Diet and Chronic Inflammation: What to Eat and What to Avoid

Young man having stomach ache, painful area highlighted in red
Patients with chronic inflammation often need to make significant lifestyle changes, as it can put them at risk for heart disease and cancer if left untreated. What are some foods with anti-inflammatory properties that health care professionals can recommend, and what are some inflammatory foods that should be avoided?

Patients who experience chronic inflammation find themselves at an elevated risk for serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.¹ For these patients, anti-inflammatory lifestyle changes are extremely important to improve their quality of life and decrease their risk of developing comorbidities.

Diet can be an important lifestyle factor in chronic inflammation, but patients and even health care professionals may not always know which foods are definitively good or bad for their condition. For example, a recent study in Advances in Nutrition found that while dairy did not increase chronic inflammation biomarkers, there was insufficient evidence of it having anti-inflammatory effects.² 

What are some foods patients should know about that can fight inflammation, and some that may worsen it?

Foods That Can Fight Inflammation

Many foods patients are recommended to eat as part of a healthy diet also have the benefit of decreasing inflammation risk. Fruits like blueberries, strawberries, and apples are high in antioxidants that can help reduce chronic inflammation, as are leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale.³ Nuts and coffee have been found to have protective factors against inflammation biomarkers.

The Mediterranean diet may also be recommended to patients with chronic inflammation. This diet is both low in foods that increase inflammation and high in foods that reduce it. This includes, in addition to aforementioned foods, olive oil and fish. A Mediterranean diet is often recommended by health care professionals to help change a patient’s pattern of eating; a diet overhaul is more beneficial to inflammatory health than adding one or two foods.⁴

Other foods that can be incorporated into anti-inflammatory diets include:¹

  • Dark chocolate
  • Peppers
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Turmeric
  • Green tea
  • Red wine (in healthy doses)

Foods That Can Cause Inflammation

Many of the foods that the Mediterranean diet (and other diets) avoids are associated with an increase in inflammation risk. Refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, white pasta, and pastries should be avoided.¹ Fish can be a healthy meat that can help inflammation, but red meat and processed meat are linked with inflammation.³

Other foods that have been associated with inflammation include:

  • Fried foods
  • Trans fats
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Processed snack foods
  • Candy
  • Alcohol
  • Processed seed oils

As chronic inflammation has the potential to lead to heart disease and diabetes, it’s important to recommend a diet that avoids foods like these that can lead to inflammation.


1. Spritzler F. Anti-inflammatory diet 101: how to reduce inflammation naturally. Healthline. December 13, 2018. Accessed February 4, 2022.

2. Hess JM, Stephensen CB, Kratz M, Bolling BW. Exploring the links between diet and inflammation: dairy foods as case studies. Adv Nutr. 2021;12(Suppl 1):1S-13S. doi:10.1093/advances/nmab108

3. Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health. November 16, 2021. Accessed February 7, 2022.

4. McDonald E. Foods that cause inflammation & how to reduce inflammation. UChicago Medicine. September 4, 2020. Accessed February 7, 2022.