Foods that can help fight inflammation

by Kaiser Permanente |
Table full of colorful vegetables, fruits, and other anti-inflammatory foods

Inflammation is one of your immune system’s main tools for fighting injuries. However, sometimes inflammation occurs when it shouldn’t — and can cause damage to your body. Jaime Betters, a Kaiser Permanente registered dietitian, explains how inflammation works and how what you eat may help prevent inflammation.

Acute vs. chronic inflammation

Some inflammation is normal. It’s how your body recovers from illness and injury. This is acute inflammation — and it’s part of the healing process. A healthy immune system uses acute inflammation to help heal injuries. "It sends white blood cells and other mediators — like special proteins — to protect the area," says Betters. For example, when you sprain your ankle and it starts to swell. That’s your body’s way of healing the wound and preventing more damage.

Chronic inflammation is more severe and puts stress on your body. It can last for long periods of time — months and even years. Chronic inflammation can happen in response to lifestyle factors, like stress. Or it can happen due to certain health conditions, like autoimmune disorders. Some research shows that chronic inflammation may contribute to health issues such as heart disease and cancer.1 One way to help manage and lower inflammation is by making healthy lifestyle choices — like eating a healthy diet.

Healthy eating tips to help with inflammation

In general, Betters recommends choosing whole, plant-based foods as much as possible, and limiting animal products and processed foods.

Foods to eat

Fiber-filled foods

Fiber has many health benefits. It can help promote heart health, aid in weight management, and lower cholesterol. You have many tasty options when it comes to choosing foods with fiber. Try brown or red jasmine rice, whole grains such as oats, and legumes such as red beans, peas, and lentils.

Fruits and vegetables

In addition to fiber, many fruits and vegetables are full of additional good-for-you nutrients. Berries, for example, contain fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Blueberries, cherries, and red or black grapes are all good fruits to add to your diet. For vegetables, Betters recommends purple cabbage, broccoli, peas, and dark leafy greens. Want to add even more fruits and veggies to your plate? Try the color trick, says Betters. The more colorful the plant, the more antioxidants it contains. And foods high in antioxidants can help reduce inflammation.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats can be found in olives, seeds, and nuts. Ground flaxseeds are a good source of unsaturated fats — and they contain omega-3 fatty acids which can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. And they may help reduce inflammation. You can add ground flaxseeds to a smoothie, or sprinkle on top of a salad or overnight oats.

Herbs and spices

Herbs and spices not only add flavor to your food, but can also offer health benefits. Try rosemary, ginger, or turmeric. Turmeric contains curcumin — which has anti-inflammatory properties.

Green or hibiscus tea

Both green and hibiscus tea are rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds found in some plant-based foods. Tea also contains antioxidants to help guard against inflammation. You can brew a pot of tea at home or try making a matcha green tea pudding.

Foods to limit or avoid

Processed foods

This includes fast food, processed meats such as hot dogs, and frozen dinners. Processed foods are generally high in sodium, added sugar, and saturated or trans fats. Eating foods with sodium and saturated fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol. And that can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Added sugars or salt

Common sources of added sugar to limit or avoid include cakes, baked goods, candy, and cookies. But sugar can also hide in foods you might not expect. Salad dressing, sauces, and certain beverages can all be high in added sugar. In fact, sugary beverages such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit juice are the top source of added sugar in Americans’ diets.2 Sodium, or salt, is also found in many processed foods, preserved meats, and sauces. Besides carefully reading food labels to check for sodium, you can also be mindful of how much salt you add to your food when cooking at home.

Unhealthy fats

Butter, palm oil, coconut oil, and animal fats are examples of foods that contain unhealthy saturated fat. Moving to a completely plant-based diet can be difficult. So if you do eat meat, choose lean or grass-fed meat. And try to limit it to 1 or 2 times a week.


Alcohol can cause health issues to your mind and body. Drinking too much alcohol can harm your nervous system, brain, heart, and liver. And heavy drinking can cause inflammation of the liver and lead to alcohol-related fatty liver disease. When it comes to alcohol, less is always best. If you do choose to drink, keep it at a low to moderate level.

A total-health approach to better health

The body is a complex ecosystem — one you can care for with healthy lifestyle habits. In addition to making healthy eating choices, remember to drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and manage stress. For more healthy lifestyle resources, you can also try interactive classes and support groups or wellness coaching to find what works for you.

Kristine Stromsnes et al., "Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Diet: Role in Healthy Aging," Biomedicines, July 30, 2021.

"How Much Sugar Is Too Much?," American Heart Association, accessed January 30, 2023.