An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Plan (For Pain Relief)

The Wrong Inflammation Can Cause Agony - Could A Change Of Foods Relieve Your Pain?

By Definition –

Inflammation is an emergency response from your body to a perceived threat or injury. Some foods however, are said to be able to disrupt the inflammatory process through consumption of ‘antioxidants’, anti-inflammatory ‘flavonoids’ or ‘essential fatty acids to name just the main ones. This gives rise to a special ‘anti-inflammatory diet’ that is examined in purpose and with evidence below…. 

Our Member Survey Says…

  • Of the HelpRelievePain.com members that have tried an anti-inflammatory diet in the last 5 years, 65% said they had continued either all or parts of the diet beyond the first two months.
  • Of that 65% (who stuck to at least some of the diet), 90% said they felt it had made at least some noticeable difference to their pain levels.

(Results from our member survey completed 10th July 2019, to be redone July 2020)

An anti inflammatory diet plan is more than just ‘another diet’. Following an anti inflammatory diet could be the key to pain relief. But which foods should you choose and which should you avoid? We help you compile an anti inflammatory diet plan that you actually might enjoy!

The image shows a table of fruits and vegetables under the heading not all anti-inflammatory diets look like this!
Not All Anti Inflammatory Diets Need To Look Like This

What Is An Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

It is almost impossible not to notice nowadays that there are literally millions of different diets out there on the internet and in magazines. Traditionally, these were centred around losing weight, but increasingly diet and lifestyle are seen now as causative factors behind many diseases.

Inflammation is no exception to this and it should come as no surprise when I mention fresh produce and particularly those foods with essential fatty acids or minerals within them as being perfect for reducing inflammation.

An anti-inflammatory diet plan is a diet specifically containing foods that are capable of reducing inflammation in your body.

To follow an anti-inflammatory diet plan, you simply need to cut down on the pro-inflammatory foods and increase some of those associated with healing that negate the need for inflammation in the first place.

There are four fundamental reasons why some foods are much better at reducing inflammation than others –

Antioxidants.

Inflammation is a very complex, emergency response from your body. Part of the inflammatory cascade is the production of ‘free radicals’. This often occurs when there is an imbalance in the level of anti-oxidants in your body.

By consuming more anti-oxidants, you control the levels of free radicals that attack the affected area and cause the inflammation. The role of antioxidants in controlling inflammation was studied at length in this article on the ‘Role of Antioxidants and Natural Products in Inflammation’

Anti-Inflammatory Flavonoids.

Flavonoids are polyphenolic compounds that occur mostly in plants. Among their many properties they appear to be very good at disrupting enzymes and at blocking the inflammation process.

There are a number of theories as to why this is – none of which can provide a definitive answer but maybe just knowing that they are linked heavily with reduced inflammation is enough.

Minerals and Vitamins. 

These can work in a whole range of ways – some (calcium etc) can help bone to heal where it has been damaged by inflammation and others work to block the binding of the constituents that

Essential Fatty Acids. 

Until recently, although scientific trials had strongly shown essential fatty acids and omega 3 fish oils to be a positive factor in reducing inflammation naturally, nobody actually knew why.

Recent research however, suggests that the essential fatty acids convert in the body in to a number of powerful compounds including ‘resolvin’ – a compound well known for putting a stop to the inflammatory process (or at least putting the brakes on).

About Us

Acute Or Chronic Inflammation?

Inflammation in itself is not a big problem – indeed it is essential in many circumstances as part of the healing process. The question is whether it is acute or chronic inflammation?

Cut yourself and the inflammation is a sign that extra white blood cells have raced to the area to begin the healing process. This is typically known as ‘acute inflammation’ and is generally an essential part of our bodies work.

It is obvious from swelling around the injury that appears almost immediately afterwards and fades away as the injury heals.

However, sadly there are also many occasions where inflammation is actually the root cause of the pain – in disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and even irritable bowel syndrome, the white blood cells effectively turn against you and act as an irritant.

This is known as chronic inflammation. It typically takes many days to be noticed, with the initial signs being a lot less obvious.

Unfortunately chronic inflammation is also much more likely to lead to actual tissue damage (rather than healing) and is likely to be present for much longer (if it ever goes away completely).

An anti-inflammatory foods list is great for countering chronic inflammation, not acute inflammation which is a very positive response.

Signs Of Chronic Inflammation.

We’ve written an article on specifically identifying the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis which will provide a lot more detail. However, for other diseases early symptoms typically include –

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Rashes
  • Allergies
  • Joint Pain
  • Bloating
  • Weight Gain

Those are very general – each disease will have it’s own unique set of early symptoms, but if you starting to suffer any of the above without an obvious reason, then it is worth visiting your doctor to get a thorough diagnosis.

What Conditions Could An Anti Inflammatory Diet Plan Help?

Chronic inflammation typically suggests some form of auto-immune disease since it is your bodies failure to control the inflammation that ultimately causes the problem. The typical auto-immune diseases that could benefit from an anti inflammatory diet plan include –

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Probably the most prevalent auto-immune disease, where white blood cells turn on your body and start attacking the synovial fluid around your joints causing considerable pain and inflammation.

Psoriasis

This is an inflammatory disease where skin cells continue to build up on the skins surface.

Multiple Sclerosis

The immune system attacks your CNS (Central Nervous System)

Graves Disease

Overproduction of the thyroid hormone.

Alopecia Areata

Hair loss caused by inflammation among other factors affecting the face and head. There is some evidence including this testimony that an anti inflammatory diet can make a big difference.

Is An Anti Inflammatory Diet Plan The Solution To Avoiding Drugs?

In a previous article on The Dangers Of Ibuprofen Usage, we looked in general at the role of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) and the risks associated with taking them over a prolonged period of time to control such inflammation.

Ultimately however, it is your choice to balance the benefits of pain relief (assuming that your pain is at least in part caused by swelling and inflammation in the first place), against the increased risks of stroke or heart attack, a relative increased chance of developing heart disease and the possibility of gastric problems such as ulcers.

Clearly with any drug, there are benefits and risks associated with it’s use. But what if certain foods were found to have similar anti-inflammatory properties?

Would eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory properties, give you the same pain relieving benefits, without any of the risks? 

Next we look at the type of foods that fit in to an anti-inflammatory diet plan – what are they and is there any evidence they will work?

Funny image of an elderly man in front of a huge plate of drugs with the caption 'swapping drugs for food is better than the other way around!'
Swapping Drugs For Food Is Better Than The Other Way Around!

Rheumatoid Arthritis And An Anti Inflammatory Diet

Probably the most famous inflammatory disease is rheumatoid arthritis. However, more recently studies have revealed that heart disease, so often associated with high cholesterol and a poor diet, could actually be the result of inflammation.

Indeed, in the study ‘Inflammation, not Cholesterol, Is a Cause of Chronic Disease’ the authors concluded that it is actually inflammation of the arteries that causes plaque build up leading to heart disease and ultimately heart failure – rather than cholesterol.

There are also a range of other chronic diseases that carry strong links to inflammation including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, asthma, diabetes, crohns disease, other cardiovascular diseases (inc strokes), eye problems, other autoimmune diseases, lupus, colitis and obesity.

An Anti Inflammatory Foods List… To Give You Success!

A fun image of drunken owl indicating that red wine is part of the list of inflammatory foods
See Food Option 34 – Some Anti Inflammatory Foods Are More Fun Than Others!

Vegetables –

1. Leafy Green Vegetables. On every list for losing weight and now every list for ‘self-healing’, you just cant beat the green leaves such as spinach, Kale, Cabbage and ‘spring greens’ – high in anti-oxidants, great at restoring cellular health and full of vitamin K.

2. Beetroot (or Beets). Probably the single most intense source of antioxidants you can get in a vegetable. These are packed full of ‘Betalain’ which as well as providing their trademark deep red colour, is also an excellent anti-oxidant. Beetroot are also full of magnesium and potassium – two of the leading minerals in the fight against inflammation.

3. Broccoli. The ‘trees’ (as my children call them) are much like Beetroot, really high in magnesium and potassium. It also has many anti-inflammatory flavonoids and the much rarer ‘carotenoids’ a pigment that has numerous bioactive properties, including as a powerful anti-inflammatory.

4. Cauliflower. If you don’t like broccoli or just fancy a change, then cauliflower has similar properties.

5. Chinese Cabbage (Bok Choy). This includes a substance known as ‘hydroxycinnamic acid’ that are well proven for about destroying the free radicals that go in to creating inflammation.

6. Celery. Celery is a grat source of potassium, one of the minerals most associated with anti-inflammatory properties. Celery has the added benefit of being linked with lowering blood cholesterol and blood pressure too.

7. Beans and Lentils. Also great containers of the vitamins and minerals that fight inflammation.

8. Chilli Pepper. Chilli’s are full of ‘Capsaicin’ that is well known to interrupt inflammatory pathways and produce a numbing effect.

9. Artichokes. Another vegetable packed full of antioxidants that will temper your bodies inflammation.

10. Carrots. Carrots contain beta-carotene, which is converted in to vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A in turn is a very effective antioxidant. They also contain plenty of zeaxanthin and lutein – further saturating the body with antioxidants.

11. Sweet Potatoes. Much lower in sugars and calories than normal potatoes, these spuds can boast very high vitamin A and beta-carotene levels. Sweet potatoes are also a powerhouse for potassium, and complex vitamin B.

Fruits –

12. Blueberries. These are great because they contain large quantities of Quercetin. Quercetin is one of the most dominant anti-inflammatory flavonoids. Blueberries have been recommended for Irritable Bowel Disease for much the same anti-inflammatory reasons.

13. Cherries. Again, these are key in your fight against inflammation due to their high concentrations of Quercetin.

14. Raspberries, Blackberries and Dark Red Grapes. Again the nutrients to fight inflammation are those that contribute to the colour of the fruit, so these are all viable alternative to cherries.

15. Pineapple. Pineapples are essential if you are following an anti-inflammatory diet plan principally because they contain Bromelain. In short, this is a special digestive enzyme that has been proven to help control your bodies immune response – that being the one that creates the unwanted inflammatory response. It is high in vitamins B1 and C as well as the minerals of potassium and manganese.

16. Coconut Oil. Another food really high in antioxidants. One of the big advantages with coconut oil is that you can ‘sneak’ it in to many diets simply by cooking in it.

image of coconut oil - one of the top ingredients in an anti inflammatory diet

17. Avocado. No healthy diet list would seem complete without this ‘in vogue’ super food. But on a serious note, it does have very similar properties to coconut oil and will help you to fight inflammation.

18. Olives. Oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol are two highly potent antioxidants. Oleuropein is only found in olives, but when paired with hydroxytyrosol also in the same food, they become super-charged and rival even avocados for goodness and anti inflammatory properties.

19. Oranges. These are great for controlling inflammation because they are literally packed with vitamin C. potassium, fibre, folate and calcium.

20. Strawberries. Another great source of vitamin C and fibre.

Fresh Protein –

21. Salmon. This is possibly the biggest single source of essential omega 3 fatty acids there is (alongside Mackerel). Omega 3 acids have long been touted as the most effective anti-inflammatory substances around.

However, it is VERY IMPORTANT to pick wild fish and meat as ‘farmed’ fish has been proven to have nowhere near the vitamins and fatty acids that wild fish have. This is partly due to their diet and partly because they don’t exercise enough, so the chemical balance is different in farmed fish.

A Picture Of a Cooked Salmon dish to represent another menu option on the anti inflammatory diet

22. Mackerel. This is for the same reasons as we selected Salmon, but you may prefer the taste and feel of mackerel as a white fish. If you are going to stick to a change in diet, it is important that you have options available. Another option could be sardines (not tinned though!)

23. Bone Broth. This is made by boiling various bones (most popular are a chicken or turkey carcass) and then flavouring the broth that is created. Many of the minerals that are normally present in bones will be transferred via the soup.

This means load of key calcium, silicon, sulphar, collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin sulphates and magnesium. These are really easy for your body to absorb and get the full benefit from.

“You may notice two of the substances above – glucosamine and chondroitin sulphates are often sold together as extremely expensive supplements designed for targeting inflammation”.

Snacks – 

24. Walnuts. All kind so nuts are high in protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Uniquely to walnuts however is the presence of some of the rarer phytonutrients such as ‘quinone juglone’  that are linked to reducing inflammation, but found in almost no other potential food source.

Not only that but, in the same way that some herbs and oils can fuse to make a bigger combined impact on inflammation, so does coconut oil and turmeric. So eating the two together actually created a stronger anti-inflammatory response than eating both individually.

25. Almonds. A great alternative to walnuts, packed with omega 3, just without the ‘extra’ quinone juglone’ – this nut still packs an anti-inflammatory punch though on it’s own.

26. Dark Chocolate. This is packed with antioxidants providing you make sure you pick a bar that is at least 70% cocoa

Herbs and Spices –

An image of herbs and spices as listed in the anti inflammatory diet

27. Turmeric. Some of the foods you’ll see associated with anti-inflammatory diets are there because they contain active ingredients that are believed to help reduce inflammation because trials have established a link without being able to isolate exactly why the inflammation was reduced.

In the case of turmeric, and it’s primary compound known as ‘curcumin’, there are a number of studies directly measuring the benefits of curcumin.

In one such study, it was actually found to have significantly better impact on inflammation than either Ibuprofen or Aspirin – two of the major NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) designed specifically to reduce inflammation. There is perhaps no greater recommendation I offer for using curcumin in your foods where possible.

28. Cinnamon. Cinnamon has been proven in a number of trials to reduce inflammation when introduced in to a range of foods.

29. Chia Seeds. In total, Chia seeds are a source for a huge number of inflammation killers including vitamins A,B,D and E, minerals including sulphur, iron, thiamine, niacin, manganese and magnesium. They also contain the essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6 in balance, as well as mucin, strontium and alpha-linolenic/ linolenic acid.

30. Flaxseeds. Another huge source of phytonutrients and antioxidants.

31. Ginger. Ginger is another one of the bodies’ immune system moderators, meaning it helps to control the bodies responses to various perceived threats.

Ginger has long been respected and recommended for it’s warming effect on your body, as well as it’s known ability for cleansing the lymphatic system and breaking down the toxins in your organs.

However, above this as a moderator of your bodies’ immune response it can be a great controller of inflammation.

32. Garlic. Similar to ginger, it is accepted that garlic can have an anti-inflammatory impact on you.

Drinks –

33. Green Tea. Among it’s many benefits, green tea has a high concentration of polyphenolic compounds that interfere with your bodies’ inflammation, ultimately reducing it.

34. Red Wine (But In Moderation!). Red wine contains lots of the antioxidant resveratrol. This acts as a COX-2 inhibitor, (similar to the drugs) blocking one of the main enzymes responsible for pain and swelling.

Miscellaneous –

35. Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This oil contains lots of oleocanthal – an antioxidant very similar to that found in the anti inflammatory drug, Ibuprofen.

How Much Of Each Should I Eat?

That very much depends of you – some recommendation suggest eating fish at least 3 times a week, consuming a minimum of 25 grams of fibre every day (such as in nuts/ vegetables) and eating a minimum of nine servings of fruit and vegetables (half a cup is equivalent to one serving).

However, the truth is there is no definitive answer – some like to name specific amounts because it makes them sound more authoritative, when really they have no evidence behind their suggestions.

“Any improvement is still a step forward”

And inflammation isn’t a yes or no concept – there are many degrees of inflammation and many degrees to reduce inflammation by. If you consume 60% of the foods on the list and cut down on the bad ones below, then you are likely to get some improvements in your inflammation.

The stricter you follow the right foods, the greater the likelihood of an even better outcome – but nothing is ever entirely guaranteed. Particularly if you suffer with a progressive disease like rheumatoid arthritis or asthma, then even following the perfect diet will not cure the problem – though it is likely to help you get a better control of the symptoms.

Pro Inflammatory Food List…. To Avoid At All Cost

Just as we produced a long list of foods with anti inflammatory properties, so we can find a pro inflammatory food list of foods that we know have properties that actually promote inflammation.

Saturated Fats. Perhaps not surprisingly foods containing large amounts of saturated or trans fats are top of the list – exactly what is typically found in processed foods. Saturated fat is a prime causative factor for inflammation (as is the resulting belly fat if too much is consumed).

Refined Sugar. Unfortunately this is also a big no no if you are trying to combat inflammation. This would be among the biggest foods to avoid.

Soybean and Vegetable Oil. Soybean oil can catch some people out because it sounds healthy. Bewarned though – it is packed with dangerous inflammatory trans fats.

Processed Meats. Ham in particular, but also chicken roll, turkey roll etc

Sugary Drinks. One of the largest sources of refined sugar – not just in your cokes/ fantas, but also some fruit juices can be really high in refined sugar.

Process Snack Foods. Crisps, Crackers etc. All will have most likely been cooked in vegetable oil and therefore be extremely high in saturated fats.

White Bread/ White Pasta. The carbohydrates alone have been heavily linked with promoting inflammation and weakening your bodies’ response without consideration that bread was originally designed to ‘fatten up’ people that could barely afford to feed themselves in generations gone by.

Now with many countries enjoying a food surplus, bread continues to be consumed for it’s practical and taste benefits, ignoring the high fat content.

Excess Alcohol. Like most healthy foods, they are still only good for you in moderation. While red wine contains many anti-inflammatory quantities, to much of it and the excess sugar you are consuming will reverse the benefits.

Gluten. Gluten provides no essential nutrients at all, while a lot of people have some degree of gluten sensitivity. This reaction may not be enough to prevent people without a serious reaction from consuming gluten in bread/ pizzas etc, but several studies have shown people on a gluten-free diet had less inflammation, caused by a lack of irritation.

This ultimately lead to less pain, even in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Deserts. Ice Cream, Candy or Sweet Biscuits. Of course they would be included – as the saying goes, ‘anything that is nice, cant be good for you’.

Sadly, it’s the same inflammation-causing candidates at work here – high trans fats and tons of sugar that make our favourite sweet treats a real miss if you want to have a chance of success from following an anti-inflammatory diet plan.

Dairy. Extremely high in saturated fats make most cheeses/ milks etc not a good idea if you suffer with an inflammatory condition

Other Anti-Inflammatory Diet Tips

Too much inflammation is typically a sign that your body is not coping well with controlling some it’s own functions. This may be for a variety of reasons, but in any circumstance, creating a healthier, stronger body will only help to give your internal system a better chance of regulating it’s inflammatory response.

It is therefore the case that general health is important to inflammation as well. This means drinking plenty of water, not over-eating (even on the good foods) and getting a reasonable amount of sleep and exercising when possible – are also all key to getting your inflammation under control.

Reducing Stress…

Stress is also a major causative factor in inflammation, so while we discuss at length the best diet, it is important to recognise that diet alone will not change your world if other areas are broken. Dealing with your stress through whatever means necessary has been found to reduce inflammatory levels.

And finally smoking – it’s up there with a ‘don’t do’ on almost every chronic pain, but it’s a factor for sound scientific reason.

Researchers now believe that one of the most likely types of white blood cells to turn against the body is called the ‘neutrophil’. Smoking actually activates these white blood cells that ultimately attack your own body and cause the inflammation.

Let’s not forget – inflammation in control is not a bad thing as it’s your bodies natural response to aid healing. It is the level of inflammation and when it gets out of control, that we need to seek to guard against.

The Final Word – Will An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Plan Actually Work?

For once the answer is simple – yes. But how far it works depends on many factors and it is certainly not a magic cure. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet has been proven to reduce inflammation. For that reason, it is even often recommended alongside other advice for treating rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most severe inflammatory diseases.

But it wont stop inflammation overnight – it will take a while for the nutrients, minerals and antioxidants in your new, improved diet to make a real impact on the inflammation and ultimately your pain.

There are also other factors in reducing your inflammation levels. Most of these are related to becoming more healthy. However it does make sense that if chronic inflammation is the result of your body struggling to contain it’s own response system, then the stronger you make your body, the better chance it has of getting the inflammation under control.

Hopefully the choices above have given you a good starting point for the foods that you can and can not consume on an anti inflammatory diet plan. We wish you luck – please comment below if you have an anti inflammatory diet and if it worked for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Absolutely. A study conducted in 2017 actively found that eating animal products increased inflammation in the human body. However, that is not to say that you have to turn vegan to achieve the same result.

Some animal products such as oily fish are also really good for reducing inflammation. Even eggs and free-range chickens have some benefits for reducing inflammation because of their protein-rich and low-fat properties.

Supplements alone are never the right course of action as they don’t offer a balanced intake. However, in certain circumstances they do have a place, so I’ve outlined the most useful substances minerals found in various supplements for controlling inflation below –

  • Boron
  • Selenium
  • Manganese
  • Zinc
  • Copper

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References –

1.Palanisamy Arulselvan, Masoumeh Tangestani Fard, Woan Sean Tan, Sivapragasam Gothai, Sharida Fakurazi, Mohd Esa Norhaizan, and S. Suresh Kumar (2016) ‘Role of Antioxidants and Natural Products in Inflammation’. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Volume 2016

2. Alexandros Tsoupras, Ronan Lordan and Ioannis Zabetakis (May 2018) ‘Inflammation, not Cholesterol, Is a Cause of Chronic Disease’. Nutrition Journal 

3. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7378/hair-loss-my-battle-with-alopecia.html

4. Ana Carolina Franco-de-Moraes, Bianca de Almeida-Pititto, Gabriel da Rocha Fernandes, Everton Padilha Gomes, Alexandre da Costa Pereira and Sandra Roberta G. Ferreira (2017) ‘Worse inflammatory profile in omnivores than in vegetarians associates with the gut microbiota composition’ US National Library of Medicine

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