For this post, we will discuss the anti-inflammatory diet: meals, recipes and ideas for beginners, picky eaters and kids! This lifestyle can be beneficial for those with IBS, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromylagia, endometriosis, PCOS, and general chronic pain. Please discuss any diet or exercise changes with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
- What is the anti-inflammatory diet?
- Food Science & Me: The Bottom Line
- What if the anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t work for me? What are some alternatives?
- Inflammation FIGHTING Foods
- Inflammation CAUSING Foods
- Tips for Beginning an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Anti-Inflammatory Meals for the Whole Family
- More about my chronic pain journey
- Tips for Picky Eaters
After battling with chronic pain in my joints and endometriosis for several years, going from doctor to doctor, medication to medication, I turned to more natural methods in a desperate attempt to control my pain. Today, I am healthier and more functional than I have been in 8 years through a combination of eating an anti-inflammatory diet, exercising regularly (even when I’m in pain!), and finding the right medication balance for me. This is just my personal experience, but it has made such a difference in my own life that I believe it can help others, too!
Don’t forget to download the Anti-inflammatory “Eat This Not That” List – you can post it on your fridge or use it for meal planning to help you get started with your inflammation-fighting meals.
I’ve spent a lot of time searching Pinterest for anti-inflammatory foods that I could consistently eat AND feed my family at the same time. It was tough to find! Most of the recipes I found were inaccessible, difficult to make on a regular basis or just wouldn’t appease my picky eaters. However, over the past several months I’ve accrued a collection of some of my favorite anti-inflammatory recipes and wanted to share them with you!
What is the anti-inflammatory diet?
First of all, “the” anti-inflammatory diet is not a diet plan. It is a lifestyle and way of eating. I don’t like calling it a “diet” – I call it my eating regimen.
The point of an anti-inflammatory regimen is to cut out inflammation-causing foods and incorporate as many inflammation-fighting foods as possible. These foods are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols – which are protective compounds found in plants.
Since different people will respond differently to various foods, the anti-inflammatory diet will look a little different from individual to individual.
Generally speaking, there is not “one way” to do an anti-inflammatory diet. Yes, you should absolutely cut out red meat, sugar and processed foods and then focus on foods that will reduce inflammation in YOUR body. What that will look like for each individual person is a little different.
One example: I am allergic to apples. Apples have lots of anti-inflammatory properties, but in my own body, they cause inflammation.
Does gluten cause inflammation?
Yes and no.
If you are allergic to gluten or have a hypersensitivity to it, it will cause inflammation in your body. Also, the way you eat gluten matters.
For example, eating minimally processed whole grains such as whole wheat pasta, whole grain breads, tabbouleh, or farro (a personal favorite) are incredibly nutritious and can be anti-inflammatory. But, their highly processed counterparts: white pasta, white bread, pastries, cookies and crackers are not nutritious and can be inflammatory.
If you are NOT allergic or sensitive to gluten, according to Dr. Robert Shmerling at Harvard, there is (not yet) any compelling scientific evidence that gluten should be avoided altogether. In fact, in a study done in the UK of 1,700 gluten-free products, MOST gluten-free products contained less nutrients, more fat and more sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts.
Though gluten is not inherently inflammatory, personal anecdotes from gluten sensitive people might make you think so.
Eating whole grains (with gluten) can reduce inflammation. UNLESS you have a sensitivity or allergy – in which case it will cause inflammation in your body.
Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston says that if you cut out gluten without needing to, “you can cut out foods that have valuable nutrients.”
Additionally, if your health necessitates a gluten-free diet, you should consult with a registered dietitian to guide you. This will help ensure that you don’t lose those valuable nutrients. Many gluten-free products use rice, potato and corn-based replacements – which contain less nutrients than true whole grains.
If you think that you have a gluten sensitivity, I highly recommend doing an elimination diet – overseen by a medical professional or registered dietitian. MANY products that claim to be gluten-free actually contain gluten, so that is why it’s important to talk with a dietitian before you embark on a true gluten-free diet.
Read more about gluten research here:
6 Truths About a Gluten Free Diet by Consumer Reports
Ditch the Gluten, Improve Your Health? A balanced view on gluten-free diets by Harvard Health
Gluten & Arthritis by the Arthritis Foundation
Whole grains vs. Regular grains: What’s the difference? by the Mayo Clinic
Does coffee cause inflammation?
Yes and no.
The way that we drink coffee – with lots of milk and sugar – is highly inflammatory.
But coffee by itself actually contains lots of polyphenols and antioxidants, which are anti-inflammatory.
However, sugar is one of the top inflammatory foods we consume. So coffee drinkers beware of how much sugar and syrups you add to your coffee.
Also, this is another instance of the importance of knowing your own body. Coffee may be anti-inflammatory in and of itself, but how does it affect YOU?
I had to come to this sad realization recently with my beloved drink – for me, it was causing heart palpitations and LESS sustained energy. Coming off of coffee was difficult, but my energy has increased since abstaining.
So here’s the bottom line: coffee contains inflammation-fighting compounds and can reduce inflammation in certain individuals. However, lots of cream, milk, sugar, and artificial flavors and syrups are all inflammatory. Consider HOW you drink your coffee, as well as how it affects you personally.
Read more about coffee research here: Does coffee help or cause inflammation?
Do nightshades cause inflammation?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, this is a myth.
Unless, of course, you are allergic to or hypersensitive to nightshades.
Edible nightshades such as peppers and tomatoes are inflammation-fighting foods due to their high antioxidant and nutritionally dense content. Chili peppers in particular contain capsaicin, which is a substance often used in pain relieving creams because it calms pain-producing transmitters in your nerves.
Read more about this here: Nightshade Vegetables and Inflammation: Can They Help Arthritis?
Does dairy cause inflammation?
This is a tougher one.
“Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. The picture is murky and the results are not very consistent,” says Dr. Frank Hu, MD/PhD, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard.
If you are allergic to milk or sensitive to it, milk products WILL cause inflammation.
The research on yogurt has produced the most consistent results: for those WITHOUT a milk sensitivity, it can reduce inflammation, probably due to the protective nature of probiotics within yogurt.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that MOST flavored yogurts on the grocery shelves are packed with sugar – which does cause inflammation. If you are going to enjoy yogurt for breakfast, in a smoothie, or as a snack, I would opt for a plain Greek yogurt and add your own natural flavors (such as berries, applesauce, or bananas).
Certain cheeses (particularly those naturally high in whey such as cottage cheese) can help fight inflammation – but not all cheeses are created equal. Keep on eye on labels and look for additives like cellulose, food coloring, excessive salt, carrageenan (which causes inflammation in your gut), modified (read: processed) starch, unnecessary sugar, and much more. This list of cheeses to use and avoid is helpful: The 20 Best & Worse Cheeses for Your Health
The bottom line: dairy affects different individuals in various ways. And not all dairy is created equal. And vegan/dairy-free products are not created equal either! Vegan products are equally guilty of being crammed with empty calories, unnecessary fillers and unhealthful fats.
The best thing you can do for yourself is learn to read food labels and figure out what foods work for YOUR body.
You can read more about some of the studies done on dairy here: Dairy & Inflammation by the Arthritis Foundation.
How does sugar affect our bodies?
According to a review of studies done in 2018, people who consumed higher quantities of sugar in their diets had higher instances of inflammatory markers in their blood. In contrast, drinking less sugary drinks lowers certain inflammatory markers in the body (such as your C-reactive Protein or CRP) according to a study done from 1999 to 2010.
It’s simple (albeit painful for this mama with a sweet tooth!):
More sugar = more inflammation.
Less sugar = less inflammation.
An important study done in 2015 showed that a high sugar diet in otherwise healthy, young individuals impaired their memory functions as well as hindered their ability to tell if they were hunger or full. Sugar also stimulates the reward center of our brain so that we crave more sugar.
So the more sugar you eat, the more sugar you want to eat.
(FYI – the same study also found that consuming omega-3s and curcumin improved memory function and reduced inflammation!)
Another study showed a causal relationship between sugar and depression – meaning that in people who ate a lot of sugar, there were higher incidences of depression and mental disorders.
We may not understand or know all of the reasons why, but sugar messes with our brains in a profound way. If we can’t really tell if we’re full or hungry AND we crave the very substance that is causing this chaos AND it somehow affects our moods and mental health…that’s just scary.
In addition to chronic inflammation, eating lots of sugar can lead to diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and more.
To be clear: all of these studies refer to ADDED, refined sugars – not the naturally occurring sugars that are in fruits and vegetables. So please don’t limit your intake of fruits and vegetables in order to avoid natural sugars!
The Bottom Line
Follow the research.
When trying to determine if a food is “healthy” or not, instead of following anecdotal evidence, look at the research. If you read a blog or article that makes a lot of claims about a certain food, but they’re not citing their sources or pointing to the research, please take that with a grain of salt.
Personal testimonies and anecdotes are powerful – but they are not scientific research. Just because a popular blogger or celebrity endorses a particular diet does NOT mean that that diet is healthful or beneficial for you.
Most importantly, listen to your body.
Whether or not a certain food group causes inflammation in the general population is, in many ways, irrelevant. What matters is this: how does the food affect YOU?
Again, I’ll come back to the apple example. A nutrition blog may tell me that apples are great for weight loss, contain lots of polyphenols and prebiotics, which are good for gut health. So I follow the blog and eat an apple every day. Instead of feeling better, I have increased bloating, headaches, nausea.
Because I’m allergic to apples.
Are they still nutritious for the average person? Absolutely. Is the research wrong? No way. But is it wrong FOR ME? You better believe it.
That leads me to my next question…
What if the anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t work for me? What are some alternatives?
If you try an anti-inflammatory diet, and are still experiencing inflammation, bloating, discomfort, etc. then I would highly recommend that you talk with a registered dietitian.
It could be helpful to use a food tracker to keep tabs on your meals and snacks in order to figure out which foods are causing you discomfort.
Another option is to try an elimination diet or a low FODMAP diet (which is a type of elimination diet). These diets are best when overseen by a medical professional or registered dietitian.
Read more about elimination diets and low FODMAP diets.
Inflammation-fighting foods to incorporate into your anti-inflammatory diet:
- Nuts & seeds
- Orange fruits & vegetables (e.g.: carrots, oranges, peppers, sweet potatoes)
- Beans, lentils and peas
- Kale/Spinach/Leafy greens
- Olive oil
- Salmon/fatty fishes
- Herbs & spices such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano
- Probiotics and probiotics (such as kombucha, kimchi, and plain yogurts)
Inflammation-causing foods to avoid and cut out:
- Processed foods
- Foods with added sugar or excessive salt
- Unhealthful oils
- Processed carbs, which are present in white bread, white pasta, and many baked goods
- Processed snack foods, such as chips and crackers
- Pre-made desserts, such as cookies, candy, and ice cream
- Excess alcohol
- Personal food sensitivities and food allergies
- Source: Anti-Inflammatory Diet by Medical News Today
Tips for beginning an anti-inflammatory diet:
Find foods you love. Don’t force yourself to eat meals you hate – it won’t last long! Figure out which inflammation fighting foods are your favorites and find meals that incorporate those ingredients.
Use meals you already know how to make. You can also take meals you already make and brainstorm ways to make them inflammation-fighting: search for healthy substitutes for the inflammatory elements of your meal and try to incorporate one or two inflammation-fighting foods.
Have a cheat day. Saturdays are my cheat days. It helps me mentally to be able to say: “I can have that on Saturday” instead of, “I can’t eat that.” The key here is to make sure it stays one day, and doesn’t turn into an entire cheat week!
Pay attention to your body. It helps to keep a food diary, especially at first. Are there foods that your body seems to react to more than others? For example, when I first started my anti-inflammatory regimen, I noticed that I was getting headaches after each time I ate something soy-based. So I cut out soy and stopped getting headaches! Even if the food is “healthy,” if your body doesn’t react well to it, it’s not good for you.
Make it flexible for the whole family. Look, just because you’re cutting out dairy, doesn’t necessarily mean that the kids have to also! However, I beg you, PLEASE don’t fall into the trap of making separate meals for everyone in the family. That’s just a nightmare. The great thing about these meals here are that they are flexible enough for the whole crew. So, throw some cheese on these meals for the kiddos or serve the chicken tenders with a healthy mound of ketchup. For more tips on raising healthy eaters, check out this post: 10 Unique Healthy Eating Tips for Your Picky Eater.
If you’re looking for simple anti-inflammatory meals that you can make on a weeknight for the whole family, check out my 7-Day Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Plan & Guide!
Anti-Inflammatory Meals for the Whole Family
Anti-inflammatory Breakfast Ideas:
- Steel cut oats with berries & sliced almonds. This is my go-to breakfast. I’ll make a huge batch of steel cut oats on Sunday night to last through the week. Usually I have fresh berries to put on top, but I always keep a bag of frozen blueberries on hand to use when I run out. I also get one of those huge bags of sliced almonds from Costco to throw on top. And, of course, I’ll drizzle in some honey. It’s an insanely healthy, filling, delicious breakfast that takes only a few minutes to put together in the morning. Here’s our fall favorite Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal made with steel cut oats and lots of inflammation-fighting ingredients!
- Anti-inflammatory smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to sneak in some of the inflammation-fighting foods that you don’t love by combining them with ones you do! They’re also great for an on-the-go breakfast and for pickier kiddos. Here’s 11 other anti-inflammatory smoothie recipes: Smoothie Recipes for Inflammation
- Healthy Pancakes. I could eat pancakes all day, every day. For a healthier pancake, I like to mix oats, bananas, eggs, chia/flax seeds, cinnamon and vanilla – I’ll pop them on a sheet pan and put them in the oven for 15 minutes and I’ve got breakfast for everyone for a few days! This is a Banana Oatmeal Pancake recipe I like and here’s an anti-inflammatory Turmeric Spice pancake recipe to try: Turmeric Spice Pancakes
- Greek yogurt & berry parfaits with chia seeds & sliced almonds. Make sure you search for a yogurt that doesn’t have a ton of added sugar. Your safest option is to buy plain Greek yogurt and then add honey to taste. I love to pack mine with fresh berries, chia or flax seeds and sliced almonds. This can also make a great snack and the kids love it! Here’s some make-ahead parfait ideas.
- Avocado toast with egg. We all like eggs, so this is a go-to breakfast for us. I’ll sprinkle on a dash of cayenne pepper for mine, whereas Finn loves his with a garlic sriracha seasoning. Here’s a recipe for that along with two other yummy breakfast options: Anti-inflammatory Breakfast Options
Inflammation-Fighting Lunch Options:
- Peppers, carrots, celery & hummus. This is one of my go-to lunches for me and the kids. I’ll cut up a bunch of peppers and carrots (I’m allergic to celery – but if you like celery, go for it!!) and serve it with hummus or tzaziki dip. It’s healthy, filling and fun. Here’s a great anti-inflammatory carrot hummus recipe: Carrot Hummus Recipe
- Avocado tuna salad on whole grain crackers. My hubby hates fish so I try to get my fish-fix in during lunch when he’s not home! I like to serve this with a dash of cayenne pepper on top for me, which is an extra inflammation fighting booster. Avocado Tuna Salad
- Loaded Sweet potato. This is another easy one for the week: I’ll pop several sweet potatoes into the oven and store them in the fridge for easy, healthy lunches throughout the week. Usually I’ll just top ours with some cinnamon, coconut oil and a dash of salt but there’s lots of fun and healthy ways to load up your sweet potato. Here’s 10 different ways to load your sweet potato: Loaded Sweet Potatoes
- Spinach salad with chicken, pineapple, blueberries, and avocado. I love salads for lunch, but I don’t expect my kiddos to eat them! So usually I try to incorporate the toppings of the salad into a meal for them. For this salad I’ll make them a sandwich with the chicken and avocado then give them some of the blueberries and pineapple – it’s a win-win! Grilled Chicken Salad with Pineapple and Avocado
- Roasted Butternut Squash Soup: I love to make this recipe ahead of time and eat it throughout the week. I substitute coconut milk for the cream and add in about a teaspoon of turmeric for that extra inflammation fighting boost. For the kiddos, I’ll usually serve this over rice or quinoa. Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
- Quinoa, beet, pear salad. I LOVE this salad! 𝗜𝗻𝗴𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘀: chopped kale, cooked and cooled quinoa, chopped pears, cranberries, chopped walnuts, chopped beets, crumbled goat cheese. 𝗗𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗴: 2 teaspoons honey, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, squeeze of lemon. Instructions: chop kale and massage with olive oil and lemon juice until all of the kale is coated. Mix dressing together. Combine the rest of the ingredients with the kale and pour dressing on top, mixing until everything is coated. This salad stores surprisingly well for 3 days in a covered dish in the fridge because the kale soaks up all the dressing and the flavor only gets better!
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#lunch_time I am obsessed with this kale, beet & quinoa salad!! Because of my chronic pain, I try to eat as many inflammation-fighting foods as possible – and this salad makes it sooo easy. * 𝗜𝗻𝗴𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘀: kale quinoa pears cranberries chopped walnuts beets goat cheese 𝗗𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗴: lemon juice honey apple cider vinegar olive oil #yummm #foodlove #food #foodoftheday #kale #beets #mombloggersofig #mommyblogger #mommydiaries #healthyeating #healthyfood #antiinflammatorydiet #antiinflammatoryfoods #healthy #health #healthyeating #yourbodyisatemple #gottabalanceoutthechocolate #quinoa #chronicpain #joyfulmama #full
Anti-Inflammatory Dinners for the Whole Family:
- Simple Stir fry. This is my husband’s favorite weekday meal. I usually stir fry chicken and vegetables (recipe here) with this simple stir fry sauce: 1/4 cup soy sauce alternative (I use this soy sauce alternative or coconut aminos), 2 tbsp sesame oil, 2 tbsp spicy honey (you can use regular honey, we just like a little extra kick), 1 tbsp non-GMO cornstarch to thicken (you can omit this if you are sensitive to corn products, it will just be more watery/runny). Add ingredients into a jar with a lid and shake until thickened! That’s it. I also like to add some pineapple tidbits or mango to sweeten the whole deal.
- Veggie bake with quinoa. This is a go-to meal for us, we have it at least once a week in our house. We basically throw all kinds of veggies onto a large baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil and some of our favorite seasonings and cook on 425 for 25-30 minutes (we like ours extra crispy). I’ll usually throw some chicken sausage in there and serve over quinoa, rice or pasta. Here’s a yummy and simple recipe: Easy Oven Roasted Vegetables
- Baked turkey meatballs. These meatballs are a staple item in our household. The wonderful thing about them is that you cook carrot into the meatballs- and no one’s the wiser. I use these for spaghetti and meatballs or you could make meatball sandwiches. I’ll use GF pasta or spaghetti squash. Baked Turkey Meatballs
- GF chicken tenders with broccoli & sun-dried tomatoes. Aside from being gluten-free and delicious, this best thing about this meal is that you can make it all on one pan. One pan = less clean up for me. Woohoo! One Pan GF Chicken Tenders with Broccoli & Sun-dried Tomatoes
- Creamy Thai butternut squash curry. This meal is to die for. I serve it whenever I have vegetarian guests over – but you can also make it with chicken for the meat eaters! You can substitute sweet potatoes and carrots for the butternut squash – or just use all three if you want. You can find the recipe here: Thai Butternut Squash Curry. I like to pair this with this Spicy Honey Chicken and rice. Even the kids love this dish.
- Chicken cauliflower rice taco bowl. This is another staple dish for us and it saves well for leftovers and/or freezer meals. I usually use fresh salsa instead of enchilada sauce for this and you can easily substitute quinoa (or rice) for the cauliflower rice. Easy Mexican Cauliflower Rice Bowl
Anti-inflammatory Snacks & Dessert:
- Spicy Kale chips
- GF oat quinoa energy bites
- Homemade trail mix
- Green tea with lemon and honey
- Hot chocolate made with coconut milk and real cocoa
- Dark chocolate covered strawberries
- Fruit: grapes, oranges, cherries, mango, pineapple
- Fresh salsa or guacamole and tortilla chips
- Turmeric Oat Flour Bread with Chocolate Chips
- Honey Baked apple with cinnamon
If you’re looking for simple anti-inflammatory meals that you can make on a weeknight for the whole family, check out my 7-Day Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Plan & Guide!
I hope this is helpful for you, mamas! If you’re battling with chronic pain, feel free to reach out to me for encouragement. You are not alone! God has a plan for you – even if it doesn’t quite fit within the plans you want.
Read more about my journey with chronic pain here:
Don’t forget to read more about healthy eating for the whole family here: