Anti-inflammatory vs. Pro-inflammatory Foods

Anti-inflammatory vs. Pro-inflammatory foods, inflammation, diet, health, ginger, tumeric, berries

I treat pain all the time with acupuncture and herbs and it generally responds very well.  When I have a particularly tough case, however, I ask my patient, “are you aware of the connection between diet, inflammation and pain?”  And the answers I get probably won’t surprise you.  The majority of people are totally misinformed about the link between what they eat and their stubborn low back pain, tense shoulders or achy knees.

While “anti-inflammatory” has become a bit of buzzword that gets thrown around when talking about the wonders of turmeric or flax, most people don’t fully understand what this term means and that there is much more to reducing inflammation than just adding a few so-called “super foods” into their diet.

Not only are there several anti-inflammatory foods which battle inflammation in the body, there are also a slew of pro-inflammatory foods which can do more damage then a cup of ginger tea will ever be able to rectify.  Especially since high stress levels and lack of sleep can also cause inflammation, keeping the scales balanced can be particularly tough with a fast paced modern lifestyle.

And pain isn’t the only problem, chronic inflammation can contribute to endocrine disorders, neuropathy, diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.  So it should come as no surprise how very important it is to keep inflammation in check.

In case you’re curious what inflammation actually is, it is an immune and circulatory response that the body uses to protect itself while it repairs damaged tissue.  One of the most obvious examples is physical trauma such as twisting your ankle, the body causes the damaged area to become inflamed in order to keep the area immobilized while it heals.  In moderation inflammation is a necessary process the body uses to function properly, but causes problems in excess.

Inflammation doesn’t just happen in response to physical trauma, it is common for inflammation to occur hidden deep inside our guts.  Certain foods in particular can kick up inflammation along the digestive tract, which can effect how nutrients are absorbed and may cause body-wide inflammation.  On the other hand, some foods are very effective at battling the inflammatory response.  The best strategy seems to be keeping anti-inflammatory foods prevalent and pro-inflammatory foods few and far between.  Let’s take a look at which are which.


Anti-inflammatory Foodsbrussel sprouts, anti-inflammatory

  • Most vegetables, especially:
    • Dark leafy greens
    • Orange vegetables
    • Onions and garlic
    • Peppers, especially spicy ones
    • Tomatoes
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Fatty fish and Seafood
    • Raw or minimally processed grassfed dairy products
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Most nuts and seedsalmonds, anti-inflammatory
    • Almonds
    • Walnuts
    • Cashews
    • Flax
    • Chia
  • Herbs/Spices
    • Turmeric
    • Ginger
    • Green herbs such as basil, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, etc.
  • Colorful fruits
    • Berries
    • Acerola and other tart cherries
    • GrapefruitGinger, anti-inflammatory
    • Lemons and limes
    • Pineapple
  • Black and Green tea
  • Fermented foods
    • Raw apple cider vinegar
    • Sour Pickles
    • Sauerkraut
    • Kefir
    • Kimchi
  • Mushrooms
  • Dark chocolate, 70% or above
  • Red wine, in small amounts

Pro-inflammatory Foodspotato chips, pro-inflammatory

  • Refined carbohydrates, the higher the carbohydrate count the more inflammatory
    • Sweets
    • Breads
    • Pasta
    • High fructose corn syrup
  • Transfats, found in many junk foods
    • Fried foods
    • Hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils
  • Omega-6 fatty acids, also found in many junk foods, most margarines contain these oils
    • Grapeseed oil
    • Cottonseed oil
    • Safflower oilcorn, pro-inflammatory
    • Corn oil
    • Sunflower seeds and oil
    • Peanuts and peanut oil
  • Coffee
  • Fruits and fruit products high in sugar
    • Dried fruit
    • Fruit juice
  • Starchy Vegetables
    • Corn
    • Potatoes
  • Alcohol, small amount may improve inflammation, but excess has the opposite effect

Keep in mind that everyone reacts to food differently.  If you have an allergy or sensitivity to a certain food then it will cause inflammation, regardless of if it has anti-inflammatory effects for other people.  Listen to your body and learn what works best for you.  If you are really perplexed by which foods may be causing inflammatory symptoms then an allergy test and/or elimination diet may be in order.


3 Responses to “Anti-inflammatory vs. Pro-inflammatory Foods”
  1. Heidi says:

    Jacqueline, This is a great article!!

  2. Susan Young says:

    Hi Jacqueline, thanks so much for this article. I was wondering about a similar concept. Are there pro-depression foods? A couple years ago I was in a major transition in life and not eating well including eating some foods obsessively. I felt symptoms of depression and wondered about a link with my diet. One element that seemed to be very low was my iron levels. These were boosted and I felt much less of the depressive symptoms. Maybe this is too big of a question on a blog, but I’m wondering if you have a comment about it. Thanks and I’m cooking your spring veggie fritatta for dinner tonight. I can’t wait to taste it in about 10 minutes!

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