anti-inflammatory foods

Anti-inflammatory foods

Scientific evidence shows that eating mostly plant-based foods — variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and other plant foods — plays a big role in preventing cancer and contributing to a healthier life. That’s because plant-based foods are high in the types of fiber, nutrients, minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals (natural substances) that may help to prevent cancer. Plus, plant-foods can help you manage your weight, and give you the energy you need to enjoy physical activity. A healthy diet emphasizes foods such as a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans that can reduce your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. These foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, and other natural substances called phytochemicals that help keep you in good health, and protect against cancer. They are also naturally low in calories. So make whole grains, vegetables, fruits and pulses (legumes) such as beans and lentils a major part of your normal diet. Get started by covering at least two-thirds (2/3) of your plate with plant foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans. The remaining third (1/3) of your plate may be filled with animal-based protein rich foods such as seafood, poultry and dairy foods and occasionally with lean red meat. The other most important consideration for any anti-inflammatory diet is calorie restriction 1). Any reduction of excess calorie intake will lead to a decrease in systemic oxidative stress. Calorie restriction has been the most successful therapeutic intervention to improve healthspan (defined as longevity minus years of disability) in virtually every species studied 2). Significant metabolic benefits have been achieved by calorie restriction in healthy overweight and normal-weight individuals who participated in the various CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of the Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) studies 3), 4).

Whole grains are healthier than refined grains because the process of refining carbohydrates results in the elimination of much of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and essential fatty acids 5). Furthermore, refined starches and sugars can rapidly alter blood glucose and insulin levels 6) and postprandial hyperglycemia can increase production of free radicals as well as proinflammatory cytokines 7).

There is consistent evidence that consumption of whole grains is protective against incident type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease 8), 9). However, it is unclear how these protective effects are mediated. Dietary fiber intake may reduce the risk of these diseases by mediating the pro-inflammatory process 10), 11). Two mechanistic hypotheses have emerged. First, dietary fiber may decrease oxidation of glucose and lipids, while maintaining a healthy intestinal environment. Second, dietary fiber may prevent inflammation by altering adipocytokines in adipose tissue and increasing enterohepatic circulation of lipids and lipophilic compounds 12). The link between dietary fiber intake and reduced high sensitivity serum C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) has been observed in several recent studies, including two analyses using cross-sectional data from NHANES 1999–2000 13), 14), an analysis using a longitudinal cohort of 524 healthy adults 15) and a small clinical trial 16).

Various dietary components including long chain omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins, plant flavonoids, prebiotics and probiotics have the potential to modulate predisposition to chronic inflammatory conditions. These components act through a variety of mechanisms including decreasing inflammatory mediator production through effects on cell signaling and gene expression (omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, plant flavonoids), reducing the production of damaging oxidants (vitamin E and other antioxidants), and promoting gut barrier function and anti-inflammatory responses (prebiotics and probiotics) 17). In a large Danish study 18) involving over 7000 men and women who were followed over 15 years (1982-1998). What that study found was that in both men and women who frequently consume wholemeal bread, vegetables, fruits, and fish, was associated with a better overall survival rate as well as better cardiovascular survival 19).

A low-fat diet (≤30% of total calories) is still considered by many physicians to be a healthy choice for both primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease) 20). An unintended consequence of emphasizing low-fat diets may have been to promote unrestricted carbohydrate intake, which reduces high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL “good” cholesterol) and raises triglyceride levels, exacerbating the metabolic manifestations of the insulin resistance syndrome, also known as the metabolic syndrome 21).

Three dietary strategies may help prevent coronary heart disease (coronary artery disease) 22):

  1. Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or plant sources;
  2. Substitute nonhydrogenated unsaturated fats for saturated and trans-fats; and
  3. Consume a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains and low in refined grains.

The effects of diet on coronary heart disease (coronary artery disease) can be mediated through multiple biologic pathways other than serum lipids, including oxidative stress, subclinical inflammation, endothelial dysfunction, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and thrombotic tendency 23).

Endothelial dysfunction is one of the mechanisms linking diet and the risk of cardiovascular disease 24), 25). This study 26) suggests a mechanism for the role of dietary patterns in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease. For example, women in the Nurses’ Health Study who ate a “American” diet (high in red and processed meats, sweets, desserts, French fries, and refined grains) had higher proinflammatory cytokines (C-reactive protein, Interleukin-6, E-selectin, soluble vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 and soluble intercellular adhesion molecule 1) than those with the “healthier” pattern, characterized by higher intakes of fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish, poultry, and whole grains 27). The levels of these mediators amplify the inflammatory response, are destructive and contribute to the clinical symptoms 28).

Arachidonic acid (AA) derived (omega-6) eicosanoids (primarily from refined vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, and safflower) increase the production of proinflammatory cytokines IL-1, TNF-α, and IL-6, operating as precursors of the proinflammatory eicosanoids of the prostaglandin (PG)2-series 29). In contrast, the omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), found in fish, fish oil, walnuts, wheat germ, and some dietary supplements such as flax seed products can curb the production of Arachidonic acid (AA)-derived eicosanoids 30). The Omega-6 and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) compete for the same metabolic pathways, and thus their balance is important 31). Accordingly, it is not surprising that both higher levels of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) as well as lower Omega-6:Omega-3 ratios are associated with lower proinflammatory cytokine production 32).

Furthermore, in another study a healthy dietary pattern rich in fruit, vegetables and olive oil, such as the Mediterranean diet, is associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers, perhaps because of the anti-inflammatory properties of antioxidants 33).

The antioxidant properties of vegetables and fruits are thought to be one of the fundamental mechanisms underlying their anti-inflammatory dietary contributions 34). Oxidants such as superoxide radicals or hydrogen peroxide that are produced during the metabolism of food can activate the NF-κB pathway, promoting inflammation 35). Higher fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with lower oxidative stress and inflammation 36). In fact, some evidence suggests that the addition of antioxidants or vegetables may limit or even reverse proinflammatory responses to meals high in saturated fat 37).

Chronic inflammatory processes contribute to the pathogenesis of many age-related diseases. In search of anti-inflammatory foods, researchers in the University of Wollongong, Australia, have systematically screened 115 variety of common dietary plants and mushrooms for their anti-inflammatory activity. Gunawardena and colleagues tested 115 commercially available plants and mushroom foods (including 115 identical samples heated with glucose) for their anti-inflammatory ability 38). The plant and mushroom samples were prepared by methods usually employed with food preparation, involving heating (i.e. ‘cooking’) and mechanical dispersion. Samples were prepared by blending in a food processor with water before heating in a microwave for 10 minutes under control conditions or including 1% glucose, to enhance Maillard reaction products. Using using the free radical nitric oxide (NO) and tumour necrosis factor–α (TNF-α) as pro-inflammatory markers, 10 foods demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory activity (see Table 3) 39). The activation of macrophages leads to secretion of inflammatory molecules such as the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-α and the free radical nitric oxide (NO), which play an important role in inflammation and nitroxidative stress in many age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease 40).

To overcome silent inflammation requires an anti-inflammatory diet (with omega-3s and polyphenols). The most important aspect of such an anti-inflammatory diet is the stabilization of insulin and reduced intake of omega-6 fatty acids. The ultimate treatment lies in reestablishing hormonal and genetic balance to generate satiety instead of constant hunger. Anti-inflammatory nutrition with caloric restriction, should be considered as a form of gene silencing technology, in particular the silencing of the genes involved in the generation of silent inflammation. To this anti-inflammatory diet foundation supplemental omega-3 fatty acids at the level of 2–3 g of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per day should be added. Finally, a diet rich in colorful, non-starchy vegetables would contribute adequate amounts of polyphenols to help not only to inhibit nuclear factor (NF)-κB (primary molecular target of inflammation) but also activate AMP kinase 41).

Figure 1. Foods that fight cancer

anti-cancer foods

Table 1. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Foods EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) – Fish and Seafood Sources

[Source 42)]

Table 2. Other sources of Omega-3 Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) – Non-Seafood Sources

Source of ALAALA content, g
Pumpkin seeds (1 tbsp)0.051
Olive oil (1 tbsp)0.103
Walnuts, black (1 tbsp)0.156
Soybean oil (1 tbsp)1.231
Rapeseed oil (1 tbsp)1.302
Walnut oil (1 tbsp)1.414
Flaxseeds (1 tbsp)2.350
Walnuts, English (1 tbsp)2.574
Flaxseed oil (1 tbsp)7.249
Almonds (100 g)0.4
Peanuts (100 g)0.003
Beans, navy, sprouted (100 g)0.3
Broccoli, raw (100 g)0.1
Lettuce, red leaf (100 g)0.1
Mustard (100 g)0.1
Purslane (100 g)0.4
Spinach (100 g)0.1
Seaweed, spirulina, dried (100 g)0.8
Beans, common, dry (100 g)0.6
Chickpeas, dry (100 g)0.1
Soybeans, dry (100 g)1.6
Oats, germ (100 g)1.4
Rice, bran (100 g)0.2
Wheat, germ (100 g)0.7
Avocados, California, raw (100 g)0.1
Raspberries, raw (100 g)0.1
Strawberries, raw (100 g)0.1
Novel sources of ALAALA content, g

Breads and pasta (100 g)0.1–1.6
Cereals (and granola bars) (55 g)1.0–4.9
Eggs (50 g or 1 egg)0.1–0.6
Processed meats (100 g)0.5
Salad dressing (14 g – 31 g)2.0–4.0
Margarine spreads (10 g – 100 g)0.3–1.0
Nutrition bars (50 g)0.1–2.2

Footnote: 1 tablespoon (tbsp) oil = 13.6 g; 1 tbsp seeds or nuts = 12.35 g.

[Source 43)]

Table 3. Anti-inflammatory foods

anti-inflammatory food list
[Source 44) ]

Seven of these food preparations, including lime zest, English breakfast tea, honey brown mushroom, button mushroom, oyster mushroom, cinnamon and cloves demonstrated potent anti-inflammatory activity with IC 50 values between 0.1 and 0.5 mg/ml. However, the most active food samples were onion, followed by oregano and red sweet potato exhibiting IC 50 values below 0.1 mg/ml. In addition, English breakfast tea leaves, oyster mushroom, onion, cinnamon and button mushroom preparations suppressed TNF-α production, exhibiting with IC 50 values below 0.5 mg/ml in RAW 264.7 macrophages 45).

Secondary screen using RAW 264.7 macrophages, NO and TNF-α as pro-inflammatory markers, of the 10 products, oyster mushroom and cinnamon, demonstrated the most significant anti-inflammatory activities (with IC 50 values below 0.1 mg/ml), followed by cloves, oregano, onion, English breakfast tea leaves and lime zest (see Table 3) 46). The commonly used drug for the management of inflammatory conditions are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which have several adverse effects especially gastric irritation leading to the formation of gastric ulcers 47). Two anti-inflammatory drugs, including prednisone and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) ibuprofen were also tested in the same study assay systems. Ibuprofen was toxic to cells at concentrations of 1.63 ± 0.44 mM, and NO and TNF-α production were down-regulated at the same concentrations (Table 4).  Prednisone inhibited LPS + IFN-γ induced NO and TNF-α production with IC 50 values of 0.25 ± 0.09 mg/ml (Table 4).

Table 4. Anti-inflammatory foods re-tested in macrophages

anti-inflammatory food list re-tested in macrophages
[Source 48)]

Onions have been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, e.g. downregulation of adipokine expression in the visceral adipose tissue of rats or attenuation of vascular inflammation and oxidative stress in fructose-fed rats 49), 50). Among the polyphenols in onions, quercetin was suggested to be the responsible anti-inflammatory ingredient, as evidenced by the downregulation of COX2 transcription in human lymphocytes 51). Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory activity of the onion has been
studied also in relation to the presence of thiosulfinates and cepaenes 52), 53).

Anti-inflammatory properties of cinnamon has been demonstrated for Cinnamomum osmophloem kaneh 54), 55), but less is known about the ‘true’ cinnamon of India, Cinnamomum zeylanicum. Some authors reported significant inhibitory effects of inflammatory signalling by the extracts of C. cassia 56). Sodium benzoate appears to be one of the active ingredients in cinnamon, since it inhibits LPS-induced expression of inducible NO synthase (iNOS), pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-α and IL-1 β) and surface markers for inflammatory activation such as CD11b, CD11c, and CD68 in mouse microglia 57). However, E-cinnamaldehyde and o-methoxycinnamaldehyde are responsible for most of the anti-inflammatory activity of cinnamon 58).

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) extracts have been identified as having potent free radical (including superoxide anion) scavenging properties, and metal chelating activities, which may be due to the presence of flavonoids. Cloves contain considerable concentrations of eugenol, beta-caryophyllene, quercetin and kaempferol as well as rhamnetin and kaempferol and their glycosides 59).

Red sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), a species rich in β-carotene and anthocyanins 60), has been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory properties for the first time by this study 61).

Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) rich in flavonol glycosides, especially of kaempferol-type are known for their anti-oxidant properties 62), this study 63) is also the first to report on its anti-inflammatory activities.

A handful studies have shown the anti-inflammatory properties of the various mushroom species. For example, oyster mushroom concentrate was shown to suppress LPS-induced secretion of TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-12p40 in RAW264.7 macrophages and also suppressed PGE2 and NO by down-regulation of COX-2 and iNOS expression, respectively. Oyster mushroom concentrate also inhibited LPS-dependent DNA binding activity of AP-1 and NF-κ B in RAW264.7 cells 64). In mushrooms, water-soluble polysaccharides, especially the β-glucans, are most likely to be the substances responsible for the anti-inflammatory properties. For example, β-glucans isolated Pleurotus ostreatus were able to potentiate the anti-inflammatory effects of methotrexate in rat models of experimental arthritis or colitis 65), 66). A further potential anti-inflammatory compound in mushrooms could be ergothioneine, a sulfur containing amino acid that functions as an antioxidant and is present in mushrooms at a concentration of up to 2.0mg/g 67). In Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), ergothioneine given intravenously 1h before or 18 h after cytokine (IL-1 and IFN-γ) insufflation, decreased lung injury and lung inflammation in cytokine insufflated rats 68).

The anti-inflammatory activity in these food samples survived ‘cooking’ and suggesting these foods may be useful in limiting inflammation in a variety of age-related inflammatory diseases 69). Furthermore, these foods could be a source for the discovery of novel anti-inflammatory drugs 70). However, validation of these foods containing anti-inflammatory properties will require further clinical trials in human subjects before any recommendation can be given for their use to treat inflammatory conditions.

anti inflammatory diet

Fermented plant foods

Fermented plant foods are gaining wide interest worldwide as healthy foods due to their unique sensory features and their health-promoting potentials, such as antiobesity, antidiabetic, antihypertensive, and anticarcinogenic activities 71). Fermented fruits, vegetables, and grains are a rich source of nutrients and could enrich your diet with numerous live microorganisms (probiotic microbes), phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants) and bioactive compounds. These compounds play a key role in the functional and health-promoting properties of fermented products. The excellent biological activities of these functional foods, such as anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory functions, are widely attributable to their high antioxidant content and lactic acid-producing bacteria (LAB). Due to the high content of phenolic compounds with strong antioxidant activity, fermented blueberries and blackberries may protect against chronic inflammatory disorders by decreasing oxidative stress, modulating inflammatory signaling and responses, and improving immunity. Regarding fermented cabbage products, sauerkraut and kimchi, live lactic acid-producing bacteria are the key player in improving health and preventing chronic diseases through improving a healthy gut microbial balance and modulating inflammatory and immune responses. Fermented soybeans are an excellent source of isoflavones with known anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, probiotics found in fermented soy products contribute to the health benefits of these nutritious foods. Overall, growing evidence is strongly supporting the health benefits of fermented plant foods 72).

These human digestive-tract associated microbes are referred to as the gut microbiome (the collective genomes of the micro-organisms in a particular environment). Lactic acid-producing bacteria contribute to the maintenance of a healthy gut microbiota (the community of micro-organisms themselves) composition and improvement of local and systemic immunity 73). Approximately 100 trillion micro-organisms (most of them bacteria, but also viruses, fungi, and protozoa) exist in the human gastrointestinal tract 74)—the microbiome is now best thought of as a virtual organ of the body. The term “microbiota,” “microflora,” or “normal flora” is used to designate this vast host of microbes which coexist with the host 75). The bacterial cells harbored within the human gastrointestinal tract (GIT) outnumber the host’s cells by a factor of 10 and the genes encoded by the bacteria resident within the gastrointestinal tract outnumber their host’s genes by more than 100 times 76). The human genome consists of about 23,000 genes, whereas the microbiome encodes over three million genes producing thousands of metabolites, which replace many of the functions of the host 77), consequently influencing the host’s fitness, phenotype, and health 78). The human gut microbiota consists of diverse microorganisms, including archaea, bacteria, viruses, and yeasts, which maintain a symbiotic relationship with the host 79). There is a mutual influence between gut microbiota and the immune system. Gut microbiota play a key role in the function and homeostasis of the immune system by the maturation of gut-associated lymphoid tissue and innate lymphoid cells, enhancing antimicrobial peptides, antibodies, and cytokines production, inducing immunoglobulin A (IgA)-producing B cells and T cells differentiation, and regulating T helper 17 (Th17)/regulatory T cells (Tregs) balance 80). Gut microbiota disturbance negatively affects the immune system and leads to inflammation 81).

The human gut microbiome and its role in both health and disease has been the subject of extensive research, establishing its involvement in human metabolism, nutrition, physiology, and immune function. Imbalance of the normal gut microbiota have been linked with gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and wider systemic manifestations of disease such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and atopy 82). Atopy is a problem with your immune system that makes you more likely to develop allergic diseases.

Besides, antioxidant compounds are involved in several functional properties of fermented plant products by neutralizing free radicals, regulating antioxidant enzyme activities, reducing oxidative stress, ameliorating inflammatory responses, and enhancing immune system performance. Therefore, these products may protect against chronic inflammatory diseases, which are known as the leading cause of mortality worldwide. The gut remains the most important organ in which fermented foods exert their beneficial effects, either by systemically modulating the immune response or positively influencing the gut microbiota 83).

The anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of plant-based fermented foods are well documented 84). The functional properties of fermented products are, in part, related to the probiotics content of the products 85). Numerous health-promoting benefits have been attributed to probiotics due to their anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory activities at the gut level and beyond 86). Probiotic consumption in the form of fermented foods can improve gut barrier integrity and gut immunity and maintain gut homeostasis 87), through different mechanisms, including the inhibition of pathogen colonization, the induction of antimicrobial peptides production and mucus secretion, the increase of IgA production, the down-regulation of the Th17 and pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-17F, IL-23, and the upregulation of Tregs production 88).

Moreover, fermentation will lead to the degradation of complex phytochemical molecules into smaller bioactive polyphenols. Studies have shown that polyphenolic compounds found in fermented products are beneficial in microbiota metabolism and growth 89) and can inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines and suppress inflammatory responses 90). Furthermore, neutralizing free radicals, regulating antioxidant enzyme activities, reducing oxidative stress, and enhancing immune system activity are other potential mechanisms by which plant-based fermented foods and beverages exert health benefits 91).

Different plants, such as fruits, vegetables, tea, grains, legumes, and starchy roots, are used to produce plant-based fermented foods 92). Due to the high content of phenolic compounds with strong antioxidant activity, fermented blueberries and blackberries may protect against chronic inflammatory disorders by decreasing oxidative stress, modulating inflammatory signaling and responses, and improving immunity. Regarding fermented cabbage products, sauerkraut and kimchi, live lactic acid-producing bacteria are the key player in improving health and preventing chronic diseases through improving a healthy gut microbial balance and modulating inflammatory and immune responses. Fermented soybeans are an excellent source of isoflavones with known anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, probiotics found in fermented soy products contribute to the health benefits of these nutritious foods. Overall, growing evidence is strongly supporting the health benefits of fermented plant foods.  However, existing evidence has been chiefly generated from in vitro (test tube studies) and animal studies, and there exist rare clinical studies in this field. Therefore, the potential role of fermented plant products in human health remains to be determined by randomized, controlled clinical trials.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is an evolutionarily conserved process characterized by the activation of immune and non-immune cells that protect the host from bacteria, viruses, toxins and infections by eliminating pathogens and promoting tissue repair and recovery 93). Very generally speaking, is the body’s immune system’s response to an irritant, the irritant might be a germ, but it could also be a foreign object, such as a splinter in your finger 94). Inflammation is a normal part of your body’s defense to injury or infection, and, in this way, it is beneficial. But inflammation is damaging when it occurs in healthy tissues or lasts too long. Known as chronic inflammation, it may persist for months or years 95). Furthermore, inflammations don’t always help the body. In some diseases the immune system fights against the body’s own cells by mistake, causing harmful inflammations. Chronic inflammatory diseases contribute to more than half of deaths worldwide 96).

When an inflammation occurs in your body, many different immune system cells may be involved. They release various substances, known as inflammatory mediators. These include the hormones bradykinin and histamine 97). They cause the small blood vessels in the tissue to become wider (dilate), allowing more blood to reach the injured tissue. For this reason, inflamed areas turn red and feel hot. The increased blood flow also allows more immune system cells to be carried to the injured tissue, where they help with the healing process. What’s more, both of these hormones irritate nerves and cause pain signals to be sent to the brain. This has a protective function: If the inflammation hurts, you tend to protect the affected part of the body.

The inflammatory mediators have yet another function: They make it easier for immune system cells to pass out of the small blood vessels, so that more of them can enter the affected tissue. The immune system cells also cause more fluid to enter the inflamed tissue, which is why it often swells up. The swelling goes down again after a while, when this fluid is transported out of the tissue.

Mucous membranes also release more fluid when they are inflamed. For instance, this happens when you have a stuffy nose and the membranes lining your nose are inflamed. Then the extra fluid can help to quickly flush the viruses out of your body.

Depending on the degree and extent of the inflammatory response, including whether it is systemic or local, metabolic and neuroendocrine changes can occur to conserve metabolic energy and allocate more nutrients to the activated immune system 98). Specific biobehavioral effects of inflammation thus include a constellation of energy-saving behaviors commonly known as “sickness behaviors,” such as sadness, anhedonia, fatigue, reduced libido and food intake, altered sleep and social-behavioral withdrawal, as well as increased blood pressure, insulin resistance and dyslipidemia 99). These behavioral changes can be critical for survival during times of physical injury and microbial threat 100).

Inflammation is associated with diseases such as the following:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), where many joints throughout the body are permanently inflamed
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in connective tissues, such as cartilage and the lining of blood vessels, which provide strength and flexibility to structures throughout the body.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
  • Psoriasis – a chronic skin disease
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Lung diseases like asthma
  • Mental illnesses like depression 101)
  • Metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes
  • Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease
  • Some types of cancer, like colon cancer 102)

Collectively known as chronic inflammatory diseases, these diseases can last for years or even a lifetime. Their severity and level of activity varies. Together, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes account for almost 70% of all deaths in the United States; these diseases share inflammation as a common link 103), 104).

A normal inflammatory response is characterized by the temporally restricted upregulation of inflammatory activity that occurs when a threat is present and that resolves once the threat has passed 105). However, the presence of certain social, psychological, environmental and biological factors has been linked to the prevention of resolution of acute inflammation and, in turn, the promotion of a state of low-grade, non-infective (that is, ‘sterile’) systemic chronic inflammation that is characterized by the activation of immune components that are often distinct from those engaged during an acute immune response 106). The clinical consequences of systemic chronic inflammation-driven damage can be severe and include increased risk of the metabolic syndrome, which includes the triad of hypertension, hyperglycemia and dyslipidemia 107); type 2 diabetes 108); nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) 109); hypertension 110); cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis 111); chronic kidney disease 112); various types of cancer 113); depression 114); neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases 115), 116); osteoporosis 117) and sarcopenia 118). Empirical evidence that inflammation plays a role in disease onset or progression is strongest for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Indeed, it has long been known that patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis that are characterized by systemic inflammation have insulin resistance, dyslipidemia and hypertension, and that they have higher rates of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (particularly ischemic heart disease and stroke) 119), 120). Moreover, the inflammatory biomarker high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is a predictor of cardiovascular events in men and women 121). In a recent meta-analysis of data from more than 160,000 people across 54 long-term prospective studies, higher levels of circulating CRP were associated with a relative increase in risk for both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease mortality 122). To assess the inflammatory potential of diets, the dietary inflammatory index (DII) was developed 123). Higher dietary inflammatory index (DII) scores indicate greater inflammatory potential of the diet and have been associated with elevated inflammatory biomarker levels interleukin 6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and C-reactive protein (CRP) 124).

chronic inflammation

The most compelling evidence for an association between systemic chronic inflammation and disease risk comes from randomized controlled trials that have tested drugs or biologics that target specific pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-1β and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α. In a recent meta-analysis of eight randomized controlled trials that included a total of 260 participants, anti-TNF-α inhibitor therapy was found to significantly reduce insulin resistance in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and to improve their insulin sensitivity 125). The risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease was also significantly lower among patients with rheumatoid arthritis treated with the TNF-α inhibitor etanercept 126). In addition, a recent double-blind randomized controlled trial of the IL-1β inhibitor canakinumab that assessed more than 10,000 adults with a history of myocardial infarction and elevated circulating C-reactive protein (CRP) levels showed that patients treated with canakinumab subcutaneously every 3 months had lower rates of nonfatal myocardial infarction, nonfatal stroke and cardiovascular disease death compared with those treated with a placebo, despite having no change in LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol), which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In this trial, canakinumab-treated patients also exhibited a lower likelihood of unstable angina leading to urgent revascularization 127). Along similar lines, a recent study of more than 160,000 people from North Glasgow found that a combination of the inflammatory markers CRP (>10 mg/L), albumin (>35 mg/L) and neutrophil count predicted all-cause mortality over 8 years, in addition to mortality due to cancer, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease 128).

Inflammation may result from many factors, such as:

  • Environmental chemicals
  • Ozone and cardiovascular disease – Exposure to ozone, even at levels lower than the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality standard, may lead to cardiovascular disease 129).
  • Injuries like scrapes, insect stings, or a splinter in your finger
  • Pathogens (germs) like bacteria, viruses, or fungi
  • Radiation
  • Nutrition – Diets high in refined grains, alcohol, and processed foods can alter gut microbiota and lead to intestinal and immune changes.
  • Microbiome (microbiome refers to the collective genomes of the micro-organisms in a particular environment) – Studies of various microbiome imbalances and disease states show connections to inflammation.
  • Social and cultural changes – Disrupted sleep patterns, psychosocial stress, artificial light, and other factors influence the immune system.
  • Developmental origins – Childhood obesity, psychological stress, exposure to microbes in infancy, and prenatal conditions are linked to inflammation.
  • Physical activity – When skeletal muscles contract, they release proteins that can reduce inflammation throughout the body. Skeletal muscle is an endocrine organ that produces and releases cytokines and other small proteins, called myokines, into the bloodstream. This occurs particularly during muscle contraction and can have the effect of systemically reducing inflammation 130).

Industrialization is thought to have caused a significant overall decrease in physical activity. One study showed that, worldwide, 31% of individuals are considered physically inactive—defined as not meeting the minimum international recommendations for regular physical activity—with levels of inactivity being higher in high-income countries than in low-to-middle-income countries 131). In the United States, these numbers are even higher, with approximately 50% of American adults being considered physically inactive 132).

Low physical activity, therefore, has been found to be directly related to increased anabolic resistance 133) and levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and pro-inflammatory cytokine levels in healthy individuals 134), as well as in breast cancer survivors 135) and patients with type 2 diabetes 136). These effects can, in turn, promote several inflammation-related pathophysiologic alterations, including insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, endothelial dysfunction, high blood pressure and loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) 137), that have been found to increase risk for a variety of conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), osteoporosis, various types of cancer, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, in individuals who are chronically inactive 138).

Consistent with these effects, there is strong evidence for an association between physical inactivity and increased risk for age-related diseases and mortality 139). A recent meta-analysis of studies with cohorts from Europe, the United States and the rest of the world that included 1,683,693 participants found that going from physically inactive to achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality by 23%, cardiovascular disease incidence by 17%, and type 2 diabetes incidence by 26% during an average follow-up period of 12.8 years 140). Moreover, data from 1.44 million participants across several prospective cohort studies revealed that, as compared to individuals exhibiting high levels of leisure-time physical activity (≥90th percentile), those who were physically inactive (≤10th percentile) had a greater risk (>20%) of developing several cancers, including esophageal adenocarcinoma; liver, lung, kidney, gastric cardia and endometrial cancers; and myeloid leukemia, even after adjusting for multiple major risk factors such as adiposity and smoking status (except for lung cancer) 141). Likewise, a meta-analysis of ten studies and 23,345 older adults (70 to 80 years old) who were followed for 3.9–31 years found that individuals meeting the minimum international physical activity recommendations had a 40% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease as compared to their physically inactive counterparts 142).

Moreover, physical inactivity can increase individuals’ risk for various non-communicable diseases because it is linked to obesity 143) and, in particular, excessive visceral adipose tissue, which is a significant trigger of inflammation 144). Visceral adipose tissue is an active endocrine, immunological and metabolic organ composed of various cells (including immune cells, such as resident macrophages) that expands mostly through adipocyte hypertrophy, which can lead to areas of hypoxia and even cell death, resulting in activation of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α, increased production of reactive oxygen species, and release of damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) (for example, cell-free DNA). These events can induce the secretion of numerous pro-inflammatory molecules, including adipokines, cytokines (for example, IL-1β, IL-6, TNF-α), and chemokines (especially monocyte chemoattractant protein-1) by adipocytes, endothelial cells and resident adipose tissue immune cells (for example, macrophages) 145). This in turn leads to the infiltration of various immune cells in the visceral adipose tissue, including monocytes, neutrophils, dendritic cells, B cells, T cells and natural killer (NK) lymphocytes, and a reduction in T regulatory cells, thereby amplifying inflammation, which can eventually become prolonged and systemic in some individuals 146).

Furthermore, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and other molecules can cause adipocyte insulin resistance, which increases lipolysis, with the resulting spillover of lipids into other organs, such as the pancreas and liver, where they can contribute to beta-cell dysfunction, hepatic insulin resistance and fatty liver 147). Hence, visceral obesity accelerates aging and increases risk for cardiometabolic, neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases, as well as several types of cancer 148). These dynamics are known to occur in adults and can promote age-related disease risk, but they first emerge during childhood 149). The childhood obesity epidemic might thus be playing a key role in promoting inflammation and age-related disease risk worldwide 150).

In addition to physical inactivity and diet, the industrial revolution and modern era have ushered in changes in social interactions and sleep quality 151) that can promote systemic chronic inflammation 152) and insulin resistance 153), in turn increasing risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality 154). Moreover, psychological stressors that are persistently present in some contemporary work environments, such as those characterized by high job demand and low control, can cause physiologic changes 155) that disrupt the ability for glucocorticoids to effectively down-regulate inflammatory activity due to decreased sensitivity caused by chronic elevation in cortisol, leading in turn to systemic chronic inflammation and poor health 156).

Another core feature of modern society that has occurred very recently in human evolutionary history is increased exposure to artificial light, especially the blue spectrum, at atypical biologic times 157). Exposure to blue light, especially after sundown, increases arousal and alertness at night and thus causes circadian rhythm disruption 158), which in turn promotes inflammation 159), and is a risk for multiple inflammation-related diseases 160). As an example, night-shift work has been found to increase risk for the metabolic syndrome and is suspected of being a causal factor in obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as in breast, ovarian, prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancer 161).

Despite evidence linking systemic chronic inflammation with disease risk and mortality 162), there are presently no standard biomarkers for indicating the presence of health-damaging chronic inflammation. Studies have shown that biomarkers of acute inflammation predict morbidity and mortality in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies and may thus be used to index age-related systemic chronic inflammation 163). This approach has notable limitations, though. For example, early work by Roubenoff and colleagues showed that in monocytes from ambulatory individuals, levels of IL-6 and IL-1Ra (but not IL-1β or TNF-α) increased with age 164). However, no difference in IL-1 and IL-6 expression has been found between young and older individuals when the health status of older individuals is strictly controlled 165).

Shifts in the inflammatory response from short- to long-lived can cause a breakdown of immune tolerance 166) and lead to major alterations in all tissues and organs, as well as normal cellular physiology. Systemic chronic inflammation can also impair normal immune function, leading to increased susceptibility to infections and tumors and a poor response to vaccines 167). Furthermore, systemic chronic inflammation during pregnancy and childhood can have serious developmental consequences that include elevating the risk of non-communicable diseases over the life span 168), 169), 170), 171).

Indeed, chronic inflammatory diseases have been recognized as the most significant cause of death in the world today, with more than 50% of all deaths being attributable to inflammation-related diseases such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and autoimmune and neurodegenerative conditions5. Evidence is emerging that the risk of developing chronic inflammation can be traced back to early development, and its effects are now known to persist throughout the life span to affect adulthood health and risk of mortality 172), 173), 174).

High inflammatory foods

Dietary patterns high in refined starches, sugar, and saturated and trans-fatty acids, poor in natural antioxidants and fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and poor in omega-3 fatty acids may cause an activation of the innate immune system, most likely by excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines associated with a reduced production of anti-inflammatory cytokines 175). It has been found that a higher intake of red and processed meat and fried food and a lower intake of whole grains was associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers (interleukin 6 [IL-6], tumor necrosis factor alpha [TNF-α], and C-reactive protein [CRP]), as well as accelerated cognitive decline in older ages 176). The typical American diet that has become widely adopted in many countries over the past 40 years is relatively low in fruits, vegetables and other fiber- and prebiotic-rich foods 177) and high in refined grains 178), alcohol 179) and ultra-processed foods 180), particularly those containing emulsifiers 181). These dietary factors can alter the gut microbiota composition and function 182) and are linked to increased intestinal permeability 183) and epigenetic changes in the immune system 184) that ultimately cause low-grade endotoxemia and systemic chronic inflammation 185). The influence of diet on inflammation is not confined to these effects, though. For example, orally absorbed advanced glycation and lipoxidation end-products that are formed during the processing of foods or when foods are cooked at high temperatures and in low-humidity conditions are appetite increasing and are linked to overnutrition and hence obesity and inflammation 186). Furthermore, high-glycemic-load foods, such as isolated sugars and refined grains, which are common ingredients in most ultra-processed foods, can cause increased oxidative stress that activates inflammatory genes 187).

When combined with low physical activity, consuming hyperpalatable processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt and flavor additives 188) can cause major changes in cell metabolism and lead to the increased production (and defective disposal) of dysfunctional organelles such as mitochondria, as well as to misplaced, misfolded and oxidized endogenous molecules 189). These altered molecules, which increase with age 190), can be recognized as damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) by innate immune cells, which in turn activate the inflammasome machinery, amplify the inflammatory response 191) and contribute to a biological state that has been called “inflammaging,” defined as the “the long-term result of the chronic physiological stimulation of the innate immune system” that occurs in later life 192). As proposed, inflammaging involves changes in numerous organ systems, such as the brain, gut, liver, kidney, adipose tissue and muscle 193) and it is driven by a variety of molecular-age-related mechanisms that have been called the “Seven Pillars of Aging”—namely, adaptation to stress, epigenetics, inflammation, macromolecular damage, metabolism, proteostasis and stem cells and regeneration 194).

Dietary strategies clearly influence inflammation, as documented through both prospective observational studies as well as randomized controlled feeding trials in which participants agree to eat only the food provided to them 195), 196). Studies have shown how various dietary components can modulate key pathways to inflammation including sympathetic activity, oxidative stress, transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) activation, and proinflammatory cytokine production 197). Circulating markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, and some interleukins (IL-6, IL-18), correlate with propensity to develop coronary heart disease and heart attacks 198), 199), 200). Previous studies have also shown that depression is associated with upregulated inflammatory response, characterized by increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other acute-phase proteins 201).

Other dietary components that are thought to influence inflammation include trans fatty acids 202) and dietary salt. For example, salt has been shown to skew macrophages toward a pro-inflammatory phenotype characterized by the increased differentiation of naive CD4+ T cells into T helper (TH)-17 cells, which are highly inflammatory, and decreased expression and anti-inflammatory activity of T regulatory cells 203). In addition, high salt intake can cause adverse changes in gut microbiota composition, as exemplified by the reduced Lactobacillus population observed in animals and humans fed high-salt diets 204). This specific population is critical for health as it regulates TH17 cells and enhances the integrity of the intestinal epithelial barrier, thus reducing systemic inflammation 205). Consistent with the expected health-damaging effects of consuming foods that are high in trans fats and salt, a recent cohort study of 44,551 French adults who were followed for a median of 7.1 years found that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a 14% greater risk of all-cause mortality 206).

Several other nutritional factors can also promote inflammation and potentially contribute to the development of systemic chronic inflammation. These factors include deficiencies in micronutrients, including zinc 207) and magnesium 208), which are caused by eating processed or refined foods that are low in vitamins and minerals, and having suboptimal omega-3 levels 209), which impacts the resolution phase of inflammation. Longchain omega-3 fatty acids especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) modulate the expression of genes involved in metabolism and inflammation 210). More importantly, they are precursors to molecules such as resolvins, maresins and protectins that are involved in the resolution of inflammation 211). The main contributors to the growing worldwide incidence of low omega-3 status are a low intake of fish and high intake of vegetable oils that are high in linoleic acid, which displaces omega-3 fatty acids in cell membrane phospholipids 212). In turn, various randomized controlled trials have shown that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces inflammation 213) and may thus have health-promoting effects 214).

Diets that promote inflammation are 215):

  • High in Refined Starches or Refined Carbs,
  • High in Sugar,
  • High in Saturated and Trans-fats,
  • High in Salt (sodium),
  • Alcohol,
  • Food Additives,
  • Low in omega-3 fatty acids,
  • Low in natural antioxidants,
  • Low in fiber from fruits,
  • Low in vegetables, and
  • Low in whole grains.

Dietary patterns high in refined starches, sugar, and saturated and trans-fatty acids, poor in natural antioxidants and fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and poor in omega-3 fatty acids – aka the Average American Diet – may cause an activation of the innate immune system, most likely by an excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines associated with a reduced production of anti-inflammatory cytokines 216).

An Americanization of food habits has been recognized throughout the world, characterized by a high-energy diet, with increasing consumption of industrially processed foods. These foods usually contain large amounts of salt, simple sugars, saturated and trans fats, which food industries offer in response to consumers’ demands. Consequently, the intake of complex carbohydrates, fibres, fruits and vegetables has decreased. The energy and animal proteins consumed largely exceed World Health Organization recommendations, while, generally, a smaller variety of foods is being consumed.

  • Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Most people say that if there is a healthy choice on a menu they will take it. But observations and research show this is generally not the case. Instead, people tend to make choices based on how food tastes. Typically, the more sugar, salt and fat in the food, the more we will like it.
  • About three-fourths of the population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.
  • More than half of the population is meeting or exceeding total grain and total protein foods recommendations, but, are not meeting the recommendations for the subgroups within each of these food groups.

The typical eating patterns currently consumed by many in the United States do not align with the Healthy Dietary Guidelines. As shown in Figure 1, when compared to the healthy eating pattern:

  • About three-fourths of the population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils.
  • Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.

Figure 2. The Average American Diet containing foods that can cause inflammation

inflammatory diet

In addition, the eating patterns of many are too high in calories. Calorie intake over time, in comparison to calorie needs, is best evaluated by measuring body weight status. The high percentage of the population that is overweight or obese suggests that many in the United States over consume calories. More than two-thirds of all adults and nearly one-third of all children and youth in the United States are either overweight or obese.

The typical American diet is about 50% carbohydrate, 15% protein, and 35% fat. The Standard American Diet or “Western-style” dietary patterns with more red meat or processed meat, sugared drinks, sweets, refined carbohydrates, or potatoes-have been linked to obesity 217), 218), 219), 220).  The Average American (Western-style) dietary pattern is also linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Meal frequency and snacking have increased over the past 30 years in the U.S. 221) on average, children get 27 percent of their daily calories from snacks, primarily from desserts and sugary drinks, and increasingly from salty snacks and candy.

What Americans Eat: Top 10 sources of calories in the U.S. diet

  • Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars)
  • Yeast breads
  • Chicken and chicken-mixed dishes
  • Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks
  • Pizza
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Pasta and pasta dishes
  • Mexican mixed dishes
  • Beef and beef-mixed dishes
  • Dairy desserts(Source: Report of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee)

For the 20-30 year old the top sources of “Nutrition” are:

  1. Regular soft drinks 8.8% of total energy
  2. Pizza 5.1% of total energy
  3. Beer 3.9%
  4. Hamburgers and meat loaf 3.4%
  5. White bread 3.3%
  6. Cake, doughnuts and pastries 3.3%
  7. French fries and fried potatos 3.0%
  8. Potato chips, corn chips and popcorn 2.7%
  9. Rice 2.6%
  10. Cheese and cheese spread 2.5%

Since the above list of diets cause inflammation, therefore the main dietary strategy to reduce inflammation should include adequate omega-3 fatty acids intake, reduction of saturated and trans-fats, and consumption of a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains and low in refined grains. The whole diet approach seems particularly promising to reduce the inflammation associated with the metabolic syndrome (e.g. high “bad” triglyceride, low “good” HDL cholesterol, belly fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar/insulin resistance). The choice of healthy sources of carbohydrate, fat, and protein, associated with regular physical activity and avoidance of smoking, is critical to fighting the war against chronic disease. Western dietary patterns warm up inflammation, while healthy dietary patterns cool it down.

Refined Starches or Refined Carbs Inflammatory Foods

The process of refining a food not only removes the fiber, but it also removes much of the food’s nutritional value, including B-complex vitamins, healthy oils and fat-soluble vitamins. Refined carbohydrates are plant-based foods that have the whole grain extracted during processing, where the fibers, starches, vitamins and minerals have been removed, leaving behind refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates sources include bottled fruit juices, juice concentrates, white bread, pastries, sodas, donuts, cakes, cookies, sweets, chips and other highly processed or refined foods. These items contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease 222).

Refined carbohydrates are composed of sugars (such as fructose and glucose) which have simple chemical structures composed of only one sugar (monosaccharides) or two sugars (disaccharides). Simple carbohydrates are easily and quickly utilized for energy by the body because of their simple chemical structure, often leading to a faster rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion from the pancreas – which can have negative health effects.

When it comes to carbohydrates, what’s most important is the type of carbohydrate you choose to eat because some sources are healthier than others. The amount of carbohydrate in the diet – high or low – is less important than the type of carbohydrate in the diet. For example, healthy, whole grains such as whole wheat bread, rye, barley and quinoa are better choices than highly refined white bread or French fries. For example, whole grain whole wheat flour.

Typically, foods with highly processed refined carbohydrates (eg, white bread) are digested at a much faster rate and have higher glycemic index (high GI) values than do more compact granules (low-starch gelatinization) and high amounts of viscose soluble fiber (eg, barley, oats, and rye) foods. These refined carbohydrates are more rapidly attacked by digestive enzymes due to grinding or milling that reduces particle size and removes most of the bran and the germ. Numerous epidemiologic studies have found that higher intake of refined carbohydrates (reflected by increased dietary Glycemic Load) is associated with greater risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, whereas higher consumption of whole grains protects against these conditions 223).

Table 5. List of refined carbs for more than 100 common foods with their glycemic index and glycemic load, per serving.

FOODGlycemic index (glucose = 100)Serving size (grams)Glycemic load per serving
Banana cake, made with sugar476014
Banana cake, made without sugar556012
Sponge cake, plain466317
Vanilla cake made from packet mix with vanilla frosting (Betty Crocker)4211124
Apple muffin, made with rolled oats and sugar446013
Apple muffin, made with rolled oats and without sugar48609
Waffles, Aunt Jemima®763510
Bagel, white, frozen727025
Baguette, white, plain953014
Coarse barley bread, 80% kernels34307
Hamburger bun61309
Kaiser roll733012
Pumpernickel bread56307
50% cracked wheat kernel bread583012
White wheat flour bread, average753011
Wonder® bread, average733010
Whole wheat bread, average69309
100% Whole Grain® bread (Natural Ovens)51307
Pita bread, white683010
Corn tortilla525012
Wheat tortilla30508
Coca Cola® (US formula)63250 mL16
Fanta®, orange soft drink68250 mL23
Lucozade®, original (sparkling glucose drink)95250 mL40
Apple juice, unsweetened41250 mL12
Cranberry juice cocktail (Ocean Spray®)68250 mL24
Gatorade, orange flavor (US formula)89250 mL13
Orange juice, unsweetened, average50250 mL12
Tomato juice, canned, no sugar added38250 mL4
All-Bran®, average44309
Coco Pops®, average773020
Cornflakes®, average813020
Cream of Wheat®6625017
Cream of Wheat®, Instant7425022
Muesli, average563010
Oatmeal, average5525013
Instant oatmeal, average7925021
Puffed wheat cereal803017
Raisin Bran®613012
Special K® (US formula)693014
Pearled barley, average2515011
Sweet corn on the cob486014
White rice, boiled, type non-specified7215029
Quick cooking white basmati6315026
Brown rice, steamed5015016
Parboiled Converted white rice (Uncle Ben’s®)3815014
Whole wheat kernels, average455015
Bulgur, average4715012
Graham crackers742513
Vanilla wafers772514
Rice cakes, average822517
Rye crisps, average642511
Soda crackers742512
Ice cream, regular, average62508
Ice cream, premium (Sara Lee®)38503
Milk, full-fat, average31250 mL4
Milk, skim, average31250 mL4
Reduced-fat yogurt with fruit, average3320011
Apple, average361205
Banana, raw, average4812011
Dates, dried, average426018
Grapes, black5912011
Oranges, raw, average451205
Peach, average421205
Peach, canned in light syrup521209
Pear, raw, average381204
Pear, canned in pear juice441205
Prunes, pitted296010
Baked beans401506
Black-eyed peas5015015
Black beans301507
Chickpeas, canned in brine421509
Navy beans, average3915012
Kidney beans, average341509
Soy beans, average151501
Cashews, salted22503
Macaroni, average5018024
Macaroni and Cheese (Kraft®)6418033
Spaghetti, white, boiled, average4618022
Spaghetti, white, boiled 20 min5818026
Spaghetti, whole-grain, boiled4218017
Corn chips, plain, salted425011
Fruit Roll-Ups®993024
M & M’s®, peanut33306
Microwave popcorn, plain, average65207
Potato chips, average565012
Pretzels, oven-baked833016
Snickers Bar®, average516018
Green peas54804
Carrots, average39802
Baked russet potato11115033
Boiled white potato, average8215021
Instant mashed potato, average8715017
Sweet potato, average7015022
Yam, average5415020
Hummus (chickpea salad dip)6300
Chicken nuggets, frozen, reheated in microwave oven 5 min461007
Pizza, plain baked dough, served with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce8010022
Pizza, Super Supreme (Pizza Hut®)361009
Honey, average612512

The complete list of the glycemic index and glycemic load for more than 1,000 foods can be found in the article “International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008” by Fiona S. Atkinson, Kaye Foster-Powell, and Jennie C. Brand-Miller in the December 2008 issue of Diabetes Care, Vol. 31, number 12, pages 2281-2283 224).

List of refined carbs

Any foods that have been processed for quick consumption.

  • Foods made with refined or “white” flour also contain less fiber and protein than whole-grain products.
  • Snacks, such as crisps, sausage rolls, pies and pasties
  • Granola bars
  • Ice cream
  • Donuts
  • Cakes
  • Twinkies
  • Pastries
  • Canned fruits with added sugar or syrup
  • Sweets
  • Fruit drinks
  • Colas and carbonated sweetened beverages
  • Energy drinks
  • Sports drink
  • Jams
  • Crackers
  • Dressings
  • Sauces
  • Cookies
  • Fruit chews
  • Pizzas
  • Apple pies
  • Anything with added sugar.

Sugar by Any Other Name

You don’t always see the word “sugar” on a food label. It sometimes goes by another name, like these:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Agave nectar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Coconut sugar
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Invert sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Crystal dextrose
  • Dextrin
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose sweetener
  • Liquid fructose
  • Glucose
  • Lactose
  • Honey
  • Malt syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Pancake syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Trehalose
  • Turbinado sugar

Watch out for items that list any form of sugar in the first few ingredients.

Best anti-inflammatory diet

An example of an anti-inflammatory dietary pattern is the Mediterranean diet which is characterized by high intakes of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, monounsaturated fat (olive oil); moderate intakes of dairy products and alcohol; and low intakes of meat and meat products and saturated fat 225). A traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern, which typically has a high ratio of monounsaturated (MUFA) and Omega-3 to Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFAs) and supplies an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects when compared with typical North American and Northern European dietary patterns in most observational and interventional studies 226).

The Mediterranean Diet is characterized by 227):

  1. An abundance of plant food (fruit, vegetables, breads, cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds);
  2. Minimally processed, seasonally fresh, locally grown foods;
  3. Desserts comprised typically of fresh fruit daily and occasional sweets containing refined sugars or honey;
  4. Olive oil (high in polyunsaturated fat) as the principal source of fat;
  5. Daily dairy products (mainly cheese and yogurt) in low to moderate amounts;
  6. Fish and poultry in low to moderate amounts;
  7. Up to four eggs weekly;
  8. Red meat rarely; and
  9. Wine in low to moderate amounts with meals.

Adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet has been associated with a multitude of health benefits 228) including lower risk of all-cause mortality 229), cancer 230), type 2 diabetes 231), cardiovascular disease 232) and cognitive decline 233). The Mediterranean dietary pattern is high in anti-inflammatory micronutrients (micronutrients are vitamins and minerals needed by your body in very small amounts) and phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants) such as Omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamins C and E, and higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers 234), 235). Therefore, greater adherence to a Mediterranean dietary pattern may elicit health benefits through impacts on systemic inflammation 236). Additionally, Mediterranean-style diets have been demonstrated to elicit cardiovascular benefits including improved endothelial function and reductions in serum cholesterol and triglycerides 237). In a six-month randomized controlled trial, breast cancer survivors who adhered to a Mediterranean type diet had beneficial changes in body composition, cholesterol, and glucose levels compared to controls 238).

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. The Mediterranean Diet features foods eaten in more than 20 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea including Greece, Spain, southern Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Cyprus, Croatia and France and each has their own unique culture and cuisine. In reality there is no “one” Mediterranean Diet 239), which in 2010 was recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.  The “Mediterranean diet” encompasses all of them—it’s not one size fits all  240). Despite regional variations, the traditional Mediterranean diet  is characterized by a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts and cereals (which in the past were largely unrefined), a high intake of olive oil, but a low intake of saturated lipids, a moderately high intake of fish (depending on the proximity of the sea), a low-to-moderate intake of dairy products (and then mostly in the form of cheese or yoghurt), a low intake of meat and poultry and a regular, but moderate intake of ethanol, primarily in the form of wine and generally during meals 241).

A Mediterranean-style diet typically includes:

  • plenty of fruits, vegetables, bread and other grains, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds are eaten daily and make up the majority of food consumed;
  • olive oil as a primary fat source, may account for up to 40% of daily calories; and
  • small portions of cheese or yogurt are usually eaten each day, along with a serving of fish, poultry, or eggs.

Fish and poultry are more common than red meat in the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet also centers on minimally processed, plant-based foods. Wine may be consumed in low to moderate amounts, usually with meals. Fruit is a common dessert instead of sweets.

Main meals consumed daily should be a combination of three elements: cereals, vegetables and fruits, and a small quantity of legumes, beans or other (though not in every meal). Cereals in the form of bread, pasta, rice, couscous or bulgur (cracked wheat) should be consumed as one–two servings per meal, preferably using whole or partly refined grains. Vegetable consumption should amount to two or more servings per day, in raw form for at least one of the two main meals (lunch and dinner). Fruit should be considered as the primary form of dessert, with one–two servings per meal. Consuming a variety of colors of both vegetables and fruit is strongly recommended to help ensure intake of a broad range of micronutrients and phytochemicals. The less these foods are cooked, the higher the retention of vitamins and the lower use of fuel, thus minimizing environmental impact.

The Mediterranean Diet is characterized by 242):

  1. An abundance of plant food (fruit, vegetables, breads, cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds);
  2. Minimally processed, seasonally fresh, locally grown foods;
  3. Desserts comprised typically of fresh fruit daily and occasional sweets containing refined sugars or honey;
  4. Olive oil (high in polyunsaturated fat) as the principal source of fat;
  5. Daily dairy products (mainly cheese and yogurt) in low to moderate amounts;
  6. Fish and poultry in low to moderate amounts;
  7. Up to four eggs weekly;
  8. Red meat rarely; and
  9. Wine in low to moderate amounts with meals.

Here are some things you can do to switch from a traditional Western-style diet to a more Mediterranean way of eating.

  • Dip bread in a mix of olive oil and fresh herbs instead of using butter.
  • Add avocado slices to your sandwich instead of bacon.
  • Have fish for lunch or dinner instead of red meat. Brush it with olive oil, and broil or grill it.
  • Sprinkle your salad with seeds or nuts instead of cheese.
  • Cook with olive or canola oil instead of butter or oils that are high in saturated fat.
  • Choose whole-grain bread, pasta, rice, and flour instead of foods made with white flour.
  • Add ground flaxseed to cereal, low-fat yogurt, and soups.
  • Cut back on meat in meals. Instead of having pasta with meat sauce, try pasta tossed with olive oil and topped with pine nuts and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
  • Dip raw vegetables in a vinaigrette dressing or hummus instead of dips made from mayonnaise or sour cream.
  • Have a piece of fruit for dessert instead of a piece of cake.
  • Use herbs and spices instead of salt to add flavor to foods.

A Mediterranean-style diet can help you achieve the American Heart Association’s recommendations for a healthy dietary pattern that:

  • emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes;
  • includes low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts; and
  • limits added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats.

This style of eating can play a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. There is some evidence that a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil may help the body remove excess cholesterol from arteries and keep blood vessels open.

The traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern is of particular interest to healthcare providers and dietary scientists, because of observations from the 1960s that populations in countries of the Mediterranean region, such as Greece and Italy, had lower mortality from cardiovascular disease compared with northern European populations or the US, probably as a result of different eating habits.

However, adherence to the Mediterranean diet dietary pattern has been rapidly decreasing in the region since 2000, particularly in Greece, Portugal and Spain – due to the wide dissemination of the fast-food culture. These observations point to a nutrition transition period that encompasses considerable changes in diet and physical activity patterns, which may be leading to an increase in the incidence of chronic and degenerative diseases in the Mediterranean region.

Traditionally characterized by vegetables, legumes, beans, fruits, nuts, seeds, olives, lots of extra virgin olive oil, high-fiber breads and whole grains and fish, this way of eating not only involves a low consumption of processed food, processed carbohydrates, sweets, chocolate and red meat. The recommended foods are rich with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The Mediterranean Diet is associated with a lower incidence of mortality from all-causes 243) and is also related to lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases 244), type 2 diabetes 245), certain types of cancer 246), and neurodegenerative diseases 247). The Mediterranean diet is now recognized as one of the most healthy food patterns in the world.

Year after year, the Mediterranean diet comes out on top in the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of best diets. The Mediterranean diet is also touted as one of the healthiest by many health organizations and dietitians 248).

The atmosphere, the state of being and mindset are equally important: people enjoying long, relaxed meals, the warm climate and a sea breeze full of negative ions. This lifestyle also encourages daily exercise — being active. So try to get at least 2½ hours of moderate aerobic activity a week. It’s fine to do blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.

Choose exercises that make your heart beat faster and make you breathe harder. For example, go for a swim or a brisk walk or bike ride. You can also get some aerobic activity in your daily routine. Vacuuming, housework, gardening, and yard work can all be aerobic.

The Mediterranean diet is like other heart-healthy diets in that it recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains. But in the Mediterranean diet, an average of 35% to 40% of calories can come from fat. Most other heart-healthy guidelines recommend getting less than 35% of your calories from fat. The fats allowed in the Mediterranean diet are mainly from unsaturated oils such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil) and from nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds). These types of oils may have a protective effect on the heart.

Mediterranean Diet Food List

There’s no one “Mediterranean” diet food list because there are more than 20 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Diets vary between these countries and also between regions within a country. Many differences in culture, ethnic background, religion, economy and agricultural production result in different diets. But the common Mediterranean dietary meal plan (source 249)) has these characteristics:

  • High consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil is an important monounsaturated fat source
  • Dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts, and little red meat is eaten
  • Eggs are consumed zero to four times a week
  • Wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts

Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan

  • Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables each day, such as grapes, blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, figs, olives, spinach, eggplant, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
  • Eating a variety of whole-grain foods each day, such as oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, pasta, and couscous.
  • Choosing healthy (unsaturated) fats, such as nuts, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils like canola, soybean, and flaxseed. About 35% to 40% of daily calories can come from fat, mainly from unsaturated fats. More than half the fat calories in a Mediterranean diet come from monounsaturated fats (mainly from olive oil). Monounsaturated fat doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels the way saturated fat does. (source 250)).
  • Limiting unhealthy (saturated) fats, such as butter, palm oil, and coconut oil. And limit fats found in animal products, such as meat and dairy products made with whole milk.
  • Eating mostly vegetarian meals that include whole grains, beans, lentils, and vegetables.
  • Eating fish at least 2 times a week, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, or sardines.
  • Eating moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products each day or weekly, such as milk, cheese, or yogurt.
  • Eating moderate amounts of poultry and eggs every 2 days or weekly.
  • Limiting red meat to only a few times a month in very small amounts. For example, a serving of meat is 3 ounces. This is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Limiting sweets and desserts to only a few times a week. This includes sugar-sweetened drinks like soda.

The positive findings have been plentiful:

  • A plant-based Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts may counteract age-related cognitive decline in older adults, according to a report published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.
  • A 2010 meta-analysis published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Mediterranean diet conferred a significant benefit with regard to the risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease.
  • In 2014, two meta-analyses found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Another 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a decreased risk of cancer mortality.
  • Due to the emphasis on fish and healthy fats which are needed for prostaglandin formation, the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for decreasing inflammation in the body.
  • The biggest impact of Mediterranean is on lowering incidences of  diabetes.
  • The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of cancer incidence.
  • Other health benefits of Mediterranean diet are prevents heart disease, lowers the risk of a heart attack, lowers cholesterol, prevents type 2 diabetes and prevents metabolic syndrome.

A Mediterranean-style diet might help prevent:

  • Stroke.
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia.
  • Depression.
  • Parkinson’s disease.

Anti-inflammatory diet for inflammatory bowel diseases

In studies involving people with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, the anti-Inflammatory diet (IBD-AID) has been used as an adjunct dietary therapy for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) 251). The goal of the anti-Inflammatory diet (IBD-AID) is to assist with a decreased frequency and severity of flares, obtain and maintain remission in people with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Dysbiosis, or altered bacterial flora, is one of the theories behind the development of anti-Inflammatory diet (IBD-AID), in that certain carbohydrates in the lumen of the gut provide pathogenic bacteria a substrate on which to proliferate 252), 253).

The anti-Inflammatory diet (IBD-AID) has five basic components:

  1. The first of which is the modification of certain carbohydrates, (including lactose, and refined or processed complex carbohydrates)
  2. The second places strong emphasis on the ingestion of pre- and probiotics (e.g.; soluble fiber, leeks, onions, and fermented foods) to help restore the balance of the intestinal flora 254), 255), 256)
  3. The third distinguishes between saturated, trans, mono- and polyunsaturated fats 257), 258),
  4. The fourth encourages a review of the overall dietary pattern, detection of missing nutrients, and identification of intolerances.
  5. The last component modifies the textures of the foods (e.g.; blenderized, ground, or cooked) as needed (per patient symptomology) to improve absorption of nutrients and minimize intact fiber.

The phases indicated in Table 4 are examples of the modification of texture complexity, so that dietitian and patient can expand the diet as the patient’s tolerance and absorption improves. Some sensitivities common to many patients (not just those with IBD), are eased through supplementation of digestive enzymes or avoidance. A senior dietitian advised the patient and either family or spouse regarding the details of the diet during regular clinic visits. Patients taking supplements (probiotics, vitamin/minerals, omega-3 fatty acids) were advised to continue or discontinue, depending on the needs of the individual and the dietary intake 259).

The anti-Inflammatory diet (IBD-AID) consists of lean meats, poultry, fish, omega-3, eggs, particular sources of carbohydrate, select fruits and vegetables, nut and legume flours, limited aged cheeses (made with active cultures and enzymes), fresh cultured yogurt, kefir, miso and other cultured products (rich with certain probiotics) and honey. Prebiotics, in the form of soluble fiber (containing beta-glucans and inulin, such as bananas, oats, blended chicory root, and flax meal) are suggested. In addition, the patient is advised to begin at a texture phase of the diet matching with symptomology, starting with phase one if in an active flare. Many patients require foods to be softened and textures mechanically altered by pureeing the foods, and avoiding foods with stems and seeds when starting the diet (see phases 1–3 of Table 4), as intact fiber can be problematic for those with strictures and highly active mucosal inflammation. Some patients will require lifelong avoidance of intact fiber. Food irritants are not limited to intact fiber, but may include certain foods, processing agents and flavorings to which IBD patients may be reactive.

Table 6. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet (IBD-AID) Food Phase chart

Phase type

Phase I

Phase II

Phase III

Phase IV

Soft, well-cooked or cooked then pureed foods, no seeds Soft Textures: well-cooked or pureed foods, no seeds, choose floppy or tender foods May still need to avoid stems, choose floppy greens or other greens depending on individual tolerance If in remission with no strictures

Butternut Squash, Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoes, Onions

Carrots, Zucchini, Eggplant, Peas, Snow peas, Spaghetti squash, Green beans, Yellow beans, Microgreens (2 week old baby greens), Watercress, Arugula, Fresh flat leaf parsley and cilantro, Seaweed, Algae

Butter lettuce, Baby spinach, Peeled cucumber, Olives, Leeks Bok Choy, Bamboo shoots, Collard greens, Beet greens, Sweet peppers, Kale, Fennel bulb

Artichokes, Asparagus, Tomatoes, Lettuce, Brussels sprouts, Beets, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Rhubarb, Pickles, Spring onions, Water chestnuts, Celery, Celeriac, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Radish, Green pepper, Hot pepper

Pureed vegetables: Mushrooms, Phase II vegetables (pureed)

Pureed vegetables: all except cruciferous

Pureed vegetables: all from Phase IV, Kimchi


Banana, Papaya, Avocado, Pawpaw

Watermelon (seedless), Mangoes, Honeydew, Cantaloupe, May need to be cooked: Peaches, Plums, Nectarines, Pears, (Phase III fruits are allowed if pureed and seeds are strained out)

Strawberries, Cranberries, Blueberries, Apricots, Cherries, Coconut, Lemons, Limes, Kiwi, Passion fruit, Blackberries, Raspberries, Pomegranate (May need to strain seeds from berries)

Grapes, Grapefruit, Oranges, Currants, Figs, Dates, Apples (best cooked), Pineapple, Prunes

Meats and fish

All fish (no bones), Sardines (small bones ok), Turkey and ground beef, Chicken, Eggs


Lean cuts of Beef, Lamb, Duck, Goose

Shrimp, Prawns, Lobster

Non dairy unsweetened

Coconut milk, Almond milk, Oat milk, Soy milk

Dairy, unsweetened

Yogurt, Kefir

Farmers cheese (dry curd cottage cheese), Cheddar cheese

Aged cheeses


Miso (refrigerated), Tofu, Olive oil, Canola oil, Flax oil, Hemp oil, Walnut oil, Coconut oil

Almond flour, Peanut flour, Soy flour, Sesame oil, Grapeseed oil, Walnut oil, Pureed nuts, Safflower oil, Sunflower oil

Whole nuts, Soybeans, Bean flours, Nut butters, Well-cooked lentils (pureed), Bean purees (e.g. hummus)

Whole beans and lentils


Ground flax or Chia Seeds (as tolerated)

Steel cut oats (well-cooked as oatmeal)

Rolled well-cooked oats


Basil, Sage, Oregano, Salt, Nutmeg, Cumin, Cinnamon, Turmeric, Saffron, Mint, Bay leaves, Tamari (wheat free soy sauce), Fenugreek tea, Fennel tea, Vanilla

Dill, Thyme, Rosemary Tarragon, Cilantro, Basil, Parsley

Mint, Ginger, Garlic (minced), Paprika, Chives, Daikon, Mustard

Wasabi, Tamarind, Horseradish, Fenugreek, Fennel


Stevia, Maple syrup, Honey (local), Unsweetened fruit juice

Lemon and lime juice

Misc.Capsule or liquid supplements, Cocoa powderBaking powder (no cornstarch), Baking soda, Unflavored gelatinGhee, Light mayonnaise, VinegarKetchup (sugar free), Hot sauce (sugar free)
[Source 260)]

Inflammatory bowel disease dietary guidelines

To help patients navigate their nutritional questions, the International Organization of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases recently reviewed the best current evidence to develop expert recommendations regarding dietary measures that might help to control and prevent relapse of inflammatory bowel disease 261). In particular, the International Organization of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases focused on the dietary components and additives that they felt were the most important to consider because they comprise a large proportion of the diets that inflammatory bowel disease patients may follow. Furthermore, the recent International Organization of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases guidelines are an excellent starting point for discussions between patients and their doctors about whether specific dietary changes might be helpful in reducing symptoms and risk of relapse of inflammatory bowel disease. However, all patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) should work with their doctor or a nutritionist, who will conduct a nutritional assessment to check for malnutrition and provide advice to correct deficiencies if they are present.

The International Organization of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases recommendations were developed with the aim of reducing symptoms and inflammation 262). The ways in which altering the intake of particular foods may trigger or reduce inflammation are quite diverse, and the mechanisms are better understood for certain foods than others. For example, fruits and vegetables are generally higher in fiber, which is fermented by bacterial enzymes within the colon. This fermentation produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that provide beneficial effects to the cells lining the colon. Patients with active IBD have been observed to have decreased short-chain fatty acids, so increasing the intake of plant-based fiber may work, in part, by boosting the production of short-chain fatty acids. However, it is important to note disease-specific considerations that might be relevant to your particular situation. For example, about one-third of Crohn’s disease patients will develop an area of intestinal narrowing, called a stricture, within the first 10 years of diagnosis. Insoluble fiber can worsen symptoms and, in some cases, lead to intestinal blockage if a stricture is present. So, while increasing consumption of fruits and vegetable is generally beneficial for Crohn’s disease, patients with a stricture should limit their intake of insoluble fiber.

The International Organization of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases guidelines include the following recommendations:

FoodIf you have Crohn’s diseaseIf you have ulcerative colitis
Fruitsincrease intakeinsufficient evidence
Vegetablesincrease intakeinsufficient evidence
Red/processed meatinsufficient evidencedecrease intake
Unpasteurized dairy productsbest to avoidbest to avoid
Dietary fatdecrease intake of saturated fats and avoid trans fatsdecrease consumption of myristic acid (palm, coconut, dairy fat), avoid trans fats, and increase intake of omega-3 (from marine fish but not dietary supplements)
Food additivesdecrease intake of maltodextrin-containing foodsdecrease intake of maltodextrin-containing foods
Thickenersdecrease intake of carboxymethylcellulosedecrease intake of carboxymethylcellulose
Carrageenan (a thickener extracted from seaweed)decrease intakedecrease intake
Titanium dioxide (a food colorant and preservative)decrease intakedecrease intake
Sulfites (flavor enhancer and preservative)decrease intakedecrease intake
[Source 263) ]

What are specific diets for inflammatory bowel disease?

A number of specific diets have been explored for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including the Mediterranean diet, specific carbohydrate diet, Crohn’s disease exclusion diet, autoimmune protocol diet, and a diet low in fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs). Although the International Organization of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases group initially set out to evaluate some of these diets, they did not find enough high-quality trials that specifically studied them 264). Therefore, they limited their recommendations to individual dietary components. Stronger recommendations may be possible once additional trials of these dietary patterns become available. For the time being, patients are to monitor for correlations of specific foods to their symptoms. In some cases, patients may explore some of these specific diets to see if they help.

Anti-inflammatory diet for arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by synovial inflammation often followed by cartilage and bone erosion 265). Patients with rheumatoid arthritis often ask their physician for specific dietary advice and many report that different food items improve or worsen the disease symptoms (10–12). Red meat, alcohol, and soft drinks are examples of foods reported to worsen symptoms, whereas fish and berries are reported to improve symptoms 266), 267). There are few studies investigating whole diets, but beneficial effects on disease activity have been noted in intervention studies with a Mediterranean diet 268) as well as with fasting followed by a vegetarian diet 269) and gluten-free vegan diet 270). Research on the effects of food components on inflammation and patient-perceived symptoms includes Omega–3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamin D, and antioxidants. Omega–3 fatty acids seem to have positive effects on several outcomes such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and tender joint count 271) and a number of trials using probiotics have shown positive effects on disease activity 272). There seems to be potential for vitamin D as well to reduce disease activity, but very few studies have been performed 273). Furthermore, several antioxidants and sources of bioactive compounds with antioxidative effects have been evaluated and some studies have obtained a reduction in symptoms as well as lower disease activity with these foods and supplements 274), 275), 276). Many of these dietary interventions in rheumatoid arthritis had small study populations and suffered from a poor design. Nevertheless, they indicate that several foods and food components have potential to reduce rheumatoid arthritis disease activity by lowering grade of inflammation or alleviating symptoms like joint pain. Still, studies investigating the effects of a comprehensive anti-inflammatory portfolio diet are lacking for rheumatoid arthritis.

The Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) is a diet combining foods with suggested anti-inflammatory effects and food components with promising effects on rheumatoid arthritis disease activity and symptoms 277). Table 1 describes the foods included in detail. In brief, the main meals in the Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) diet contained fish (mainly salmon) 3–4 times/week and vegetarian dishes with legumes 1–2 times/week. Potatoes, whole-grain cereals, vegetables, yoghurt for sauces, spices, and other flavorings were also included 278). Snacks were composed of fruits, whereas breakfasts contained low-fat dairy, whole-grain cereals, pomegranate and blueberries, nuts, and juice shots with probiotics 279). The probiotic shot used contained Lactobacillus plantarum 299v and was provided to the participants 5 days/week. For the meals not provided, the participants were instructed to limit their intake of meat to ≤3 times/week, to eat ≥5 portions/day of fruit, berries, and vegetables (including those provided), to use oil or margarine for cooking, and to choose low-fat dairy and whole-grain cereals 280).

The total dietary intake during control periods was intended to correspond nutritionally to the average dietary intake in 45- to 64-year-old men and women in Sweden; 17 energy percent (E%) protein, 34 energy percent total fat, 13 energy percent saturated fatty acids, and 43 energy percent carbohydrates 281). The control diet provided by the study contained meat or chicken and refined grains daily, protein bar or quark for snacks, and breakfasts based on either white bread with a butter-based spread and cheese, or a mix of quark and yoghurt with corn flakes and orange juice. Beyond this, the participants were also instructed to consume meat ≥5 times/week; ≤5 portions/day of fruit, berries, and vegetables; seafood ≤1 time/week; use butter for cooking; choose high-fat dairy; and avoid products with probiotics. Before each diet period, the participants received a binder including weekly menus and recipes, and instructions on dietary intake for the meals not provided. Three weekly menus were repeated throughout the diet periods.

One component of the Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) portfolio diet that distinguishes it from a Mediterranean diet is the probiotics. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis seem to have a less diverse microbiota composition than healthy individuals 282) and probiotics have the ability to alter the intestinal microbiota and downregulate immune response 283). In clinical studies, several strains of probiotics have been used to reduce symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis 284), 285), 286), 287), with conflicting results. Some studies have obtained reduced disease activity with Lactobacillus casei, alone or together with Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum 288), 289). However, it is not possible to compare Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) portfolio diet with this research because the strains used differ.

The beneficial effects of omega–3 fatty acids in rheumatoid arthritis have been studied, and supplementation seems to reduce concentrations of mediators of inflammation 290). A recent systematic review and meta-analysis on effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) concluded significant positive effects on several outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis, although not in disease activity score using 28 joint counts (DAS28) 291). Some individual trials have shown positive effects of omage–3 fatty acids, but these have several limitations 292). As an alternative to omega–3 supplements Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) used fish intake. The Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) diet was intended to be viable in daily life, and therefore did not aim to reach the amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) used in supplementation trials. Observational data 293) suggest that consuming fish at least twice per week is associated with lower disease activity score using 28 joint counts (DAS28)-CRP, which is further reduced by every additional serving. Moreover, a previous study from another research group showed significant improvements in disease activity score using 28 joint counts (DAS28)-CRP with a mussel diet (low dose of omega–3 fatty acids), comparable with the change during the intervention period in ADIRA 294). In that study, European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) response criteria 295) differed significantly between the control and intervention periods. This was not the case in Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA), again perhaps because of the lower disease activity at baseline.

This Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) trial indicates positive effects of a proposed anti-inflammatory diet on disease activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis 296). However, additional studies are required to determine if Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis (ADIRA) diet can cause clinically relevant improvements 297).

Table 7. The anti-inflammatory portfolio diet in the randomized crossover ADIRA (Anti-inflammatory Diet in Rheumatoid Arthritis) trial

BreakfastLow-fat fermented dairy
Granola containing nuts, seeds, and berries
Fiber-enriched oats
Low-fat milk
Probiotic shotJuice
Main mealSalmon
Salmon + codReady-to-eat meal: patties (mixed with cream and egg) served with shellfish sauce (cream and wine), soybeans, and peas
Beans, chickpeas, and/or lentilsReady-to-eat meals: stew with potatoes and vegetables; stew with bulgur, coconut milk, and vegetables; or patties with vegetables
Wheat berries
Bulgur, whole grain
PotatoesCooked or oven-baked
Pasta, whole grain
Yogurt (10% fat)
Crème fraiche (13% fat)
Vegetables (e.g., soy beans, spinach, onion, garlic, pepper)Large amount
Rapeseed oil
Rice vinegar
Soy sauce
Lime, lemon
SnackBananas/apples/pearsTwo daily

Footnote: The participants were provided with foods corresponding to ∼50% of their daily intake, 5 days/wk. For the remaining intake, they were instructed to consume similar foods to those provided.

[Source 298) ]

Anti-inflammatory meal plan

By following the US Department of Health food guide, called ChooseMyPlate 299), you can make healthier food choices. The new US Department of Agriculture’s food guide 2015-2020 300) encourages you to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. Using the guide 301), you can learn what type of food you should eat and how much you should eat. You also learn why and how much you should exercise.

There are 5 major food groups that make up a healthy diet:

  1. Grains
  2. Vegetables
  3. Fruits
  4. Dairy
  5. Protein foods

You should eat foods from each group every day. How much food you should eat from each group depends on your age, gender, and how active you are.

ChooseMyPlate 302) makes specific recommendations for each type of food group.


  • Whole grains contain the entire grain. Processed grains have had the bran and germ removed. Be sure to read the ingredient list label and look for whole grains first on the list.
  • Foods with whole grains have more fiber and protein than food made with processed grains.
  • Examples of whole grains are breads and pastas made with whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, bulgur, faro, and cornmeal.
  • Examples of processed grains are white flour, white bread, and white rice.

Most children and adults should eat about 5 to 8 servings of grains a day (also called “ounce equivalents”). Children age 8 and younger need about 3 to 5 servings. At least half those servings should be whole grain. An example of one serving of grains includes:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • Half of a bagel
  • 1 cup (30 grams)of cereal
  • 1/2 cup (165 grams) cooked rice
  • 5 whole-wheat crackers
  • 1/2 cup (75 grams) cooked pasta

Eating whole grains can help improve your health by 303):

  • Reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.
  • Whole grains can help you lose weight. Portion size is still key. Because whole grains have more fiber and protein, they are more filling than refined grains, so you can eat less to get the same feeling of being full. But if you replace vegetables with starches, you’ll gain weight, even if you eat whole grain.
  • Whole grains can help you have regular bowel movements.

Ways to eat more whole grains:

  • Eat brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Use whole-grain pasta instead of regular pasta.
  • Replace part of white flour with wheat flour in recipes.
  • Replace white bread with whole-wheat bread.
  • Use oatmeal in recipes instead of bread crumbs.
  • Snack on air-popped popcorn instead of chips or cookies.


  • Vegetables can be raw, fresh, cooked, canned, frozen, dried, or dehydrated.
  • Vegetables are organized into 5 subgroups based on their nutrient content. The groups are dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.
  • Try to include vegetables from each group, try to make sure you aren’t only picking options from the “starchy” group.

Most children and adults should eat between 2 and 3 cups (200 to 300 grams) of vegetables a day. Children age 8 need about 1 to 1 1/2 cups (100 to 150 grams). Examples of a cup include:

  • Large ear of corn
  • Three 5-inch (13 centimeters) broccoli spears
  • 1 cup (100 grams) cooked vegetables
  • 2 cups (250 grams) of raw, leafy greens
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) 100% vegetable juice (carrot, tomato)

Eating vegetables can help improve your health in the following ways:

  • Lowers your risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes
  • Helps protect you against some cancers
  • Helps lower blood pressure
  • Reduces the risk of kidney stones
  • Helps reduce bone loss

Ways to eat more vegetables:

  • Keep plenty of frozen vegetables handy in your freezer.
  • Buy pre-washed salad and pre-chopped veggies to cut down on prep time.
  • Add veggies to soups and stews.
  • Add vegetables to spaghetti sauces.
  • Try veggie stir-fries.
  • Eat raw carrots, broccoli, or bell pepper strips dipped in hummus or ranch dressing as a snack.


  • Fruits can be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried.

Most adults need 1 1/2 to 2 cups (200 to 250 grams) of fruit a day. Children age 8 and younger need about 1 to 1 1/2 cups (120 to 200 grams). Examples of a cup include:

  • 1 small piece of fruit, such as an apple or pear
  • 8 large strawberries
  • 1/2 cup (130 grams) dried apricots or other dried fruit
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) 100% fruit juice (orange, apple, grapefruit)
  • 1 cup (100 grams) cooked or canned fruit
  • 1 cup (250 grams) chopped fruit

Eating fruit can help improve your health, they may help to:

  • Lower your risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes
  • Protect you against some cancers
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of kidney stones
  • Reduce bone loss

Ways to eat more fruit:

  • Put out a fruit bowl and keep it full of fruit.
  • Stock up on dried, frozen, or canned fruit, so you always have it available. Choose fruit that is canned in water or juice instead of syrup.
  • Buy pre-cut fruit in packages to cut down on prep time.
  • Try meat dishes with fruit, such as pork with apricots, lamb with figs, or chicken with mango.
  • Grill peaches, apples, or other firm fruit for a healthy, tasty dessert.
  • Try a smoothie made with chopped fruit and plain yogurt for breakfast.
  • Use dried fruit to add texture to trail mixes.


Protein foods include meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts and nut butters, and seeds. Beans and peas are also part of the vegetable group.

  • Choose meats that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as lean cuts of beef and chicken and turkey without skin.
  • Most adults need 5 to 6 1/2 servings of protein a day (also called “ounce equivalents”). Children age 8 and younger need about 2 to 4 servings.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1 oz (28 grams) lean meat; like beef, pork, or lamb
  • 1 oz (28 grams) poultry; such as turkey or chicken
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) tofu
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) cooked beans or lentils
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup (35 grams) nuts

Eating lean protein can help improve your health:

  • Seafood high in omega-3 fats, such as salmon, sardines, or trout, can help prevent heart disease.
  • Peanuts and other nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, when eaten as part of a healthy diet, can help lower the risk of heart disease.
  • Lean meats and eggs are a good source of iron

Ways to include more lean protein in your diet:

  • Choose lean cuts of beef, which include sirloin, tenderloin, round, chuck, and shoulder or arm roasts and steaks.
  • Choose lean pork, which include tenderloin, loin, ham, and Canadian bacon.
  • Choose lean lamb, which includes tenderloin, chops, and leg.
  • Buy skinless chicken or turkey, or take the skin off.
  • Grill, roast, poach, or broil meats, poultry, and seafood instead of frying.
  • Trim all visible fat and drain off any fat when cooking.
  • Substitute peas, beans, or soy in place of meat at least once a week. Try bean chili, pea or bean soup, stir-fried tofu, rice and beans, or veggie burgers.
  • Include 8 ounces (225 grams) of cooked seafood a week


Most children and adults should get about 3 cups (720 milliliters) of dairy a day. Children age 2 to 8 need about 2 to 2 1/2 cups (480 to 600 milliliters). Examples of a cup include:

  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) milk
  • 1 regular container of yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces (45 grams) hard cheese (such as cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan)
  • 1/3 cup (40 grams) shredded cheese
  • 2 cups (450 grams) cottage cheese
  • 1 cup (250 grams) pudding made with milk or frozen yogurt
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) calcium-fortified soymilk

Eating dairy food can improve your health:

  • Consuming dairy foods is important for improving bone health especially during childhood and adolescence, when bone mass is being built.
  • Dairy foods have vital nutrients including calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein.
  • The intake of dairy products is linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and lower blood pressure in adults.
  • Low-fat or fat-free milk products provide little or no solid fat.

Ways to include low-fat foods from the dairy group in your diet:

  • Include milk or calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) as a beverage at meals. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk.
  • Add fat-free or low-fat milk instead of water to oatmeal and hot cereals.
  • Use fat-free or low-fat milk when making condensed cream soups (such as cream of tomato).
  • Top casseroles, soups, stews, or vegetables with shredded reduced-fat or low-fat cheese.
  • Use lactose-free or lower lactose products if you have trouble digesting dairy products. Also, you can get more calcium from non-dairy sources such as fortified juices, canned fish, soy foods, and green leafy vegetables.


  • Oils are not a food group. However, they provide important nutrients and should be part of a healthy diet.
  • Fats such as butter and shortening are solid at room temperature. They contain high levels of saturated fats or trans fats. Eating a lot of these fats can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Oils are liquid at room temperature. They contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These types of fats are generally good for your heart.
  • Children and adults should get about 5 to 7 teaspoons (25 to 35 milliliters) of oil a day. Children age 8 and younger need about 3 to 4 teaspoons (15 to 20 milliliters) a day.
  • Choose oils such as olive, canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and corn oils.
  • Some foods are also high in healthy oils. They include avocados, some fish, olives, and nuts.


ChooseMyPlate 304) also provides information about how to lose excess weight:

  • You can use the online SuperTracker to learn what you currently eat and drink. By writing down what you eat and drink every day, you can see where you can make better choices.
  • You can use the Daily Food Plan to learn what to eat and drink. You just enter your height, weight, and age to get a personalized eating plan.
  • Use the SuperTracker to track your daily activity and food you eat, plus your weight.
  • If you have any specific health concerns, such as heart disease or diabetes, be sure to discuss any dietary changes with your doctor or registered dietitian first.

You also learn how to make better choices, such as:

  • Eating the right amount of calories to keep you at a healthy weight
  • Not overeating and avoiding big portions
  • Eating fewer foods with empty calories. These are foods high in sugar or fat with few vitamins or minerals.
  • Eating a balance of healthy foods from all 5 food groups
  • Making better choices when eating out at restaurants
  • Cooking at home more often, where you can control what goes into the foods you eat
  • Exercising 150 minutes a week
  • Decreasing your screen time in front of the TV or computer
  • Getting tips for increasing your activity level.

References   [ + ]