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What are the best foods to fight inflammation?

Conditions like heart disease and lung disease have been linked to inflammation. To address the problem, you may need to change what you eat.

Achy joints, itchy skin, shortness of breath: They’re all related to inflammation. (That’s part of how your body defends and heals itself.) The truth is that inflammation is behind many of the most common health problems. These might include:

  • Autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cardiovascular diseases, like heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Certain cancers
  • Gastrointestinal diseases, like Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lung diseases, like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Metabolic diseases, like Type 2 diabetes

Experts estimate that 3 out of 5 deaths worldwide are related to chronic inflammatory diseases.

But don’t let that stat overwhelm you. You can help treat inflammation, and it starts with simple lifestyle changes. Specifically, the foods you eat can have a big impact.

To understand how, it helps to know some basics about inflammation.

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What is inflammation?

Your immune system is how your body protects itself. When a virus enters your nostrils or a thorn snags your forearm, your immune system reacts. It sends immune cells to neutralize the threat and begin healing. This process is called inflammation.

Examples of “acute” inflammation include flushed skin, pain or tenderness, swelling and heat.

Acute inflammation is the kind that comes on quickly and lasts for a short period of time. It’s a direct response to an immediate health threat.

But there’s a second type of inflammation that comes on slowly and overstays its welcome. It continues fighting even when there’s no real threat. This is called “chronic” inflammation, and it can last for months or even years.

Chronic inflammation is the type that’s associated with long-term damage and disease. It’s also the type that you can help manage with diet.

How does what I eat affect inflammation?

“Some foods are anti-inflammatory, because they contain certain properties that help protect your body,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. “They may contain vitamins and minerals, antioxidants called polyphenols, or omega-3 fatty acids.”

While it’s important to eat anti-inflammatory foods, it’s also important to avoid pro-inflammatory foods. Specifically, you want to avoid a category called “ultra-processed” foods. These are packaged foods that often have more sugar, fats and sodium than recommended.

Ultra-processed foods include:

  • Bottled salad dressings
  • Boxed cereals
  • Canned soup
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Frozen dinners
  • Processed meats

These foods often contain high levels of:

  • Additives such as preservatives and stabilizers
  • Refined (or white) flour
  • Saturated fat
  • Sodium
  • Sugar

By avoiding these foods, you can begin to reduce inflammation. And the next step is to eat more of the healthy stuff.

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So what are the best foods to fight off inflammation?

Ready to turn down the heat on your body’s immune response? Here are 7 foods you’ll want to aim to eat more of.

1. Berries. “Berries of any color — blueberries, strawberries and raspberries — can help fight inflammation,” Taub-Dix says. “They’re rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and they’re also pretty.” That can make food more visually appealing.

If fresh berries aren’t in season, buy them frozen to add them to smoothies and sauces, says Taub-Dix. She also recommends trying them with more savory dishes, such as salads. “I love dried cranberries,” she says. “I love them with a tart vegetable like broccoli rabe. I like to mix them together when I cook to get that sweet-and-savory combination.”

One note of caution: Many dried cranberries include added sugar. If you’re following this tip, use sugar-free cranberries.

2. Salmon. Experts agree that omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory benefits, and fish is an excellent source. Along with salmon, try sardines, tuna and mackerel. Enjoy a 3- to 6-ounce serving of fish 2 to 4 times a week to help tamp down inflammation.

3. Avocado and other healthy fats. Along with omega-3 fats, the monounsaturated fats in avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil are also anti-inflammatory.

“For years, so many people tried to cut back on fat,” Taub-Dix says. “We lived in a very fat-phobic nation, and now we’re realizing that certain fats are actually really helpful for us.”

Incorporating them is easy and delicious. Try these tips:

  • Add sliced avocado to your salad or grain bowl
  • Blend nuts, seeds or nut butter into your smoothie
  • Drizzle olive oil over roasted vegetables

4. Green tea. Sip a soothing cup of green tea to get some anti-inflammatory benefits. Along with antioxidants, green tea has polyphenols such as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which is especially good at fighting inflammation.

One thing to watch out for with green tea is caffeine, says Taub-Dix. “If you love green tea or you want to drink more of it, there are decaf versions and caffeinated versions,” she says.

If you’re drinking tea in the evening, decaf may be the way to go.

5. Whole grains. Refined grains (i.e., white bread, white pasta, white rice) are linked to higher inflammation, while whole grains have the opposite effect. They deliver fiber and other nutrients that help reduce inflammation.

There are many whole grains to choose from, so feel free to mix it up. Some common varieties you’ll find in the supermarket include:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Brown Rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Kamut
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat berries

6. Beans. Along with legumes and pulses, beans are among the most underrated inflammation-fighters, says Taub-Dix. (An example of a pulse is the pea inside the peapod.) They’re rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Consider adding more of these to you diet:

  • Adzuki beans
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans (edamame)

Try tossing beans into salads, blending them into dips or combining them with grains and vegetables to make veggie burgers.

7. Spices. Spices are the roots, leaves, buds, seeds, bark or berries of certain plants. They’re used to add flavor to food, and as a bonus, they may reduce inflammation.

Spices with anti-inflammatory benefits include:

  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Turmeric

Try using these in place of salt. You’ll keep the flavor high while eliminating the pro-inflammatory effect of sodium.

By trading pro-inflammatory foods for anti-inflammatory foods, you may be able to tame your body’s inflammatory response. And that can help you control or prevent some of the most common diseases.

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For informational purposes only. This information is compiled by UnitedHealthcare and does not diagnose problems or recommend specific treatment. Services and medical technologies referenced herein may not be covered under your plan. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.


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Cleveland Clinic. “Inflammation.” December 20, 2023. Retrieved from

Harvard Health Publishing. “Quick-start guide to an anti‑inflammation diet.” April 15, 2023. Retrieved from

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Legumes and pulses.” Retrieved from Accessed February 29, 2024

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Types of fat.” Retrieved from Accessed February 29, 2024

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Whole grains.” Retrieved from Accessed February 29, 2024

International Journal of Molecular Sciences. “Therapeutic effects of green tea polyphenol (‒)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) in relation to molecular pathways controlling inflammation, oxidative stress, and apoptosis.” January 2023. Retrieved from

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