What Is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

Anti-inflammatory diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

An anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes nutrient-dense whole foods to promote optimal health. Originally developed by Andrew Weil, MD, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, the anti-inflammatory diet is not a typical diet, but rather, a recommendation for a long-term eating pattern to achieve and sustain health and well-being. While weight loss is not the primary goal, some followers may lose weight on this plan.

Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself against injury and disease. For instance, acute inflammation is an important response to minor injuries such as an ankle sprain or scraped knee. You’re probably familiar with the redness, swelling, and warmth that comes with it. Chronic inflammation, however, is not good for the body and can lead to serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The anti-inflammatory diet is designed to reduce chronic inflammation in the body. The eating pattern promotes the consumption of vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids, and phytonutrients. It’s loosely based on the Mediterranean diet, with some purposeful additions such as green and black teas, which have been shown to produce anti-inflammatory effects.

The 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the anti-inflammatory diet number 14 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.4/5. Learn more about the health benefits of the anti-inflammatory diet and what you can eat on this plan.

What Experts Say

“The anti-inflammatory diet is well balanced, focusing on veggies, fruit, healthy fats, nuts, spices, and even red wine while limiting processed meats, added sugars, refined grains, and processed oils.” 

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

Many versions of the anti-inflammatory diet exist, but the premise is always the same: Emphasize a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and fish. You'll also want to steer clear of inflammatory foods like certain vegetable oils, foods containing trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, processed foods, and added sugar. White and wheat flour should be limited or avoided entirely and caffeine, red wine, and dark chocolate can be consumed in moderation.

What You Need to Know

The anti-inflammatory diet is based on a sound and simple claim: Chronic inflammation leads to chronic disease, and reducing inflammation in the body can prevent disease and promote overall health. While it's not designed for weight loss, it's certainly possible to lose weight on this plan.

The anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t prescribe a specific eating routine. Instead, it just recommends that you eat four to six times each day, and try to include carbohydrates, protein, and fat with every meal or snack. For example, instead of just having a banana for breakfast, eat a banana and a couple of eggs or some yogurt. Instead of toast with butter, try oatmeal with almond butter or another nut butter (to add protein).

The easiest way to successfully follow the anti-inflammatory diet is to focus on whole, natural foods and avoid processed foods high in added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. With this focus, you’ll naturally choose anti-inflammatory foods over inflammatory foods. If you're interested in tracking your macronutrients, Dr. Weil recommends the following ratio:

  • Carbohydrates: 40–50% of calories
  • Fat: 30% of calories
  • Protein: 20–30% of calories

Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid is a handy resource for determining how much of a certain food you should eat. You will also find many anti-inflammatory recipes online.

Modifications

Overall, an anti-inflammatory diet is well-rounded and nutrient-dense. Most people won’t need to modify the eating pattern unless they are allergic to any of the emphasized foods.

For example, if you’re sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease, you'll want to avoid any gluten-containing grains such as wheat (which is already limited on the diet), as well as barley and rye. Fortunately, there are many gluten-free grains such as quinoa and brown rice that are safe for you to eat. You could also increase your intake of beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes in place of grains to help ensure you're getting adequate carbohydrates and fiber.

The eating pattern also emphasizes healthy sources of fat and protein like seafood, eggs, nuts, and seeds, as well as soy foods for protein, all of which can be common allergens. If you are allergic to one source or another, try eating more of another source. You can experiment until you find a ratio that works for you.

Dairy products aren't particularly emphasized on the anti-inflammatory diet. If you have a dairy allergy, you can still follow the diet while avoiding dairy.

The anti-inflammatory diet can be helpful for people with arthritis, certain allergies, digestive disorders, and other health complications that can arise from chronic inflammation.

What to Eat
  • Any and all vegetables, raw or cooked

  • Fruit, especially berries

  • Whole and cracked grains, including pasta

  • Beans and legumes

  • Healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocados)

  • Fish and seafood

  • Whole soy foods (edamame, soymilk, tofu, tempeh)

  • Pasture-raised eggs

  • Skinless poultry and lean meats

  • Herbs, spices, and herbal teas

  • Red wine (in moderation)

  • Dark chocolate (in moderation)

What Not to Eat
  • Safflower and sunflower oil, corn oil, mixed vegetable oils (in excess)

  • Margarine, vegetable shortening, and any foods with those as ingredients

  • Fatty meats

  • High fructose corn syrup and sugar

  • Foods made with wheat or white flour (in excess)

  • Added sugar

  • Processed foods and packaged snacks such as chips and pretzels

  • Caffeine (in excess)

Fruits and Vegetables

It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are a key part of a healthy diet. Fruit is an important source of vitamins and phytonutrients and you should aim for 3–4 servings of fruit each day. Leafy greens and other veggies should make up the bulk of your food consumption on the anti-inflammatory diet. Dr. Weil recommends 4–5 servings a day at a minimum.

Whole Grains and Legumes

Whole or cracked grains are a great source of fiber and many vitamins. You should try to include grains at least three times per day. Eat beans or legumes at least once a day to add protein, fiber, and vitamins to your diet.

Healthy Fats

Sources of "good" fat such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds are high in omega-3s, not to mention other vitamins and phytonutrients that may help reduce inflammation. Eat 5–7 servings per day.

Lean Protein

Animal protein and dairy products can be included once or twice a week. Look for lean cuts like pork tenderloin and chicken breast. If you eat ground meat, make sure it’s 90% lean or less. Fish and seafood are good sources of both protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Whole soy foods such as soymilk and tofu are nutrient-rich options for plant-based protein.

When possible, choose pasture-raised enriched eggs, which have higher levels of vitamin D than conventionally raised chickens. Eating two to three eggs per day is associated with improved function of high-density lipoproteins, an indicator of good heart health.

Herbs, Spices, and Tea

Add more garlic, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon to your food, all of which have been shown to reduce inflammation. Caffeine in moderation is allowed, but it's recommended to drink tea over coffee and avoid sugary energy drinks.

Red Wine and Dark Chocolate

Red wine is high in polyphenols, particularly resveratrol, which is full of antioxidants. Chocolate that is 70% cacao or more is a good source of antioxidants. Both of these items are acceptable in moderation on this diet.

Margarine and Vegetable Oils

Margarine, shortening, and other foods made with partially hydrogenated oils can be detrimental to your health. These foods often contain artificial trans fats, which have been shown to cause inflammation and increase disease risk.

Though mixed vegetable oils and some other oils such as safflower, sunflower, and corn oils are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, they should only be consumed in moderation. While some omega-6's are good for you, excess consumption has been associated with inflammation due to their interactions with omega-3s.

Wheat and White Flour

Wheat flour contains more of the grain than white flour but it has a similar glycemic index. Try to eat grains like rice, oats, bulgur wheat, and quinoa, which are preferable to wheat and white flour on an anti-inflammatory diet.

Processed Foods and Refined Sugar

Fatty meats and processed meats (like hot dogs and bologna) have been shown to contribute to inflammation. Refined sugars—found in cookies, cakes, candy, and other desserts, as well as many less obvious foods—have also been shown to increase inflammation. Ultra-processed foods such as packaged snacks should also be avoided since they are often high in calories, added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, all of which are linked to inflammation.

Not only do many packaged foods have a high glycemic index, they often contain trans fats like hydrogenated oils. However, manufacturers are working to minimize the use of hydrogenated oils. Read the nutrition facts labels carefully if you decide to purchase these products.

Sample Shopping List

With few restrictions on an anti-inflammatory diet other than avoiding refined sugar and processed foods and limiting wheat and dairy, there are many healthy foods you can eat on this plan. The following shopping list offers suggestions for getting started on an anti-inflammatory diet. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens)
  • Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots)
  • Fresh and frozen fruits (grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, mixed berries, bananas, apples)
  • Healthy fats (avocados, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, olive oil)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, barley, couscous)
  • Legumes (black beans, pinto beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Lean protein sources (lean ground beef, chicken or turkey breast, salmon, cod, tuna, shrimp)
  • Fortified soy-based products (yogurt, soymilk, tofu)
  • Eggs

Sample Meal Plan

Given the seemingly endless supply of anti-inflammatory recipes available online and in cookbooks, what you eat on the anti-inflammatory diet can be customized to suit your needs. If you are looking for specific suggestions, the following five-day meal plan offers a glimpse at what a few days on an anti-inflammatory diet could look like.

Note that this meal plan is not all-inclusive, and if you do choose to adopt this lifestyle there may be other meals that are more appropriate for your tastes, preferences, and budget.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Reduces inflammation

  • Promotes healthy eating

  • Not restrictive

  • Abundance of recipes

Cons
  • Contains many allergens

  • Can be expensive

  • No formal guidelines to follow

Overall, the anti-inflammatory diet promotes a healthy eating pattern that will help you consume adequate macronutrients, micronutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. While the diet is well-rounded, nutritious, and developed by a physician, there are a few drawbacks to be aware of. Here's a closer look at the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Reduces inflammation: The foods on the anti-inflammatory diet have the potential to reduce chronic inflammation and disease risk. The recommended food groups each contain a substance, such as resveratrol and antioxidants, that helps reduce inflammation.
  • Promotes healthy eating: Anti-inflammatory foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. Overall, the diet provides a good balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and encourages you to include colorful produce, especially berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, cruciferous veggies, and dark leafy greens. 
  • Not restrictive: The eating pattern is easy to follow. There are no strict meal plans or calorie-counting. You’re free to modify the diet to best suit your needs, as long as you follow the anti-inflammatory food pyramid. Eating out and drinking alcohol are also permitted in moderation.
  • Abundance of recipes: Since the anti-inflammatory diet is so popular, thousands of compliant recipes already exist, adding a ton of versatility to your cooking.

Cons

  • Contains allergens: The anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes many foods that are common allergens. These include nuts, seeds, fish and shellfish, soy, and grains. As such, some people with allergies or food sensitivities may find it difficult to follow the anti-inflammatory diet, especially if they are sensitive to more than one food group.
  • Expensive: The anti-inflammatory diet can be expensive because of its emphasis on food quality. The cost of higher quality food that is organic, grass-fed, or free-range can quickly add up. Dr. Weil recommends avoiding certain fruits and vegetables unless they are organic. But since there isn't really any research to back this claim, it's perfectly OK to source your fruits and veggies from wherever is convenient and cost-effective for you.
  • No formal guidelines: While proponents appreciate the flexibility of this plan, the sheer volume of foods to eat and recipes to try could be overwhelming for some people.

Is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The anti-inflammatory diet is based on the Mediterranean diet, so it’s no surprise that the two are very similar. Just as there isn’t a single way to eat on the anti-inflammatory diet, the same is true for the Mediterranean diet. Both diets emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and herbs. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and it's also been shown to reduce blood pressure and bad LDL cholesterol.

The DASH diet—or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—is another healthful eating pattern that emphasizes fresh produce, lean protein, and whole grains. The DASH diet focuses on salt intake to help lower blood pressure since sodium is one of the main culprits of hypertension. The Mayo Clinic Diet also emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—but its focus is on weight loss whereas the anti-inflammatory diet treats weight loss as a secondary benefit.

When compared to current federal dietary recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the anti-inflammatory diet is closely aligned. The USDA recommends consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods from five food groups: fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein. The key recommendations in the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include:

  • "Vegetables of all types—dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables
  • Fruits, especially whole fruit
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain
  • Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives
  • Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts
  • Limited saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium"

In contrast to USDA guidelines, the anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t mention sodium intake. The USDA encourages dairy products, whereas the anti-inflammatory diet allows only occasional consumption. Federal guidelines also suggest making half of your grains whole, while the anti-inflammatory diet discourages consumption of any grains that are not whole.

For many people, it can be helpful to keep track of daily calorie consumption—whether your goal is to lose, maintain, or gain weight. For a steady rate of weight loss, the USDA recommends a reduction of 500 calories per day to lose 1–2 pounds per week.

Most people need an average of around 2,000 calories per day. The anti-inflammatory diet generally recommends 2,000–3,000 calories per day, but similar to the USDA, it notes that calorie needs vary based on an individual's age, sex, weight, height, and level of physical activity. To determine your personal calorie needs, this calculator can give you an estimate.

The anti-inflammatory diet adheres to federal dietary recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet. Both emphasize whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, a variety of protein sources, nuts and seeds, and oils. Additionally, both the anti-inflammatory diet and the USDA's recommendations limit saturated and trans fats and added sugars.

Health Benefits

Disease Prevention

The anti-inflammatory diet is a nutritious eating plan that can be adhered to for long-term health. Research shows that a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help prevent and/or help treat heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, allergies, obesity and type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and arthritis.

Weight Loss

In addition, the diet may help with weight loss. A 2019 study found that an anti-inflammatory eating pattern reduced inflammation and led to weight loss in subjects with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

Health Risks

Nutrient Deficiencies

While there are no common risks associated with an anti-inflammatory diet, some recommendations on the diet such as limiting consumption of dairy products could lead to vitamin D and calcium deficiencies. According to the USDA, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults under 50 is 1,000 mg of calcium and 600 IUs (individual units) of vitamin D.

If you're not sure how much dairy you should be consuming to meet your RDA, the USDA advises three cups (or equivalent) of dairy per day on a 2,000 calorie diet. In addition, the USDA suggests choosing fortified soy-based alternatives to meet your intake if you're limiting or avoiding dairy.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re looking to increase the nutritional quality of your current eating habits, the anti-inflammatory diet is a great place to start. It’s customizable and it allows you to experiment with a wide variety of nutrient-dense, flavorful foods.

While diet and nutrition are important, it's also a good idea to be mindful of other areas in your life that may need attention such as getting enough sleep and exercise. These components work together to create long-lasting health and well-being.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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