7 different ways to reduce inflammation through diet

Inflammation is a root cause of many chronic illnesses, but nutrition research is finding ever more ways to fight it.  This means that if one dietary approach isn’t compatible with your lifestyle or medical situation, then you can choose others.  Or you can do several approaches at once for an even stronger effect.  Here are some examples of different ways to fight inflammation:

  1. Eating higher quality foods:  The most straightforward way to reduce inflammation is to replace processed foods with more whole, nutritious foods (1).  Colorful whole plant foods are especially anti-inflammatory, which is one reason to “eat the rainbow” of fruits and veggies.  Less colorful superstars include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seeds, walnuts and cold water fatty fish, like Alaskan salmon or sardines.  There is a double benefit if you replace inflammatory foods, such as sweets, baked goods, anything fried, and processed vegetable oils (e.g., soybean, cottonseed, corn).
  2. Shrinking portions:  If you don’t what to change what you eat, another option is to eat smaller quantities.  This works because cutting calories by any means appears to reduce inflammation (2).  Many people can be satisfied on less food simply by eating more slowly, and avoiding distractions (like tv or work) during meals.  Chewing more and taking care to savor each bite also helps.  After about the 3rd bite, most people are on auto-pilot anyways, mindlessly eating until their plate is clean.  Of course, this approach only works if you can afford to lose some weight, but reducing caloric intake is one way to reduce inflammation.  
  3. Eating earlier:  A third option is finishing meals and snacks earlier in the day.  This works because blood sugar, insulin, metabolism and mast cells are typically more cooperative early in the day than at night (3, 4).  Finishing earlier often promotes better sleep and weight loss, too.
  4. Shrinking your daily time window for eating:  This is called Time-Restricted Feeding, and it’s gaining popularity.  For example, if you currently eat between 7am and 8pm every day, that’s a 13-hour window.  You could try shrinking your window to 11 hours, 8 hours, 6 hours, or whatever is realistic for you.  During the hours when you are not eating, the body becomes more sensitive to insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar and decreases inflammation (5).
  5. Fasting intermittently (5, 6, 7):  This strategy involves eating your normal foods and normal amounts, but skipping a meal or two every now and then, or having occasional days with reduced intake.  For example, one popular regimen involves eating normally 5 days per week, then limiting intake to perhaps only about 500-1000 calories on two days per week.  Anyone on medications should consult their doctor before skipping meals, since this may affect how your medication is absorbed.  
  6. Identifying and avoiding food allergies or intolerances (8):  An elimination diet can help you figure out which foods are triggering inflammation by setting off your immune system.  Wheat gluten and dairy are two examples of common culprits, but each person is different.  By removing offending foods, the immune system calms down, reducing inflammation.
  7. Avoiding toxin exposure in foods or food packaging:  Foods stored or heated in soft plastic can cause you to ingest chemicals that cause a variety of problems including immune system activation and hormone disruption (9, 10, 11).  Switching from plastic to glass containers, or stainless steel water bottles is a great investment.  Favoring glass jars over plastic-lined cans, or using dried beans instead of canned beans, can also reduce exposure to inflammatory chemicals.
Not every strategy will work for everyone, but hopefully you can find a couple that work for your body, brain, budget and lifestyle.  By doing more of the strategies you find most appealing, perhaps you can get results without having to do the ones you detest.  For example, I have a big appetite, so small quantities and skipped meals leave me feeling deprived.  I’d rather keep up the larger quantities, and work harder at choosing unprocessed, higher-quality foods, and eating them earlier in the day. 
We can also combine strategies.  Some of us with extremely severe inflammatory conditions may need to do many of these approaches at once.  But hopefully this gives you a framework for thinking about how you can make the most painless and maintainable changes for your health improvement. 


  1. Harvard Medical School, Foods That Fight Inflammation, accessed on July 7, 2020 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

  2. Rettner, R.  Cutting Calories Can Lower Inflammation.  Livescience, 2016, accessed on July 20, 2020 from https://www.livescience.com/55425-calorie-restriction-inflammation.html.

  3. Sutton EF, Beyl R, Early KS, Cefalu WT, Ravussin E, Peterson CM. Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes. Cell Metab. 2018;27(6):1212-1221.e3. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2018.04.010.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5990470/

  4. Crist P, Sowa AS, Froy O, Lorentz A. The Circadian Clock Drives Mast Cell Functions in Allergic Reactions. Front Immunol. 2018;9:1526. Published 2018 Jul 6. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2018.01526. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6043637/

  5. How intermittent fasting can help lower inflammation.  Healthline.com, accessed July 7, 2020 from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/fasting-can-help-ease-inflammation-in-the-body#What-researchers-discovered.

  6. Tello, M. Intermittent Fasting: Surprising update. Harvard Medical School, accessed on July 7, 2020 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156

  7. Fasting:  Jordan et al., 2019, Cell 178, 1102–1114, August 22, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2019.07.050  

  8. Tuck CJ, Biesiekierski JR, Schmid-Grendelmeier P, Pohl D. Food Intolerances. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1684. Published 2019 Jul 22. doi:10.3390/nu11071684https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6682924/pdf/nutrients-11-01684.pdf

  9. Cimmino I, Oriente F, D'Esposito V, et al. Low-dose Bisphenol-A regulates inflammatory cytokines through GPR30 in mammary adipose cells. J Mol Endocrinol. 2019;63(4):273-283. doi:10.1530/JME-18-0265.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31546233/

  10. Kharrazian D. The Potential Roles of Bisphenol A (BPA) Pathogenesis in Autoimmunity. Autoimmune Dis. 2014;2014:743616. doi:10.1155/2014/743616.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24804084/

  11. Rosenmai AK, Dybdahl M, Pedersen M, et al. Are structural analogues to bisphenol a safe alternatives?. Toxicol Sci. 2014;139(1):35-47. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfu030.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24563381/.