A Comprehensive Guide to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Beginners

anti-inflammatory diet for beginners

An anti-inflammatory diet may be about the buzziest diet of the year right now. Normally inflammation occurs through the body’s immune response, which can be a healthy thing if your body is being attacked by a virus or bacteria.

But when you consistently have poor lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or eating a typical Western diet (which is high in pro inflammatory compounds), the body creates chronic inflammation.

This is where the large majority of Americans are, and why– seeing the staggering statistics on rising numbers of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease– implementing dietary interventions through an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle is crazy important.

anti inflammatory diet for beginners

Benefits of anti-inflammatory foods

Although many people are advised to stick to an Anti-Inflammatory diet due to health conditions and chronic disease, more and more people are discovering that following an anti-inflammatory diet is the BEST way to keep inflammation in check and boost the immune system to help prevent those chronic conditions in the first place.

Foods with anti-inflammatory properties can be potent anti-oxidants and polyphenols which not only prevent low grade inflammation, but also slow down aging, keep weight under control, and help you have natural boundless energy every day.

These types of foods also prevent diseases that include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions, asthma, arthritis, lupus, cancer, and even high blood pressure.

How an anti-inflammatory diet works

Although the Mediterranean Diet usually comes to mind first when Anti-Inflammation Diet is mentioned, it’s really a very broad basic guideline for a true anti-inflammatory diet. So let’s start with the basics.

The main things to start out with knowing are that:

  • Being overweight can create inflammatory markers in the body, so weight loss is recommended if overweight or obese
  • Since blood sugar spikes (hyperglycemia) is inflammatory in the body (and cause weight gain), sugars and refined carbohydrates are one of the first things to go
  • Alcohol can be inflammatory in high amounts, but there is a bell curve effect– meaning studies have shown no alcohol to have higher inflammatory rates than moderate consumption (1-2 drinks per day), and then higher amounts than this also bring the inflammatory markers back up. Red wine is the preferred drink of the Mediterranean diet.
  • Oxidated fats (those heated repeatedly) are extremely inflammatory, as well as trans fats (hydrogenated, including margarine), omega 6’s, and saturated fats from feed-lot animals.
  • Processed foods usually contain unhealthy fats, refined carbs and sugar, little to no fiber, and artificial colors and preservatives- meaning they should be eliminated from your eating plan as well.

Here are the breakdowns in terms of macronutrients:

anti inflammatory diet for beginners

Proteins

Proteins should include lots of fatty fish, soy, organic eggs, and white meat. Red meat is discouraged unless it’s an occasional protein option that is organic and grass-fed.

anti inflammatory diet for beginners

Fats

The types of fats that are recommended are healthy fatty acids higher in omega 3’s, lower in omega 6’s, and are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated (like avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil). The ideal ratio is 1:1 for omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids to get anti inflammatory benefits. However,  most people are way over that, at 14x more omega 6 than omega 3 fatty acids. Saturated fats from red meat should be limited, but when eaten should be organic and grass-fed. This includes butter and dairy.

Coconut oil, although a saturated fat, has been shown in studies to be an extremely powerful antioxidant and contains anti-inflammatory compounds as long as it is virgin and unrefined.

anti inflammatory diet for beginners

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be tricky to weed through. So let’s start with the basics.

Sugar and refined carbs

First and foremost, sugar and refined carbohydrates are extremely inflammatory and should be eliminated in all forms. This can be a really big deal for those who have been on a high sugar and carb diet for a while, and some even feel a true addiction to sugar when they try to eliminate it. An occasional treat of added raw honey or pure maple syrup isn’t that big of a deal.

Fiber

Fiber is the main thing you’ll look for in any carbohydrate food choice. This is pretty easy to accomplish with whole vegetables and fruits that are on the lower end of the glycemic impact scale.

Grains

People usually get confused, however, when it comes to grains. There are 2 main grains I recommend avoiding: corn and wheat. Corn is high in omega 6 fats and is inflammatory. Wheat, in this day and age, has been hybridized so many times over that it has an unbalanced glutenin to gliadin ratio (within the gluten protein) which creates inflammation in the gut.

Whole grains

Whole grains in this application is also pretty confusing. The reason is that we hear over and over that we should be eating whole grains because of the fiber.

While this is technically true, any time even a whole grain is ground into a flour, the carbohydrates are absorbed extremely fast and end up causing a blood sugar spike that rivals that of straight sugar.

For this reason, it’s recommended to eat grains only in their whole form (not ground into a flour as in bread or pasta–unless prepared a certain way), or cracked.

anti inflammatory diet for beginners

What diets are considered anti-inflammatory?

Although the Mediterranean diet is the most recognized dietary style to reduce inflammation, there are several other options for anti-inflammatory diets. Which one you choose really depends on what condition/s you may need to manage, your goals for your health, and what foods you may have an allergy or intolerance to.

The main dietary styles that can help create some structure in an anti-inflammatory framework are the Paleo diet, Mediterranean diet, Keto (with a reduction in red meat and possibly dairy and an increase in fiber), Pescatarian (with a reduction in ground flours), and plant-based or vegan with modifications in terms of the grains allowed.

An elimination diet, again, is a really great way to truly get to know your body better and how different foods make you feel.

What should I expect when I start an anti-inflammation diet?

The first thing you may experience when starting this dietary style is a feeling of what is sometimes called ‘keto flu’ or sugar withdrawal symptoms. This is because most people come from a Western diet very high in sugar, refined carbs, and highly processed foods.

When you shift your diet this dramatically, your metabolism has to shift as well. However, many people find that their bodies seem to feel strange in this shift initially. It is absolutely temporary, and shouldn’t be of huge concern unless you’re having large swings in blood sugar levels or blood pressure.

Another thing to expect is a huge change in digestion. You should become way more regular. Many people, however, who have GI issues may not even know they do until starting this type of dietary style because of the larger amounts of fiber.

In this case, it’s a good idea to back off the grains and dairy and see your physician or specialist to have some testing done. They usually recommend an elimination diet to weed out any foods you may be allergic or sensitive to.

Overall you should start seeing a huge difference in 2 to 3 weeks, and a really large difference within 12 weeks.

anti inflammatory diet for beginners

What foods to Eat and Avoid on an Anti-Inflammatory Food List

Since we’re starting out with a basic anti-inflammatory dietary style, it’s easier to get a little more specific in terms of which foods to eat that are:

  1. Health-promoting in general,
  2. Which foods have anti-inflammatory effects beyond general health and actually fight inflammation,
  3. And which foods to avoid.

General healthy foods to eat in an anti-inflammatory dietary style

General healthy foods include healthy lean protein like organic and grass-fed or pastured white meats, organic eggs, red meat on occasion, and only if organic and grass-fed, wild fish, and soy.

A huge increase in plant-based foods is really recommended because of the phytochemicals and antioxidants that they provide have, not to mention the huge increase in fiber. This is especially true for beans and legumes. A fiber-rich diet feeds the beneficial gut bacteria that help control inflammation starting in the gut.

Nearly all vegetables in their least processed forms are great choices, but nonstarchy ones are the best because of the lesser impact on blood sugar. Fruits, especially darker and brighter colored ones, are also fantastic choices as long as they are lower on the glycemic load scale. (Remember that high blood sugar equals inflammation.)

Grains should be limited to truly whole grains (not ground into flour) but may be cracked and still acceptable. The 2 main grains I recommend avoiding are wheat and corn because of the inflammatory components they contain.

Nuts and seeds are also great options that include healthy fats and carbohydrates as well as a small amount of healthy protein.

Healthy fats include avocado and extra virgin olive oil, expeller-pressed grapeseed, as well as virgin unrefined coconut oil. Butter can also be used as long as it is organic and from grass-fed cows. Other good options would be goat milk and cheese.

anti inflammatory diet for beginners

Foods that fight inflammation

Although eliminating foods that cause inflammation is the best place to start, you have to remember that most people still have lifestyle choices that promote inflammation, as well as conditions that increase it as well. This is why it’s also a really good idea to incorporate as many foods as possible that have anti-inflammatory effects.

Plants with higher levels of antioxidants and polyphenols

There are certain plants and berries that have been studied for their higher polyphenol and antioxidant content and ability to lower inflammation in the body. These include blueberries, pomegranate, red grapes, apples, and leafy greens for vegetables and fruit.

Another vegetable category shown to reduce inflammation is the cruciferous family that includes broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.

Studies have also linked nuts to reduced markers of inflammation and lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Coffee and certain teas (like ginger, white, oolong, and green tea) can also fight inflammation.

High fiber foods

Studies have consistently shown that high-fiber foods are super important in helping a healthy gut bacteria colony grow. Healthy gut bacteria control weight, inflammation, the immune system, and many neurotransmitters that relate to mental health and hormone regulation.

These can be found in all vegetables and fruit, but a larger portion of fiber comes from whole grains like brown rice, basmati rice, quinoa, and steel-cut oats, as well as beans and legumes, including soy.

Herbs and spices

The most popular herbs and spices with anti-inflammatory effects include turmeric, curcumin, holy basil, ginger, garlic, cardamom, rosemary, chili peppers, thyme, and black pepper. Although this isn’t an all-inclusive list, these herbs and spices should be abundant in your kitchen and in your recipes. (Fresh is always best!)

Healthy fats

Healthy fats are usually included in many of the foods already recommended. However, omega 3 is an especially powerful anti-inflammatory. These can be found in fatty fish like wild caught salmon or tuna.

Other healthy fats are those that naturally occur in foods like soy, hemp, flax, and nuts (including walnuts, almonds, and cashews).

anti inflammatory diet for beginners

Pro-inflammatory foods to avoid

In starting this type of dietary style, there are some main foods to avoid that induce inflammation. Let’s break them down (again) by macronutrient.

Proteins that are inflammatory

Red meats and processed meats are extremely inflammatory in the body, with a bit of a caveat. Part of the problem of red meat lies in the saturated fat content. However, it’s been shown in studies that red meat that is organic and grass-fed has proper ratios of omega 3 to omega 6, making this type of red meat ok to eat on occasion. Otherwise, processed meats like hot dogs, deli meats, sausage, pepperoni and the like, are inflammatory proteins.

Fats that are inflammatory

The major fats that are inflammatory include trans fats (like margarine and hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils), oxidized fats (those that have been highly heated and repeatedly heated–like those used for fried foods), and saturated fat from feedlot animals.

Other oils that should be avoided include corn oil, palm or palm kernel oil, cottonseed oil, lard, safflower, sunflower, vegetable oil, soybean oil, and vegetable shortening.

Carbohydrates that are inflammatory

As said before, sugar is enemy number one. This includes ALL forms of sugar. (Raw honey and pure maple syrup are ok on occasion). The problem with this is that there are a thousand and one different names for sugar that are allowed on food labels. The best way to get around this is to eat as many whole foods as possible.

Eliminating sugar includes eliminating fruit juice, sodas, other sugary beverages, and anything that contains a sugar (that are usually named other things to throw you off), as well as fructose. This will also include fruits that are on the higher end of the glycemic load index.

Other carbohydrates that are inflammatory are refined grains. These come in the form of flours used to make breads, bakery items, desserts, and even breading for fried foods. Refined grains break down like sugar in the body and create those blood sugar spikes that induce inflammation.

Sodium

This isn’t talked about a ton unless there’s a factor of high blood pressure. However, many people find that they are sensitive to sodium. Not only does this increase the ‘puffiness’ factor, it can also induce a level of inflammation as well. It’s best to cut down on your sodium content when you begin your anti inflammatory diet to see if it helps.

Foods that you are intolerant or allergic to, or need to avoid because of a condition

It should go without saying that you should avoid foods you are allergic to. The problem is that many people don’t even know what these are. Years of an inflammatory diet have created such chronic inflammation that it can be very difficult to discern which foods you are specifically reacting to.

The same goes for foods that you aren’t technically allergic to, but have an intolerance to.

These types of foods can usually indicate a certain condition, like IBS.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with a specific condition, there are most likely a handful of foods or categories of foods that you should be avoiding already to alleviate your symptoms.

An elimination diet for inflammation

The last thing I want to discuss is an elimination diet to truly nail down which foods are inflammatory to YOUR body. The reason this is important is that there are a few different food categories that have controversial data behind it, and there are also foods that may be beneficial for you to eliminate to alleviate symptoms based on a condition you have (or may not know you have)!

These categories include: grains, gluten-containing grains, nightshades, dairy, FODMAPS, fructans, lectins, nuts, soy, shellfish, coconut, and coconut oil.

Overall, consistent research has shown that there are a number of health benefits of following an anti-inflammatory diet for people suffering from inflammatory conditions, but also for nearly everyone on the planet.

These include reduced inflammation leading to pain reduction and the ability to manage chronic pain, increased insulin sensitivity which is beneficial for diabetics, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, reduced risk of alzheimer’s disease, lower blood pressure levels due to improved lipid profiles, and reduced chance of having a heart attack or stroke because of improved blood lipid profiles.

It is nearly the opposite of the Western style of eating, but can happen by following a few specific steps.

My CHEAT codes to wellness framework guides you through these steps so you can achieve an anti-inflammatory lifestyle without it taking over your life.

Get started on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet with a free 7-Day Meal Plan HERE! 👇👇👇

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anti inflammatory diet for beginners
Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Author: Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Laura is a Nutrition Specialist and Certified Health Coach with a Master of Science in Nutrition. Her goal is to help women reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, and regain natural energy with an Anti-Inflammatory Diet + Lifestyle.

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