The anti-inflammatory diet is an eating pattern that combines healthy components of traditional Mediterranean and Asian dietary patterns to maximize the healing potential of the foods included. Both cultures traditionally offer foods associated with good health and longevity. The basis for the anti-inflammatory diet is the increase of beneficial anti-inflammatory foods and reduction of pro-inflammatory foods. This leverages the growing evidence base that some of the dietary components found in foods, such as fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, whole grain, and foods of marine origin – among others, can play an important role in decreasing physiologic processes associated with chronic diseases.
Understanding the role of inflammation in health emphasizes the power of nutrition to modulate the inflammatory pathways. Acute inflammation is an immunologically mediated process, necessary for the body to repair and heal itself. However, a chronic state of inflammation can lead to tissue damage, increased morbidity and increased mortality. There is compelling research that has demonstrated that a healthy anti-inflammatory diet is protective against pro-inflammatory illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, obesity, and dementia.
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”
— MICHAEL POLLAN
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Pyramid
From the bottom of the pyramid up...
How much: 4 to 5 servings per day minimum (one serving is equal to 2 cups salad greens or ½ cup vegetables cooked, raw, or juiced)
Healthy choices: Lightly cooked dark leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, kale, Swiss chard), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy and cauliflower), carrots, beets, onions, peas, squashes, sea vegetables and washed raw salad greens
Why: Vegetables are rich in flavonoids and carotenoids with both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Go for a wide range of colors, eat them both raw and cooked, and choose organic when possible.
How much: 3 to 4 servings per day (one serving is equal to 1 medium-size piece of fruit, ½ cup chopped fruit, ½ cup of dried fruit)
Healthy choices: Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, oranges, pink grapefruit, red grapes, plums, pomegranates, blackberries, cherries, apples, and pears – all lower in glycemic load than most tropical fruits
Why: Fruits are rich in flavonoids and carotenoids with both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Go for a wide range of colors, choose fruit that is fresh in season or frozen, and buy organic when possible.
How much: Throughout the day
Healthy choices: Drink pure water, or drinks that are mostly water (tea, very diluted fruit juice, sparkling water with lemon) throughout the day. Alkaline water is currently just a fad and offers no real benefit, so no need to waste your money on it
Why: Water is vital for overall functioning of the body.
WHOLE AND CRACKED GRAINS
How much: 3 to 5 servings a day (one serving is equal to about ½ cup of cooked grains)
Healthy choices: Brown rice, basmati rice, wild rice, buckwheat groats, barley, quinoa, steel-cut oats
Why: Whole grains digest slowly, reducing frequency of spikes in blood sugar that promote inflammation. Whole grains means grains that are intact or in a few large pieces, not whole-wheat bread or other products made from flour.
PASTA (AL DENTE)
How much: 2 to 3 servings per week (one serving is equal to about ½ cup cooked pasta)
Healthy choices: Organic pasta, rice noodles, bean-thread noodles, and part whole-wheat and buckwheat noodles like Japanese udon and soba
Why: Pasta cooked al dente (when it has “tooth” to it) has a lower glycemic index than fully cooked pasta. Low-glycemic-load carbohydrates should be the bulk of your carbohydrate intake to help minimize spikes in blood glucose levels.
BEANS AND LEGUMES
How much: 1 to 2 servings per day (one serving is equal to ½ cup of cooked beans or legumes)
Healthy choices: Beans like Anasazi, adzuki and black, as well as chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lentils
Why: Beans are rich in folic acid, magnesium, potassium and soluble fiber. They are a low-glycemic-load food. Eat them well cooked either whole or pureed into spreads like hummus.
How much: 5 to 7 servings per day (one serving is equal to 1 teaspoon of oil, 2 walnuts, 1 tablespoon of flaxseed, 1 ounce of avocado)
Healthy choices: For cooking, use extra-virgin olive oil and expeller-pressed grapeseed oil. Other sources of healthy fats include nuts (especially walnuts), avocados, and seeds, including hemp seeds and freshly ground flaxseed. Omega-3 fats are also found in cold-water fish, omega-3 enriched eggs, and whole-soy foods. Organic, expeller-pressed, high-oleic sunflower or safflower oils may also be used, as well as walnut and hazelnut oils in salads and dark roasted sesame oil as a flavoring for soups and stir-fries.
Why: Healthy fats are those rich in either monounsaturated or omega-3 fats. Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in polyphenols with antioxidant activity.
FISH AND SHELLFISH
How much: 2 to 6 servings per week (one serving is equal to 4 ounces of fish or seafood)
Healthy choices: Wild Alaskan salmon (especially sockeye), herring, sardines, markerel, and black cod (sablefish)
Why: These fish are rich in omega-3 fats, which are strongly anti-inflammatory. If you choose not to eat fish, take a molecularly distilled fish-oil supplement that provides both EPA and DHA in a dose of 2 to 3 grams per day.
How much: 1 to 2 servings per day (one serving is equal to ½ cup tofu or tempeh, 1 cup soy milk, ½ cup cooked edamame, or 1 ounce of soynuts)
Healthy choices: Tofu, tempeh, edamame, soynuts, soymilk
Why: Soy foods contain isoflavones that have antioxidant activity and are protective against cancer. Choose whole-soy foods over fractionated foods like isolated soy-protein powders and imitation meats made with soy isolate.
COOKED ASIAN MUSHROOMS
How much: Unlimited amounts
Healthy choices: Shiitake, enokitake, maitake, oyster mushrooms (and wild mushrooms if available)
Why: These mushrooms contain compounds that enhance immune function. Avoid eating mushrooms raw.
OTHER SOURCES OF PROTEIN
How much: 1 to 2 servings a week (one portion is equal to 1 ounce of cheese, one 8-ounce serving of dairy, 1 egg, or 3 ounces cooked poultry or skinless meat)
Healthy choices: High-quality low fat natural cheese and yogurt (especially Greek), organic, omega-3 enriched eggs, skinless poultry, grass-finished lean meats
Why: In general, try to reduce consumption of animal foods. If you eat chicken, choose organic, cage-free chicken and remove the skin and associated fat. Use organic dairy products moderately, primarily yogurt and natural cheeses such as Emmental (Swiss), Jarlsberg, and true Parmesan. If you eat eggs, choose omega-3-enriched eggs (from hens that are fed a flax-meal-enriched diet) or organic eggs from free-range chickens. If you eat beef, limit this is 1 serving a week and choose organic grass fed beef.
HEALTHY HERBS AND SPICES
How much: Unlimited amounts
Healthy choices: Turmeric, curry powder (which contains turmeric), ginger and garlic (dried and fresh), chili peppers, basil, cinnamon, rosemary, thyme
Why: Use these herbs and spices generously to season foods. Turmeric and ginger are powerful natural anti-inflammatory agents.
How much: Daily
Healthy choices: High quality multivitamin/multimineral that includes key antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E, mixed carotenoids, and selenium); coenzyme Q10; 2 to 3 grams of a molecularly distilled fish oil; 2,000 IU of vitamin D3
Why: Supplements help fill gaps in your diet when you are unable to get your daily requirement of micronutrients. Learn more about supplements
How much: Optional, no more than 1 to 2 glasses per day
Healthy choices: Organic red wine
Why: Red wine has beneficial antioxidant activity. Limit intake to no more than 1 to 2 servings per day. If you do not drink alcohol, best not to start.
How much: Sparingly
Healthy choices: Unsweetened dried fruit, dark chocolate, fruit sorbet
Why: Dark chocolate provides polyphenols with antioxidant activity. Choose dark chocolate with at least 70 percent pure cacao and have an ounce a few times a week. Fruit sorbet is a better option than other frozen desserts.