6 Tips Using Food As Medicine To Fight Inflammation

by Kristen Keen, MBA, RD, LDN

Last Updated: July 24, 2020

We tend to put our bodies through the ringer both physically - like trying a new workout, emotionally - like stress, or illness - whether it is acute like COVID, or chronic such as rheumatoid arthritis. It’s common for our bodies to respond to these scenarios in the form of inflammation. Using food as medicine can combat some of these inflammatory responses our bodies experience. Choosing food with anti-inflammatory properties can help aid in decreasing the inflammatory response.

What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a protective response to stressors or foreign bodies. Inflammation can be acute and/or chronic. These stressors or foreign bodies can be related to an injury, stress, infection, autoimmune response, or a disease (like heart disease, diabetes, or cancer).

What is involved in an anti-inflammatory diet?
An anti-inflammatory diet uses food to decrease inflammation no matter the source of the inflammation. There are 2 aspects to this diet: foods that should be consumed daily, and foods that should be limited. The anti-inflammatory diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, including increasing fruits and vegetable consumption, prioritizing whole grains, and increasing healthy fat intake.

Foods to include:
  1. Fruits and Vegetables. Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables with the goal of creating a rainbow on your plate. Fruits and vegetables include phytochemicals, or antioxidants that help combat inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics, which help to decrease inflammation in the body. Aim for a minimum 3 vegetables and 2 fruits daily, either fresh, frozen, dried, or canned. Remember variety is key, so do your best to mix up your fruits and vegetables daily.
  2. Whole grains. Aim to choose whole grains over processed grains. Whole grains contain fiber and help combat inflammation. Aim for 3-4 whole grain servings a day including foods like brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, oats, farro, barley, and popcorn.
  3. Fats. Increase your consumption of heart healthy fats from sources like fish, nuts and seeds, oils, and avocado. Fish is rich in Omega 3’s, which helps fight off inflammation. Fish varieties include salmon, cod, sardines, and tuna, to name a few. Oils that are rich in heart healthy fat include olive, avocado, sesame, walnut. Keep a variety of nuts and seeds on hand like walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds. Aim for around 5 servings of these healthy fats daily.
  4. Protein. The anti-inflammatory diet focuses on lean protein sources including fish, chicken, turkey, beans, legumes, eggs, cheese, soy, yogurt, nuts and seeds. Aim for 2-4 protein sources a day, depending on your individualized needs.

Try to limit:
  1. Carbohydrates that are lower in fiber and higher in added sugar. Foods that fall into this category include many processed foods and refined grains. These foods have been linked to increased inflammation in the body. By January 1, 2021, all food items will be required to use the updated nutrition facts label, which includes added sugars. This tool will help us decipher how much added sugar is in a product. Check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for more information on this topic
  2. Saturated and Trans Fats These fats have been linked to increased inflammation, LDL cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats are found in animal products and tropical oils; trans fats are found in fried foods, margarine, baked foods, and include other hydrogenated oils.

The takeaway is to focus on variety. Variety helps ensure we are getting all the wonderful vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and fats to help fight off inflammation using food as medicine.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Kristen Keen, MBA, RD, LDN

Kristen Keen, MBA, RD, LDN

Kristen believes having a strong relationship with nutrition is key to having a healthy life and that relationship should center around the power of self-love!