Foods That Fight Inflammation — And Why You Need Them

How the day-to-day choices you make about food affect chronic inflammation


Using herbs, spices and other foods to help reduce inflammation in the body might not seem like a big deal. But it’s actually one of the best ways to protect your health, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, Director of Wellness Coaching at Cleveland Clinic.

Chronic inflammation — a normal bodily process gone awry — can contribute to conditions ranging from heart disease and diabetes to cancer. The scariest part? You may not even realize you have this condition.

Flying under the radar

It’s impossible to ignore the acute inflammation that accompanies an injury — pain and swelling are the hallmarks.

In contrast, chronic inflammation happens deep down in your body and often doesn’t cause any symptoms. So it can fly under the radar. But that doesn’t stop it from wreaking havoc on your health.

The good news is that the day-to-day choices you make — what you pop in your mouth, especially — affect your inflammation levels.

Your body’s three-alarm fire

Inflammation isn’t inherently bad. In fact, we couldn’t survive without it. Normal inflammation is the body’s response to any injury or infection. It’s part of your body’s natural healing process.

Say you scrape your knee and develop a skin infection. Your immune system sends waves of specialized cells to attack the bacteria and damaged tissue, like an army of soldiers fighting off an invading force. When the good guys have gained the upper hand, they recede, and your body begins to heal.

That’s the key part: The inflammation shuts off. It helps your body heal but doesn’t damage it unless something has gone awry. The problems arise when it fails to shut off and becomes chronic — that’s when it does harm.

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Fanning the flames

Chronic inflammation isn’t restricted to one area of your body. It burns slowly and steadily, releasing molecules of inflammation such as cytokines and C-reactive protein (CRP).

Over time, this causes a chemical chain reaction in the body that leads to serious problems. Arteries can become inflamed, setting the stage for heart attacks and strokes. Insulin resistance (a diabetes precursor), full-blown diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even depression can develop.

An everyday injury or infection can spark the initial flame, but it takes more than that to keep it burning. High blood pressure can contribute to inflammation, as can being obese. Smoking and stress also encourage the destructive domino effect. And then there’s your diet.

Some foods are fire starters

Almost everything we eat either encourages or discourages inflammation. The Mediterranean diet works wonders for controlling inflammation. There are lots of reasons to avoid saturated fats, refined carbs and sugars, and trans fats (the type so prevalent in processed foods). But it turns out that these foods can also help create those molecules of inflammation.

Think of them as fire starters. In one study, the more sweets, red meat, processed meat, “white” foods and french fries people ate, the higher their levels of CRP and other indicators of inflammation.

Some foods are fire fighters

Luckily, there are fire fighters galore too. Plant foods are rich in antioxidants and other phytonutrients. These healthy compounds have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices are loaded with compounds that reduce inflammation, as are whole grains, olive oil, nuts, seeds and legumes.

And the omega-3s — the healthy fats found in fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna — also help cool the flames. Focusing on these foods will also help keep your weight healthy, which is critical for keeping inflammation in check.

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Studies bear out the benefits

One large study showed that people who eat a lot of veggies and fruit but avoid meat and white flour have lower levels of inflammation. Upping your fiber alone — which will happen naturally on the Mediterranean diet — has been shown to lower levels of CRP by up to 40 percent.

So eating a Mediterranean diet might be the change that prevents you from developing inflammation that can lead to a host of medical conditions.

You may not be able to cut out every last fire-starter in your life. But you can gain the upper hand by making smart choices about what’s on your plate.

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  • me

    love fruits and veggies

  • Palaverde

    Does the PH of your system have anything to do with inflammation?

    • Health Hub Team

      pH is the acidity or basity (acid or basic) levels of your blood. It may affect inflammation indirectly, but what we are talking about is how certain types of foods — high in fats and added sugars — affect the inflammation process. For example, if you eat a cheeseburger and fries  (a meal high in saturated fat), this will lead to an increase in the number of proteins that increase inflammation in the body.
      pH may indirectly affect inflammation, but the body does a pretty good job of maintaining normal pH levels. What helps keep pH levels stable?  Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils and lean proteins (all anti-inflammatory foods). — Amy Jamieson-Petonic

      • Londonwitch

        I do not want to sound rude, but I have so many problems when I eat fruit, grains, sugars, milk, I love fruit, and even canned fruit in its own juice affects my urinary trac. Just about everything I love to eat gives me problems, and it does not stop there, I am getting more sensitive to a lot of things as I am getting older including lots of medicines. Anyone have an answer to my problem?

        • Bryan Davis

          Londonwitch, it is up to you to discover what might ease this- Try an elimination diet. I have mentioned several of those diets/approaches in a previous comment here. Do some research on each, pick the one that you think fits and go for it!

        • Ladiego

          Try to take supplements like Digestive Enzymes or Probiotics and Quercetin. Keep a journal  of your response to these supplements. If you have medical issues, you might want to check with your M.D. before taking supplements.

  • Bryan Davis

    Such nonsense- Whole grains cause inflammation! There is so much malarkey in this article. Using a cheeseburger and french fries to demonize saturated fat. An industrial cheeseburger and potatoes fried in industrial seed oils are of course an inflammatory and toxic food, however: Saturated fat from properly raised animals is not only appropriate food, it is an ideal food (fat, organs, all of it). What you need to steer towards is the removal of all corporate food from the diet- All cereal grains, all refined sugars. But corporate medicine simply can’t shake itself from corporate food now can it? I’d recommend a Paleo diet, a LCHF (low carb, high fat) diet, Weston A. Price, GAPS, SCD or many other approaches well before the misguided, overhyped, grain filled Mediterranean diet. 

    • Mysikind

      Some diseases are aggravated by the very things you say are fine. Great for people who do not have an autoimmune disease such as SLE. If I want more pain I just have to eat red meat. Nothing wrong with the Mediterranean diet. Just stay away from processed items, like while flour and sugar to mention a couple. My Lupus stays under control better if I avoid the things I mentioned.

    • Observations

      Just your opinion Guest. We have all read the material and it is all produces with an agenda. So….be careful WHO you read.

      • observations


      • Janice M Giaco

        same goes for the AHA and others that demonized Fat (natural saturated fat) 40 years ago. the food companies responded, took out fat, added HFCS and now we are left with devastation, Metabolic Syndrome. (includes obesity as a symptom, but skinny people can have Metabolic Syndrome also) It is the sugar that causes hypertension and obesity and diabetes because the Fructose is metabolized in the liver like a fat, like alcohol. leads to Insulin resistance and fat storage….of course trans fat is a demon, should not eat ANY transfat but in this country THEY ARE ALLOWED TO SAY ZERO TRANS FAT IF THERE IS LESS THAN 0.5 GM, read your ingredient labels. If you see “hydrogenated oil” DO NOT BUY THAT ITEM. The govt does not care about you, they are still allowed to sell it!!

  • Dr.Ali Alhamid

    If you cant fly then run,
    If you cant run then walk
    If you cant walk then crows
    But what ever you do ,you have
    To keep moving for ward

    • Bobsmail

      CROWS ?? Like what? Did you mean “crawl” doctor ?