The Best Anti Inflammatory Diet For Chronic Pain, Arthritis And Immune Disorders

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The Best Anti Inflammatory Diet For Chronic Pain And Arthritis
The Best Anti Inflammatory Diet For Chronic Pain And Arthritis Graphic © Photo © AdobeStock 60704690 (under license)

You might not immediately think of inflammation as a cause of illness. We typically associate inflammation with injuries; such as a sprain where your joint swells up, or a scrape that causes skin to become red and irritated. However, inflammation is a critical component of a variety of serious health conditions, including obesity and autoimmune diseases.

Inflammation In The Body

Acute inflammation occurs when your body is injured or damaged, and your body sends inflammatory cells (also known as leukocytes or white blood cells) to the area to start the healing process. [1] This is a normal reaction of the body.

However, what isn’t normal is chronic inflammation, which is typically caused by an autoimmune disorder – where your body’s immune system continually produces an inflammatory response even in the absence of an injury or infection. Autoimmune disorders happen when your immune systems starts attacking your healthy cells. Here is a list of autoimmune disorders you may be familiar with:

– Rheumatoid arthritis
– Psoriasis
– Ankylosing spondylitis
– Inflammatory bowel disease
– Thyroiditis
– Type 1 Diabetes
– Multiple sclerosis

There are two important conditions you might not think are association with inflammation: fibromyalgia and obesity. The first, fibromyalgia, is a condition characterized by generalized pain all over the body. This can cause sleeping problems and fatigue, which often lead to emotional and mental distress. [2] While the underlying cause for fibromyalgia is still unknown, Sulka and Clauw report that systemic inflammation of the nervous system could be a major contributing factor. [3]

Unlike fibromyalgia which is caused by inflammation, obesity belongs to the other end of the spectrum, where it causes inflammation. Different studies have focused on the effects of obesity, or specifically, adipose tissue on inflammation in the body. Scientific research on systemic inflammation in the body has how linked it to the continuous remodeling of adipose tissue, which releases cytokines (which in turn stimulates the immune system and inflammation). [4][5]

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet In Ten Simple Steps

One of the most (if not the most) important methods you can use to control inflammation in the body is diet. Here is the anti-inflammatory diet in 10 simple steps:

1. Avoid White Bread, White Flour, And Gluten:

White bread and white flour are some of the biggest sources of carbohydrates in your diet. But how are carbohydrates linked to inflammation? According to Barrea, et. al. in 2018, the sustained elevation in blood glucose (or blood sugar) after eating carbohydrates contributes to chronic, low-grade inflammation in the body. While acute elevations of blood sugar also cause inflammation, it is chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) that contributes largely to the pro-inflammatory state. [6] This means that long-term dietary adjustments must be done in order to combat inflammation, not occasional dieting.

Gluten on the other hand, is a protein (though it does contain carbs). Inherently, gluten does not cause inflammation directly but people who are sensitive to gluten and experience symptoms like joint and muscle pain are at risk for developing systemic inflammation. Losurdo, et. al. reports that non-celiac gluten sensitivity or NCGS could potentially be caused by gluten triggering the body’s innate immunity and inflammatory response, causing symptoms similar to an auto-immune disorder. [7]

Dr. Furla recommends including food items made with almond, oats, brown rice, corn, tapioca, or cassava flours in place of those made with wheat flour.

2. Avoid White Sugar And Artificial Sweeteners:

Avoid white sugar for the same reason you should avoid white flour: post-prandial hyperglycemia, aka blood sugar spikes. As previously mentioned, intake of table sugar can increase for risk for systemic inflammation through hyperglycemia. [6] Instead, opt for home-made, sugar-free jams and fresh fruit. Naturally occurring glucose in fruits, vegetables, and milk is a better alternative to artificial sweeteners, which are known to alter the gut microbiome, increasing the risk for glucose intolerance, chronic hyperglycemia and eventual diabetes. [8]

3. Avoid Soda / Soft Drinks:

Cutting down your glucose intake means cutting down on your intake of soda and similar beverages which include added sugars, syrups and artificial sweeteners. According to the USDA, one 12 ounce-can of cream soda contains over 49 grams of sugar while regular cola contains about 36 grams. [9][10] Opt for water, unsweetened tea, fresh fruit, and fruit smoothies if you’re craving a cold drink or snack.

4. Avoid Processed Food:

The intake of processed foods has long been linked to chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes because of the high sodium and sugar content, not to mention the various chemicals and preservatives that are used in the process of extending their shelf life. [11] However, a recent study published in August 2021 linked the consumption of highly processed food to systemic inflammation, reflected in the body’s intestinal markers. [12] Instead of canned or frozen meat, use raw or fresh meat, poultry, vegetables, and fruits to make your meals.

5. No Trans Fats And Hydrogenated Oils:

The fifth item on this list is linked to processed food – specifically trans fats or trans fatty acids found in processed food. Trans fats are typically found in items like frozen pizza, boxed baked goods, and the like. Various studies have reported that high fat intake increases your risk for heart disease, specifically intake of trans fat and saturated fat. [13] This can be linked to inflammation as a diet high in trans fat raises LDL (low-density lipoprotein, the bad kind of cholesterol) levels, which can damage the walls of the blood vessels and cause the release of cytokines, resulting in inflammation. [14][15] Instead of using margarine or shortening, use extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, or even walnut or almond oil instead. These kinds of oils are rich on omega-3 fatty acids, which can prevent heart disease. [16]

6. Reduce Red Meat Intake:

It may be beneficial to limit your meat intake – not completely remove it from your diet – to 1 to 2 meals per week. Red meat is rich in saturated fats, which, like trans fats, raise your LDL levels and cause inflammation in the blood vessels. [14][15] Another study in 2018 suggested that red meat intake could cause inflammation because of the presence of sialic sugar acid, which can trigger the body’s immune response. [17] Instead, use beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole grains like quinoa, bulgur, brown rice, and even oatmeal in your diet. Spinach, kale, and other leafy green vegetables are valuable inclusions for your meals as well.

7. Limit Your Alcohol Intake:

Alcohol does not need to be eliminated completely from your diet, but limiting your alcohol intake could also reduce your risk for inflammation. Alcoholic beverages like beer and cocktails are high in calories, which contribute to weight gain and obesity, which is known to cause inflammation. [4][5] According to Bishehsari, alcohol intake and its metabolites promotes inflammation in the intestine and other organs, causing alcohol-induced organ inflammation and damage. [18] Sweetened cocktails and beer would be better substituted with a glass of red wine instead.

8. Limit Your Coffee Intake:

This might be controversial for the coffee lover, but limiting your coffee intake, in particular if you drink coffee with a lot of cream and sugar, can be healthier in the long run. Coffee itself is rich in polyphenols or antioxidants and could actually reduce inflammation but cream and sugar which raises blood sugar levels does the opposite. If you have to drink coffee, drink it black and skip out on the additives. [8] Better yet, have green or black tea instead.

9. Avoid Processed / Packaged Snacks:

Instead of processed or packaged snacks like cookies and crackers in boxes and tins, opt for nuts, fruits, and vegetables instead. Processed snacks, like processed meats, are high in sodium and sugar, which causes systemic inflammation. They are also high in trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol levels and damage your blood vessels (leading to inflammation). [12][14][15] After you do your grocery shopping, prepare these healthy snacks in ready containers in your pantry or refrigerator for snacking.

10. “Plan, Shop, Cook, And Eat” Instead Of Unplanned Snacking:

Here are some final tips on meal planning:

• Plan your meals: Planning your grocery list in advance can help cut out the tendency to buy canned goods and processed snacks in the store.
• Shop regularly: Shop weekly if possible, so you can use fresh meat, poultry, fruits, and vegetables in preparing your meals and snacks.
• Cook daily or weekly: Meal preparation ahead of time is a great way to avoid opting for processed food or take-out.
• Take time to eat healthy meals with your family or friends.


[1] Cleveland Clinic. Inflammation.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fibromyalgia.

[3] Sluka, K. & Clauw, D. (2016). Neurobiology of fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain.

[4] Kawai, T., et. al. (2021). Adipose tissue inflammation and metabolic dysfunction in obesity.

[5] Izaola, O., et. al. (2015). [Inflammation and obesity (lipoinflammation)].

[6] Barrea, L., et. al. (2018). Source and amount of carbohydrate in the diet and inflammation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

[7] Losurdo, G., et. al. (2018). Extra-intestinal manifestations of non-celiac gluten sensitivity: An expanding paradigm.

[8] Suez, J., et. al. (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.

[9] USDA. Carbonated beverage, cream soda.

[10] USDA. Carbonated beverage, cola, regular.

[11] Juul, F., et. al. (2021). Ultra-processed Foods and Cardiovascular Diseases: Potential Mechanisms of Action.

[12] Um, C., et. al. (2021). Association of Emulsifier and Highly Processed Food Intake with Circulating Markers of Intestinal Permeability and Inflammation in the Cancer Prevention Study-3 Diet Assessment Sub-Study.

[13] Willet, J. (2012). Dietary fats and coronary heart disease.

[14] Clifton, P. & Keogh, J. (2017). A systematic review of the effect of dietary saturated and polyunsaturated fat on heart disease.

[15] Ganjali, S., et. al. (2018). Monocyte-to-HDL-cholesterol ratio as a prognostic marker in cardiovascular diseases.

[16] Abdelhamid, A., et. al. (2018). Omega-3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

[17] Turesky, R. (2018). Mechanistic Evidence for Red Meat and Processed Meat Intake and Cancer Risk: A Follow-up on the International Agency for Research on Cancer Evaluation of 2015.

[18] Bishehsari, F., et. al. (2017). Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation.

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