Photo: Greg Dupree

Making the right food choices can help control and prevent chronic inflammation—here’s what you need to know.

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
August 02, 2018

Occasional inflammation, like a swollen sprained ankle or painful cut, is healthy. It's a sign that the body's immune system is healing injuries and fighting off bacteria. While a little bothersome, the inflammation is acute and goes away in a few days. But there's another type of inflammation that's not so healthy: chronic inflammation. It's triggered by the immune system responding to irritants or foreign compounds, often in food or the environment.

Related: What is Inflammation—and How do I Know if I Have it?

With no overt symptoms, chronic inflammation is a little harder to understand or even recognize. However, research has linked it with obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Read on for the scoop on the top anti-inflammatory foods to eat and which foods you should skip.

Foods that Cause Inflammation

These foods and habits can all cause inflammation in the body. Try to limit or eliminate them as much as possible.

  • Excessive alcohol
  • Regularly eating more calories than your body needs
  • Trans and saturated fats
  • Fried foods
  • Refined carbs like white bread, white rice, etc.
  • Added sugars
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • High-fat meats and processed meats

Does Dairy Cause Inflammation?

Contrary to popular belief, dairy products like yogurt actually have an anti-inflammatory effect in most people. Yogurt reduces inflammation by supporting gut health. But saturated fat can promote inflammation, so choose lower-fat versions. However, if you have a dairy allergy or sensitivity, continue to avoid dairy, as it will trigger an inflammatory response.

Do Nightshades Cause Inflammation?

Nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes, are often blamed for arthritis inflammation due to their compound solanine. However, there's no conclusive research that they trigger inflammation. Nightshades are packed full of anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, so don't avoid them. However, if eating a specific one triggers pain or inflammation symptoms, it likely isn't the entire nightshade family, but rather a sensitivity to one that can be eliminated.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Plan

We've taken the guesswork out of eating to beat inflammation and loaded breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the best anti-inflammatory foods. All you have to do is cook and enjoy!

Breakfast: Quinoa Bowls with Avocado and Egg

Quinoa Bowls with Avocado and Egg

This quick, satisfying breakfast is loaded with anti-inflammatory foods: extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, tomatoes, quinoa, and omega-3 eggs. For even more anti-inflammatory benefit, serve with an orange or grapefruit.

View Recipe: Quinoa Bowls with Avocado and Egg

Lunch: Salmon Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette

Salmon Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette

Cherry juice is a year-round alternative with the same anti-inflammatory benefits as fresh cherries. If you're taking this salad to work, store the dressing separately and drizzle over the salad just before eating.

View Recipe: Salmon Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette

Dinner: Black Pepper-Curry Chicken Sauté

Black Pepper-Curry Chicken Sauté

Black pepper ads a subtle spiciness and enhances your body's absorption of turmeric in the curry. For the boldest flavor, use 1 teaspoon peppercorns. Serve with roasted cauliflower or broccoli for an extra anti-inflammatory boost.

View Recipe: Black Pepper Curry Chicken Sauté