Anti Inflammatory Foods List PDF: The Best 20 Foods to Eat

Are you looking for an anti-inflammatory foods list PDF to help reduce your inflammation? If so, this post is for you! 

As we will cover later in this post, chronic flammation can be caused by many, many things – but one of them is chronic stress. Since in this blog we discuss everything about mindful living for busy people – stress is right in our alley. 

But hey, good news: there are many anti-inflammatory foods that can help reduce inflammation. 

Here, we’ll explore:

  • Comprehensive inflammation guide: Why it happens, the different types, and the possible causes 
  • The relationship between stress, inflammation, and nutrition
  • The top 20 anti-inflammatory foods (with a printable PDF)
  • How to include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, including recipes

Let’s dive in!

What is Inflammation?

First things first – we need to clarify that inflammation is a very, VERY, complicated topic. The immune system is so complex – so we need to give some props to all immunologists out there that spend YEARS learning about it. 

So here we are only covering the basics, very simplified. Let’s start explaining the diagram below. 

Summary diagram of the inflammatory response (the immune system identifies a threat. Then, the immune system releases inflammatory cells and cytokines, which will result in either acute or chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is a normal and necessary response from your immune system. Its goal is to heal you and protect you when (1):

  • You have been injured (if you cut your finger, or twisted an ankle
  • An unwanted microbe (like virus or bacteria) enters your body
  • You have been exposed to a dangerous/toxic chemical 
  • There is an irritation of cells or tissues

When this happens, the immune system releases inflammatory cells and cytokines (substances that stimulate more inflammatory cells). These cytokines help increase the number of white blood cells at the site of injury. 

These cells then begin an inflammatory response to start healing you. During this response: 

  • the blood vessels expand to allow for more blood flow to the area
  • Fluids build up in the area 
  • And in some cases you can get a fever (especially in the case of infections)

This brings oxygen, antibodies and other substances to help fight off infection or repair tissue damage. 

But overall, the inflammatory response can be different depending on the cause and the type of inflammation. 

There are different types of inflammation – acute and chronic. Let’s cover them separately to understand them better. 

Acute Inflammation

You can think of “acute” as something that happened to your body suddenly and for a short period of time (often just a few days). This is usually the case for injuries or temporary sickness. 

In the case of injuries, acute inflammation also tends to be localized (2).  For example, if you twist your ankle, usually only your ankle area will be painful and get swollen. 

The common symptoms of acute inflammation include (3): 

  • Redness
  • Heat
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Fever

So acute inflammation is actually beneficial – it is a rapid response from your body, which is trying to heal you as soon as possible. 

Chronic Inflammation 

Here is where things get tricky. 

Chronic inflammation can last for a long time, and it can even come and go.  It is usually caused by an underlying health issue, such as autoimmune diseases or chronic illnesses.

It can start with the same process as acute inflammation – the body identifies something in your body as a threat and responds to it. 

But then, this response can become persistent (chronic), even if the said threat is not actually dangerous or harmful to us (3). 

This is the case of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, type 1 diabetes, skin disorders, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis. The body thinks that its own tissues and cells are a threat, so it responds with a chronic, systemic (not localized) inflammatory response.

Chronic inflammation is also involved in the disease process of other conditions, such as type II diabetes, heart disease, or even cancer. 

Some of the symptoms of chronic inflammation are (3):

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation, diarrhea 
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Skin rashes

But the thing is, sometimes our lifestyle can be the cause of chronic inflammation. 

Lifestyle Causes of Chronic Inflammation

While acute inflammation is beneficial in the short-term, chronic inflammation can have long-term effects on your health if it isn’t properly addressed. 

In some cases, the cause of chronic inflammation is our lifestyle. Some reasons include (3): 

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • A poor diet 
  • Being sedentary 
  • Working out excessively at maximum intensity
  • Weight gain 
  • Chronic stress 

Two factors we are going to cover more in-depth from that list are nutrition and stress. 

Nutrition and Inflammation 

In the same way that there are foods that have been linked to reduce inflammation, there are also foods that may increase it. 

But before we get into the list of inflammatory foods, it is important to clarify something – Here we don’t like to demonize any specific type of food. Food is more than just health – it is also enjoyment, happy moments, culture, traditions, and so much more. 

So we focus more on moderation – yes, we should definitely have overall healthy diets and eat anti-inflammatory foods, fruits, veggies, healthy fats and proteins. But for most of us, it’s okay if we enjoy some of these foods once in a while

Nothing wrong with eating some Doritos while you watch that new Netflix show.  

Inflammatory Nutrients/Ingredients

So – Now that we said that, what does the research say about food and inflammation? Well, it’s complicated. 

Overall, consuming a lot of ultra-processed foods can increase inflammation, but it’s not because of the individual food item per se.

Ultra-processed foods tend to be high in added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats. Let’s cover what the science says about these ingredients (4):

  • Added sugars means two things: additional calories and more insulin production. In the long run, this can result in weight gain or insulin resistance. And as mentioned before, weight gain is a major contributing factor to inflammation. So it’s not about sugar = bad, rather how much sugar we eat. 
  • Artificial trans fats are a type of fat that changes the texture of foods and increases shelf-life. They have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol (“bad” type) and reduce HDL cholesterol (the good type. In turn, this can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes. And as we mentioned before, inflammation is involved in the processes of these diseases. Keep in mind that the U.S. has banned artificial trans fats since 2018 (5). 
  • Saturated fats also tend to raise LDL cholesterol, which then increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes, and those diseases’ processes are related to inflammation.

Processed Meats, Cooking Methods, and Inflammation

Similarly as the previous section, it does not mean that eating a processed meat will immediately lead to inflammation. 

Processed meats include things such as hams, bacon, salamis, sausages, etc. The problem is that processed meats have been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). And as we mentioned before, inflammation is involved in cancer’s disease process. 

This is because of their cooking methods (6):

  • Curing (like adding nitrates or nitrites) or smoking may create carcinogenic chemicals
  • Cooking at very high-temperatures over a flame (like pan-frying, grilling, barbecuing) can also produce carcinogenic chemicals

Inflammatory Foods List

So, the bottom line from the previous sections is that a high consumption of ultra-processed foods can lead to chronic inflammation. 

However, the following is not an inflammatory foods list to avoid completely (unless that’s something you WANT to do). But for most of us, it’s about reducing their intake and having an overall balanced diet.

Here is a list of inflammatory foods that we should eat in moderation (7): 

  • Sugary drinks (sodas, juices, iced teas, energy drinks, punches) 
  • Fried foods (french fries, fried fish, fried chicken…)
  • Refined carbohydrates (white bread/pasta/rice, desserts, pastries)
  • Very processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon)
  • Very processed snacks (chips, beef jerky)
  • Full fat dairy products (heavy creams)
  • Excess alcohol (8)

If you are a visual person, here is an inflammatory foods chart.

Chart summarizing the inflammatory foods (sugary drinks, fried foods, refined carbohydrates, very processed meats, very processed snacks, full fat dairy products, excess alcohol).

Inflammation, Chronic Stress, and Nutrition

Stress and Inflammation

I think most of us are familiar with why stress is even a thing. You know, how your body developed stress as a defense mechanism so that our ancestors would actually freak out when a tiger was about to attack. In other words, so they would either fight or flight (9). 

The problem is – But MOST of us are not actually in immediate danger all the time as our early ancestors did. But our bodies apparently haven’t received the memo yet. 

Our bodies can interpret our daily stressors as life or death situations, when in reality they are not remotely as severe. But since most of our stressors tend to be constant in our lives (our families, our jobs, bosses, living situation…), the stress can become chronic. 

But here is the problem – since stress is an evolutionary response to, you know, survive, psychological stress has immediate effects on our immune system. It is a complicated relationship, but here is what we know so far.

Chronic stress releases hormones like cortisol that shut down your immune system, making it more difficult to regulate both the inflammatory and immune response (10).

So this is why mindful living is so important. I know we all have busy lives – but dedicating a few minutes of your day to reduce stress levels can make a big difference.

> If you want some tips on how to reduce stress – here is a guide with self-care ideas for you.

Stress, Nutrition & Inflammation

Now, it’s time to discuss how these three things are all linked together. 

This great article explains the relationship between stress, nutrition, and inflammation. It is a little science-heavy, so let’s talk about the conclusions of the article:

  • Diet can affect the pathways that lead to inflammation (like the cytokine production we discussed in the section “What is Inflammation?”)
  • Stressful events and depression can influence inflammation
  • Stress influences food choices
  • Diet can impact mood
  • Diet can impact the proinflammatory responses to stressors

So, as you can see, the relationship between all three is not easy. This is why we have to take it with a grain of salt when someone claims that consuming a certain diet will heal you, or that certain foods are directly causing inflammation. 

Best Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients

So far, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that there are some foods that are thought to help reduce inflammation. But many of these findings are from studies done in lab animals, so we cannot draw direct conclusions to humans at this time.

It doesn’t mean that these foods have no effect on inflammation at all, or that they are bad for you. On the contrary, they are nutrient-dense foods that have many other health benefits as well. 

Let’s cover the nutrients in these foods that seem to fight inflammation (11). 

Fiber

High-fiber, plant-rich diets may help have a variety of beneficial gut microbes. This could prevent low-grade inflammation. (12)

The recommended daily fiber intake are as follows:

AgeMenWomen
Adults up to age 5031 – 34 grams25 to 28 grams
> 50 years old28 grams22 grams

Phytonutrients

These are substances created by plants to keep themselves healthy. They seem to have health benefits for humans. The most important type for inflammation seems to be polyphenols, because they have antioxidant properties (13).

Omega-3s

Omega – 3’s are a type of fat that seems to prevent the activation of pro-inflammatory pathways. It also reduces the expression of cytokines (refer to the “What is Inflammation?” section).

There are different types of omega-3s, but the three main ones are EPA, DHA, and ALA. 

The NIH recommendations for daily adequate intake for ALA are as follows:

AgeMenWomen (not pregnant or lactating)
19+ years old 1.6 grams1.1 grams

For EPA and DHA, it is not as straightforward. Many official organizations have slightly different recommendations. 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests a daily average of 500 mg (or 5 grams) EPA + DHA per day.

Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)

This is another type of fat. The effects of MUFAs on inflammation are less documented, but studies that follow populations that eat a lot of MUFAs strongly suggest that dietary MUFAs have anti-inflammatory effects (14).

 Also, they increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol (15), so they  reduce the risk of heart disease, which in turn reduces the risk of inflammation.

Vitamin D

It seems to reduce inflammation because it can regulate the production of inflammatory cytokines. It also can inhibit the proliferation of proinflammatory cells (16).

The recommended daily intake is as follows:

AgeMales and Females
19 – 70 years old 600 IU (15 mcg)
> 70 years old800 IU (20 mcg)

Vitamin C and E

These vitamins have antioxidant properties. Inflammation induces oxidative stress (oxidation) and reduces your cells’ antioxidant capacity (17). So consuming these vitamins may reduce the oxidative effect of inflammation. 

Top 20 Anti Inflammatory Foods List PDF

Eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods seems to help reduce inflammation in the body and protect you from chronic health issues. 

You can download here our  Anti Inflammatory Foods List PDF – you will get a printable grocery list with the top 53 anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet (organized by food groups), so you can easily refer to it when grocery shopping or meal planning.

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D (18). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicates that eating 2 or more servings of fatty fish per week should provide, on average, the daily recommendations for EPA and DHA. 

  1. Salmon: 3.5 oz have 1.1 grams of DHA and 0.9 grams of EPA (total of 2 grams) and 11 µg of vitamin D (19). It is also rich in potassium, protein, and vitamin B6.
  1. Mackerel: 3.5 oz have 1.4 grams of DHA and 0.9 grams of EPA (total of 2.3 grams) and 16.1 µg of vitamin D (20). Just keep in mind that sometimes mackerel can be salted, so the sodium content may vary.

Seeds

Some seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E (18). As a plus, they are also a great way to add plant-protein to your diet.

  1. Hemp seeds: 3 tablespoons provide 2.6 grams of ALA, 1.2 grams of fiber, and 10 grams of protein. They are also a complete plant protein (they have all of the essential amino acids) (21).
  1. Chia seeds: 1 oz. provides 5 grams of ALA, 9.8 grams of fiber, and 4.7 grams of protein. They are also high in iron and magnesium (22).
  1. Flaxseeds: 1 tablespoon provides on average 2 grams of ALA and 2.3 grams of fiber (23).
  1. Pumpkin seeds: 1 oz. has 8.5 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and it has many antioxidants (24).

Nuts

  1. Walnuts: these nuts have a lot of antioxidant properties, and have 2.5 grams of omega-3s per 1-ounce serving (25).

Whole Grains

Whole grains are high in fiber (12). Whole grains have a bran (the outer layer of the grain). The bran is rich in fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. It also has B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium (26). 

  1. Whole wheat bread, pasta, or cereal products
  2. Steel cut-oats or oatmeal
  3. Quinoa, millet, or brown rice
  4. Buckwheat 

Vegetables

All vegetables are a great addition to our diets, so enjoy as many as you want. But here are some veggies that have the most anti-inflammatory nutrients (fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidant vitamins). 

  1. Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach): these are rich in vitamins C and E, and have many phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. They are also rich in folate, which has been shown to promote heart health (27).
  1. Tomatoes: tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and lycopene, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties (28).
  1. Broccoli: Broccoli has a compound called sulforaphane, an antioxidant that seems to decrease inflammation. It is also rich in vitamin C (29).
  1. Onion: Onions contain a phytonutrient called quercetin. It seems to have anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. It can also positively impact cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart health benefits (30). 

Fruit 

Just as with veggies, all fruits are great. Enjoy a variety of them (different colors too!). Fruits are high in fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. But out all fruits, these are the best for inflammation:

  1. Berries: berries with a deep, bright color have a phytochemical called anthocyanin, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Berries are also rich in vitamin C and fiber. In fact, raspberries are one of the fruits highest in fiber (31). 
  1. Avocados: avocados are one of the few fruits with high-fat content, but they are rich in MUFAs. They are also packed with fiber and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. 

Others

  1. Certain spices: turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon have phytonutrients known to have anti-inflammatory properties (32).
  1. Olive oil: olive oil is rich in MUFAs and it also has phytonutrients that may reduce inflammation. It also has a compound called oleocanthal with similar properties (33).
  1. Dark chocolate: it has many antioxidants that may reduce inflammation. The higher the pure cocoa percentage, the better (34). 

Summary Top 20 Anti Inflammatory Foods List PDF

The top 20 anti inflammatory foods are:

  1. Salmon
  2. Mackerel
  3. Hemp seeds 
  4. Chia seeds
  5. Flaxseeds
  6. Pumpkin seeds
  7. Walnuts
  8. Whole wheat bread, pasta, or cereal products
  9. Steel cut-oats or oatmeal
  10. Quinoa, millet, or brown rice
  11. Buckwheat 
  12. Green leafy vegetables 
  13. Tomatoes
  14. Broccoli
  15. Onion
  16. Berries
  17. Avocados 
  18. Certain spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon
  19. Olive oil
  20. Dark chocolate

You can download here our  Anti Inflammatory Foods List PDF – you will get a printable grocery list with the top 53 anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet (organized by food groups), so you can easily refer to it when grocery shopping or meal planning. 

Anti-Inflammatory Recipes Ideas

Here are a few recipes that include many of the anti-inflammatory ingredients at once! 

Other Ways of Reducing Inflammation

We cannot emphasize it enough – even if some foods may increase or reduce inflammation, it is so important to also target other areas of our life that can be causing inflammation. 

The best things we can all do to keep ourselves healthy is to exercise more, reduce stress, and focus on eating an overall healthy diet.

> If you don’t know how to get started, check this comprehensive guide with 5 Steps to a Healthy Lifestyle for Beginners. 

Summary – Anti Inflammatory Foods List PDF

This blog post was a comprehensive guide on inflammation: we started by defining what’s inflammation, then we covered some of its lifestyle causes, especially stress and an inflammatory diet. 

Then we explained which nutrients are actually anti-inflammatory, such as omega-3s, MUFAs, vitamins D, E, and C, fiber, and polyphenols.

Finally, we also compiled a list of the top 20 anti-inflammatory foods and a printable anti-inflammatory foods list PDF version to help you during grocery shopping and meal prepping

But always keep in mind – for most of us, we can have a healthy diet and still enjoy some of our favorite foods. 

A good goal is to eat healthy, nourishing, nutrient-dense foods 80% of the time, and 20% enjoy your favorite foods and snacks. Enjoy that Pop-Tart. Eat that pizza with your bestie during movie night. Enjoy life!

Don’t forget to download your Anti Inflammatory Foods List PDF.

Let us know in the comments below which anti-inflammatory foods you are going to include in  your diet! 

As a passionate advocate for well-being, Irene Mejia seamlessly combines the nutrition expertise of a registered dietitian, the fitness knowledge and motivation of apersonal trainer, and her experience in mindfulness to guide busy individuals on their journey to a healthier lifestyle.

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