Anti-Inflammatory Foods & Reducing Stress

Pittsburgh Dietitian Blog Posts
October 31, 2022

Written by: Ava Elliott, Marketing Intern and Future Dietitian

Reviewed by: Devon Kroesché, MS, RDN, LDN

I often hear others around me express stress whether involving schoolwork, a job, or personal matters. I get it. I get stressed out too, but how can we reduce daily stressors to prevent our bodies from initiating an innate inflammatory response? I will highlight examples of anti-inflammatory foods and lifestyle changes that can help you reduce stress and inflammation in your life.

First, let’s discuss the inflammatory process that occurs in our bodies. When there is an inflammatory response caused by cell injury, the body sends immune cells to the site of infection/trauma to clear it. The immune cells help return the affected site back to normal and reduce local inflammation. Anti-inflammatory substances released are part of a healthy immune response.

Do you know the difference between acute vs chronic inflammation? Acute inflammation occurs for minutes to hours and is involved with things like wound healing. Chronic inflammation occurs for weeks to months, and sometimes years. It can occur in diseases like rheumatic disorders, autoimmune diseases, and other chronic illnesses. Our bodies are not built to deal with chronic inflammation. Long term, chronic stress can suppress the immune system and lead to complications. By adding anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, you can counteract inflammation.

Nutrition and lifestyle can help reduce inflammation and lessen symptoms. Many phytonutrients and other micronutrients have anti-inflammatory properties. Phytonutrients also have antioxidant properties that help reduce oxidative stress. This reaction is important because damage from oxidative stress can lead to chronic diseases and cause damage to cells. Antioxidants act as a safety net from this damage.

  • Examples of anti-inflammatory nutrients include:
  • Curcumin (in turmeric) and black pepper combined
  • Polyphenols in green tea, blueberries, and capsicum peppers
  • Carotenoids:
  • Lycopene in tomatoes, peaches, watermelon
  • Beta-carotene in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli
  • Astaxanthin in salmon, algae, shrimp
  • Omega 3 fatty acids in foods like olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish (like salmon and tuna), flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, fortified foods
  • Some herbs and spices like garlic, cinnamon, rosemary, sage, thyme

As you can see, there are many plant foods that contain phytonutrients that can be beneficial for our bodies and help reduce inflammation. Following a dietary pattern high in fruits and vegetables, eating legumes, sources of omega-3s, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, whole grains, and minimal alcohol consumption can provide our bodies with the essential nutrients it needs. The Institue of Functional Medicine has a great resource of foods rich in phytonutrients displayed by eating a “rainbow.”

As far as lifestyle habits to reduce stress and inflammation, it is important to practice mindfulness, exercise, spend time outdoors, avoid processed foods, drink water, and eat a variety of nutrients (especially fruits and veggies). Other important factors include getting adequate sleep, avoiding foods if you have an allergy/intolerance, and reducing oxidative stress (limit toxins, smoking, and eat your anti-inflammatory foods). If you want to speak with a registered dietitian about incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods and practices into your lifestyle, please email

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