Written By: Selena-Maria Foreman MS, RND, LD, CLT


The anti-inflammatory diet: What is it and why can it be helpful in the management of autoimmune conditions?

To understand a little more about the anti-inflammatory diet I think it is important we first discuss what inflammation is. By definition, inflammation is: “The body’s reaction to injury or infection”. This would look like spraining your ankle or getting an infection in a cut. With both of these you would very likely experience redness, pain, and swelling. These are very obvious signs of inflammation and would be known as acute inflammation. But did you know that there are also forms of inflammation that may not be as obvious? With chronic conditions such as autoimmune diseases, there can often be lots of inflammation present that cannot be seen from the outside. This would be known as chronic (and oftentimes systemic) inflammation which is caused by stimulation of the immune system and can be ongoing for months or years. As you can imagine depending on the target of the inflammation this can often lead to chronic pain. It is now estimated that around 50 million Americans are impacted by autoimmune diseases. Because of this rising number of people affected by chronic inflammation there has been an increased interest in finding management through nutrition. This is where the anti-inflammatory diet approach began.


What is the anti-inflammatory diet?

This diet is mainly focused on whole foods and is a nutrient rich diet. This includes lots of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and fish, lean proteins and whole grains. The anti-inflammatory diet can look a little different from person to person based on food sensitivities and preferences.

How does the anti-inflammatory diet help inflammation?

The main purpose of the anti-inflammatory diet is to help our intake of nutrients that help to bring down inflammation but providing our body with nutrients that act to combat inflammation. There are different types of components here to focus on including phytochemicals, polyphenols, and omega 3 fatty acids.


These are strong antioxidants that are very beneficial for inflammation. When inflammation is high damage occurs to our cells also known as oxidative stress. By consuming more polyphenols we can help reduce the amount of oxidative damage and in turn lower our inflammation levels. Not only are polyphenols important in managing inflammation but they are also a food source for the good gut bacteria. By getting a variety of polyphenols in foods we are allowing for a more diverse population of bacteria in our gut. A diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome. Research is finding more and more associations with the gut microbiome and inflammation as roughly 70% of our immune system’s cells are located in the gut.

The foods containing the most polyphenols include:

  • Berries
  • Cocoa
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Spices
  • Olives
  • Soy
  • Vegetables


These are naturally occurring chemicals found in plant based foods that can have anti-inflammatory and medicinal properties. These can be broken down into three main groups including phenolic, terpenoids, nitrogen-containing compounds/sulfur-containing compounds. Each of these compounds can have therapeutic effects such as being anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anticancer, anti-allergic and anti-viral. A good way to identify foods containing phytochemicals is to look at the pigment. Oftentimes these foods will have a bright pigment to them or a strong flavor.

Foods high in phytochemicals include:

  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Green Tea
  • Coffee
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic
  • Cocoa
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bell Peppers
  • Watermelon
  • Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Sweet Potatoes

Omega 3

There are two different essential fats that we need. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats are essential for brain, cardiovascular, and metabolic health. While both of these fats are essential it is recommended to eat a higher ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats. This is because of the anti-inflammatory action of omega 3 fats due to them supporting the release of mediators that help to reduce inflammation.

Sources of omega 3:

  • Fish (Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, Mackerel, Cod, Herring)
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds

When considering an anti-inflammatory diet, we like to focus on foods we should include MORE of rather than focusing on the foods we should avoid.  Any major dietary changes or goals can be overwhelming at times and it is important to set small goals rather than setting strict rules for yourself.  Food can be nourishing AND enjoyable at the same time.

If you have more questions and would like to learn more about how an anti-inflammatory diet could help you, please book a consultation with one of our registered dietitians. We would love to help!


Kumar A, P N, Kumar M, Jose A, Tomer V, Oz E, Proestos C, Zeng M, Elobeid T, K S, Oz F. Major Phytochemicals: Recent Advances in Health Benefits and Extraction Method. Molecules. 2023 Jan 16;28(2):887. doi: 10.3390/molecules28020887. PMID: 36677944; PMCID: PMC9862941.

Shin SA, Joo BJ, Lee JS, Ryu G, Han M, Kim WY, Park HH, Lee JH, Lee CS. Phytochemicals as Anti-Inflammatory Agents in Animal Models of Prevalent Inflammatory Diseases. Molecules. 2020 Dec 15;25(24):5932. doi: 10.3390/molecules25245932. PMID: 33333788; PMCID: PMC7765227.