to try anything to not have to use Humira. I feel soon much better now and highly recommend it!

      My OBgyn recommended I take a tablespoonful of olive oil every day because I’m afraid of getting heart disease since it runs in my family. I do this as well. I don’t know if it’s one item or all 3 together, but the results have been unbelievable in such a short time.

  • PapaGator

    Good article and advice in general, however there is one piece of advice that is questionable: Canola Oil can’t be considered a healthy alternative to other oils. It is a manufactured oil and has been shown in several studies to cause arterial inflamation; better alternatives are olive oil and avocado oil.

    • PapaWags

      While Avocado and Olive oil are fine for salads, they don’t cook well. Heat destroys a lot of the omega 3 advantages. Canola is the best to use for cooking with the highest smoking point of the omega 3 type oils. It is “manufactured” from Rape Weed seed, Olive Oil is “manufactured” from olives. I can’t comment on the inflammation aspects except it’s always good to use the least amount possible of any oil when cooking.

      • Kyah Vaughn

        Actually, avocado oil is one of the best to use for cooking, as it has a very high smoke point. Olive oil is not…and best used for salads.

    • Shaikha Bu Rafeea

      The best thing to cook with organic ghee not olive oil or avocado because they not good in high heat

  • Kelly Carter

    I have an extreme form of inflammation (as a byproduct of autoimmune disease): rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I can speak only for myself, but attempting to reduce inflammation with diet versus medication was a total waste of time for me. If anyone out there is dealing with something extreme, or possibly the INITIAL symptoms of something extreme (but not yet diagnosed), like RA, don’t risk your health trying to treat it with diet. See a physician/specialist first. In the case of RA (and possibly similar diseases), I’m told that the best hope is EARLY and AGGRESSIVE treatment with medication. Between myself and one of my siblings, I got early/aggressive treatment, and she didn’t. Now, under meds, I’m almost normal. She, also under meds, suffers horribly. Maybe it’s an age or gender difference, but it’s likely how early we started treatment. I’m not sure who, or what types/degrees of inflammation, are safe to try to treat with diet alone. I respect this article’s author’s credentials. But I would also advise consulting with a doctor, without delay.

  • Shaikah Bu Rafeea

    With all my respect to the writer

    And coming from what I know through searching daily since 5 years to reduce my inflammation, you need to stop eating grains (gluten), dairy, sugar, complex carbs, and some other inflammatory food like avocado, coffee, chocolate, egg white, anything canned or processed, orange juice.. etc

    I know it surprise you I did also before.

    Plus reduced your stree levels also sleep more 8 hours daily and reduced your weight, takes more care of your insulin levels especially if your pre-diabetic with GERD and Urticaria like me, and have histamine as the inflammation hormone more than cortisol the anti inflammation hormone.

    Please read about this in the connection between hormonal unbalance and inflammatory issues.

    To get some relief, take probiotics tablets, bone broth, onion, garlic, turmeric with black pepper always, watercress, spring onion, all the green food also amazing, lentils, chickpeas, apples, peaches … etc as good food for anti inflammation (anti histamine food) search more if you like.

    The most important thing is to drink more water like 3 to 4 liters a day.

    I love yogurt and brown bread but I will cut them for 1 months with every insulin & inflammation recipe to control my chronic Urticaria and have a happy gut is more important than anything now.