Inflammation is your body’s way of fighting infections, injuries, and toxins. When cells are damaged, chemicals are released that trigger an immune response, sending white blood cells and antibodies to heal them. In most cases, the body’s inflammatory response is appropriate for the amount of damage, but sometimes mistakes are made. Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system acts as if regular cells are infected or somehow unusual, attacking and damaging otherwise healthy tissue.
There are several ways to manage and reduce inflammation, including medications, but dietitians and Health Coaches alike agree that inflammation can be addressed with diet. Dietary protocols like the AIP Diet focus on combating existing inflammation, but focusing on anti-inflammatory foods can also help prevent it in the first place.
Health and wellness pioneer, integrative medicine advocate, and IIN visiting faculty member Andrew Weil, MD, created the Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Food Pyramid to serve as an easy reference guide to following an anti-inflammatory diet. Here, we’ll explore his recommendations as well as include recipes that can make incorporating these anti-inflammatory foods into your routine a breeze!
Breaking Down the Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Food Pyramid
Dr. Weil’s pyramid works the same way as the traditional food pyramid, with the top of the pyramid including foods that should be eaten only occasionally and the bottom consisting of foods that you should consume several portions of each day. “Learning how specific foods influence the inflammatory process is the best strategy for containing it and reducing long-term disease risks,” explains Dr. Weil. Many of these foods can be enjoyed raw or cooked and should be organic when possible.
Vegetables are chock-full of nutrients like fiber, anti-inflammatory antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals that support bone, brain, gut, blood, and heart health.
What to Eat: Dark, leafy greens; cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts); squash; and sea vegetables
Recommended Intake: 4‒5 servings daily (around one-half cup per serving)
How to Eat: Shaved Brussel Sprouts Salad
Much like veggies, many fruits are rich in flavonoids, which are beneficial anti-inflammatories that protect your cells from oxidative damage that can lead to disease.
What to Eat: Cherries, pomegranates, blueberries, plums, strawberries, watermelon, and pineapple
Recommended Intake: 3‒4 servings daily (around one-half cup per serving)
Whole grains digest more slowly than processed grains, reducing blood sugar spikes that can cause inflammation. Dr. Weil recommends focusing specifically on whole grains rather than on whole-wheat bread or other products made from whole-wheat flour, since these are more likely to be processed.
What to Eat: Brown rice, wild rice, barley, quinoa, steel-cut oats, millet
Recommended Intake: 3‒5 servings daily (around one-half cup per serving)
How to Eat: Wild Rice and Veggie Bowl
Healthy fats include oils, nuts, seeds, eggs, and avocados. Healthy fats are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and oils like olive oil are high in polyphenols, which fight inflammation.
What to Eat: Extra-virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, walnuts, avocados, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, eggs, sesame oil
Recommended Intake: 5‒7 servings daily (around one teaspoon of oil, one tablespoon of flaxseeds, or one ounce of avocado)
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are rich in folic acid, magnesium, potassium and soluble fiber, all of which help combat inflammation. They also have a low glycemic load, so they won’t spike your blood sugar after eating.
What to Eat: Black beans, chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, adzuki beans
Recommended Intake: 1‒2 servings daily (around one-half cup per serving)
How to Eat: Butternut Squash and Chickpea Curry
Al Dente Pasta
According to Dr. Weil, pasta cooked al dente (so it has a firmer, “toothier” feel) has a lower glycemic index than fully cooked pasta. The average glycemic index of al dente penne pasta is 50, which is lower than many whole-grain breakfast cereals and even oatmeal.
What to Eat: Organic pasta, rice noodles, buckwheat noodles like udon and soba
Recommended Intake: 2-3 servings weekly (around one-half cup per serving)
Fish and Shellfish
Fish – especially cold-water fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines – is high in omega-3 fats like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fish is also a great source of fat-soluble vitamin D, which works to strengthen your body’s immune system.
What to Eat: Wild Alaskan Salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, sardines, oysters, cod, herring
Recommended Intake: 2‒6 servings weekly (around four ounces per serving)
How to Eat: Salmon with Cauliflower "Rice" and Mango Salsa
Soy protein powders and imitation meats made with soy are more processed than whole-soy foods, and they don’t have the same benefits. Soy foods contain antioxidants called isoflavones, which can help reduce the risk of inflammation-related diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
What to Eat: Tofu, tempeh, edamame, unsalted soy nuts, soy milk
Recommended Intake: 1‒2 servings daily (around one cup of soy milk or one-half cup of cooked edamame, tempeh, or tofu)
Cooked Asian Mushrooms
Asian mushrooms, in particular, contain organic compounds that enhance immune system function. Note that all mushrooms contain trace amounts of carcinogens and shiitake mushrooms contain a naturally occurring form of formaldehyde, so cooking mushrooms is necessary.
What to Eat: Shiitake, enoki, maitake, and oyster mushrooms
Recommended Intake: Unlimited quantities
Lean Protein and Dairy
Contrary to popular beliefs, dairy does not inherently cause inflammation. In fact, research has shown that some dairy products offer anti-inflammatory benefits. The bacteria in cultured dairy products like yogurt improve gut health, which is an essential component in reducing inflammation. Lean proteins ‒ like skinless chicken breasts – offer a good source of protein without extra fat.
What to Eat: Cage-free, organic chicken and eggs, yogurt, kefir, natural cheeses (Emmentaler, Jarlsberg, and real Parmesan cheese)
Recommended Intake: 1-2 servings weekly (around one ounce of cheese, eight ounces of dairy, one egg, or three ounces of poultry)
How to Eat: Kale and Egg Wrap
Healthy Herbs and Spices
Spices like turmeric and ginger contain anti-inflammatory properties; ginger contains gingerol, and turmeric’s benefits come from curcumin.
What to Eat: Curry powder, turmeric, garlic, ginger, basil, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, chili peppers
Recommended Intake: Unlimited quantities
Tea, especially green tea, is high in antioxidant compounds that reduce inflammation. High-quality tea makes a difference, as does brewing tea correctly. Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant that prevents free radical damage in cells and is also known for its anti-aging benefits.
What to Eat: Green, white, and oolong teas
Recommended Intake: 2‒4 cups daily
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting, bone health, and many other bodily functions. Supplements help fill the gaps in your diet from missing micronutrients.
What to Eat: High-quality multivitamins or other supplements as discussed with your health provider
Recommended Intake: Daily
Dr. Weil doesn’t recommend red wine for everyone, so this section of the pyramid is optional. Red wine contains resveratrol, which studies suggest has anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that women who consumed red wine daily had “significantly reduced inflammatory markers compared with women who abstained from alcohol.”
What to Drink: Organic red wine
Recommended Intake: 1‒2 glasses daily
A healthy diet is about balance, and indulging in a few servings of healthy sweets each week is part of a balanced diet. Plus sweets like dark chocolate contain anti-inflammatory compounds as well as polyphenols that help lower cholesterol.
What to Eat: Unsweetened dried fruit, 70% dark chocolate, fruit sorbet
Recommended Intake: Sparingly, up to three times per week
How to Eat: Raspberry Chia Dark Chocolate Pudding Parfait
The Bottom Line
All the foods outlined in Dr. Weil’s pyramid work to combat inflammation in the body as well as prevent inflammation in the first place. But this guide isn’t the be-all and end-all of anti-inflammatory diets. In fact, what we all eat varies wildly, depending on what we’re looking for in a diet, any medical requirements, and personal preferences for foods. And what works for one person may not work for another.
Bio-individuality is IIN’s unique concept that you’re the only version of you and what works for you won’t work for everyone else. It applies to everything – from the environment you thrive in to the relationships that nourish you to the foods you eat. By embracing your bio-individual nutritional needs, you can find what works best for you and your unique situation.