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Master the Anti Inflammatory Diet for Autoimmune Disease

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Fight inflammation & boost healing with an anti-inflammatory diet! I’m sharing my best tips & dietary must-haves for following an anti-inflammatory diet to reverse autoimmunity.

Plate full of colorful anti-inflammatory foods including vegetables, fruits, and nuts

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Whenever considering an anti inflammatory diet to support healing, I always say we need to understand how inflammation in the body works in the first place. You may remember having a cut, sprain, or a sore throat. The area feels painful and hot, and looks red and swollen. These are telltale signs of inflammation. Inflammation is a natural and essential process that your body uses to defend itself from infections and heal injured cells and tissues.

Inflammation is sometimes compared to a fire. It produces specific biochemicals that can destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses, increase blood flow to areas that need it, and clean up debris. It can be a good thing. But, sometimes it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. In that case, an anti inflammatory diet can be used to support healing. 

Before we talk about the power that certain dietary and lifestyle habits can have on inflammation, let’s sort out the two different types of inflammation.


There are two kinds of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s like a flaming fire that produces the painful, red, hot, swollen symptoms described above. When inflammation is acute it’s usually at high levels in a small localized area in response to an infection or some kind of damage to the body. It’s necessary for proper healing and injury repair.

When your cells detect an infection or damage they send out warning signals to call over your immune system to help out. Your immune system sends over many types of white blood cells to help fight off invading germs such as bacteria, viruses, and pathogens, and cleans up the damage so you can heal.

Symptoms of acute inflammation may need short-term treatment such as pain relievers or cold compresses. More serious symptoms like fever, severe pain, or shortness of breath may need medical attention. In general, acute inflammation goes away after the damage is healed, often within days or even hours. Acute inflammation is the “good” kind of inflammation because it does an essential job and then quiets itself down.

Chronic inflammation is different. It’s more of the slow-burning and smoldering type of fire. This type of inflammation can exist throughout your whole body at lower levels. This means that the symptoms aren’t localized to one particular area that needs it. Instead, they can appear gradually, and can last much longer—months or even years. This is the “bad” kind of inflammation.


Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:

  • Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, hashimotos, multiple sclerosis, lupus, etc.)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Lung diseases (emphysema)
  • Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
  • Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)
  • Weight Loss Resistance/Obesity 

How does chronic inflammation begin? It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight.

Here are the main drivers of inflammation in leaky gut and autoimmune conditions: 

  • Toxins 
  • Infections 
  • Physiological stress 
  • Allergens
  • Injury
  • Poor diet
  • Dysglycemia 
  • Gut microbiome imbalance
  • Nutrient deficiencies 
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Medications 

Several lab tests can indicate inflammation in the body, helping to diagnose and monitor various conditions relating to inflammation. These tests measure different markers in the blood associated with the inflammatory process. 

lab tests that detect inflammation

Here are some of the most commonly used inflammatory markers and tests:

C-Reactive Protein (CRP):

CRP levels increase in response to inflammation. High-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) tests can detect lower levels of the protein, making them useful for assessing the risk of cardiovascular disease alongside other inflammatory conditions.

Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR):

Also known as the sed rate, this test measures how quickly red blood cells settle at the bottom of a test tube. A faster-than-normal rate may indicate inflammation in the body, although ESR can be affected by other factors besides inflammation.


While not a direct marker of inflammation like CRP or ESR, high homocysteine levels can contribute to endothelial damage, which is the inner lining of blood vessels, leading to an inflammatory response in the vascular system. Elevated homocysteine levels might be influenced by dietary factors, vitamin deficiencies (notably B6, B12, and folate), genetic factors, and certain medications. 


This blood clotting protein can also act as an acute-phase reactant, meaning its levels rise in response to inflammation. Elevated fibrinogen levels can suggest an inflammatory state.

Complete Blood Count (CBC):

While a CBC is a broad test used to check for various conditions, certain findings, such as an increased white blood cell count, can suggest the presence of inflammation or infection.

Plasma Viscosity:

This test measures the thickness of the blood. Thicker blood can indicate inflammation, but this test is less commonly used than CRP or ESR.

Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha):

TNF-alpha is a cytokine involved in systemic inflammation. Measuring levels of TNF-alpha can help assess inflammation, particularly in autoimmune diseases.

Interleukins (ILs):

Interleukins are a group of cytokines that play varied roles in inflammation. Specific interleukins, like IL-6, can be measured to assess inflammatory activity.

These tests can provide valuable information about the presence and intensity of inflammation in the body. However, it’s important to note that these markers can be elevated due to various reasons, not just inflammation. Therefore, results must be interpreted within the context of the individual’s overall clinical picture, symptoms, and other diagnostic findings.

Functional Lab Test Panel for Women

Inflammation and autoimmunity are closely interlinked within the body’s complex immune response system. At its core, inflammation is the body’s natural defense mechanism against perceived threats, such as infections or injuries. However, in autoimmune diseases, this well-intended inflammatory response becomes misguided, with the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own healthy tissues. 

This activity leads to chronic inflammation, which is a hallmark of various autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimotos. The sustained inflammation not only causes damage to tissues and organs but also perpetuates a cycle of immune dysregulation that can lead to autoimmune disease progression.

An anti inflammatory diet serves as a powerful strategy in managing and mitigating the impacts of autoimmunity. By eating more anti inflammatory foods, individuals may not only reduce the severity of inflammation but also address some underlying triggers of autoimmunity, promoting a more balanced and regulated immune function.


The connection between leaky gut and inflammation is a topic of increasing interest as research continues to uncover the intricate relationship between gut health and systemic inflammation.

Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, occurs when the tight junctions in the intestinal lining become compromised, allowing substances such as toxins, undigested food particles, and bacteria to “leak” into the bloodstream. This breach in the intestinal barrier can trigger an immune response, leading to systemic inflammation as the body attempts to neutralize and remove these foreign invaders.

The role of inflammation in response to a leaky gut is a protective mechanism gone awry. Normally, the gut’s lining acts as a selective barrier and gate, controlling what enters the bloodstream while keeping out harmful substances. When this barrier is disrupted, the immune system recognizes the leaked substances as threats, initiating an inflammatory response. Chronic activation of this response due to persistent leaking can lead to systemic inflammation. This ongoing inflammatory process can contribute to a host of health issues, including autoimmune diseases.

This is the main reason why addressing leaky gut is a critical step in managing inflammation and its related conditions at the root cause level. Healing the gut not only helps to mitigate the direct causes of inflammation stemming from the leaky gut itself but also supports overall immune function and well-being, which supports overall health! 

Now that we see the main triggers of inflammation and that inflammation underlies so many medical conditions, including leaky gut and autoimmunity, here’s what we can do to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires.

steps to reduce inflammation

Studies show that reducing inflammation by eating an anti inflammatory diet can reduce the risk of several of the conditions and symptoms we discussed above. While certain conditions may warrant medication to help lower inflammation such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics, there are several diet and lifestyle changes that can help to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body.

“For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy anti inflammatory diet and lifestyle. Here’s how in 5 steps.


Our diet plays a pivotal role in either increasing or decreasing inflammation throughout the body. Just as certain foods can act as soothing balm and reduce inflammation, others can fan the flames, exacerbating inflammation and contributing to a host of health issues. Understanding which foods to reduce can help empower us to make informed choices, turning our meals into powerful allies in the fight against inflammation. 

These are the main foods that can increase inflammation that you should avoid when switching to an anti inflammatory diet: 

Processed and Refined Foods:

At the top of the list are processed and refined foods. These include items such as packaged snacks, fast food, lunch meat, processed meat, white bread, and pastries. These often contain unhealthy levels of added sugars and refined grains, which can spike blood sugar and insulin levels, fostering a pro-inflammatory environment in the body. Additionally, the preservatives and additives found in processed foods can disrupt the gut microbiome, further contributing to inflammation.

Trans Fats:

Trans fats are recognized for their inflammatory effects and are increasingly being phased out of the food supply. These can still be found in fried foods, margarine, and baked goods. 

Conventional Dairy:

Conventional dairy products can trigger fat tissue inflammation, which is not just problematic for cardiovascular health but can also exacerbate inflammation throughout the body.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids:

While omega-6 fatty acids are essential to the diet, an imbalance between omega-6s and omega-3s can lead to inflammation. The modern diet tends to be heavily skewed towards omega-6s and PUFAS (polyunsaturated fatty acids), found in many nuts, seeds, industrial seed oils such as vegetable, corn, and soybean oil, which are staples in processed foods. This imbalance promotes the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. 

Sugar and High-Fructose Corn Syrup:

Consumption of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is a hallmark of many diets and is a significant driver of inflammation. Found in soft drinks, sweetened beverages, and a myriad of processed foods, these sweeteners can lead to obesity, insulin resistance, and inflammation, setting the stage for a range of metabolic and autoimmune diseases.


Alcohol is a known culprit in driving inflammation. It can damage liver cells and lead to a condition known as alcoholic liver disease, which is associated with increased inflammation not only in the liver but throughout the body.

Nightshade Vegetables:

While not universally inflammatory and often healthy for many people, nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes can trigger inflammation in individuals with specific sensitivities or autoimmune conditions.

Certain Grains:

While whole grains can be an essential part of a healthy diet, some individuals may find that certain grains, especially those containing gluten like wheat, barley, and rye, can trigger inflammatory responses. This is particularly relevant for those with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or other inflammatory bowel diseases.


Legumes, including beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are nutrient-dense foods packed with fiber, protein, and various vitamins and minerals. However, for some individuals, legumes can lead to inflammatory responses, particularly in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or sensitivities to certain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols). These short-chain carbohydrates can ferment in the gut, causing gas, bloating, and inflammation in sensitive individuals. Additionally, legumes contain lectins and phytic acid, compounds that can interfere with nutrient absorption and, in some cases, lead to inflammation and digestive issues.

Reducing or eliminating these inflammatory foods from one’s diet can lead to marked improvements in health, including decreased inflammation, fewer symptoms, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.


Food sensitivities involve the immune system but without an immediate and life-threatening response that food allergies do. Instead, food sensitivities might trigger a delayed immune response. Symptoms can be varied and since they can be delayed and less specific, identifying food sensitivities can be challenging and often requires elimination diets or specific testing. 

Food intolerances do not involve the immune system and primarily affects the digestive system and occurs when an individual has difficulty digesting a certain food. This can be due to a lack of specific enzymes needed to break down certain components in food. 

For example, lactose intolerance results from a deficiency in lactase, the enzyme required to digest lactose found in dairy products. Symptoms of food intolerance are generally less severe than food allergies and can include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. 

Another common food intolerance is gluten. The protein in gluten, called gliadin, is a problem for many and is typically hard to break down in individuals with autoimmune disorders due to molecular mimicry. Identifying a gluten intolerance can therefore be very beneficial in reducing inflammation. 

If you are eating foods that you are uniquely sensitive or intolerant to, this can drive inflammation in your gut and even systematically throughout your body leading to further imbalances. This is one of the reasons why I do the Leap MRT Food Sensitivity Test on clients because it helps to identify even healthy foods that someone can be reacting to. As a result, this can add fuel for autoimmunity to spiral and cause a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, and migraine headaches. 

We often see more food sensitivities and intolerances with a leaky gut. Once gut health is improved, food sensitivities and intolerances are improved. If you want to learn more about how to identify your unique food sensitivities, check out this article here


When it comes to an anti inflammatory diet, you will hear different dietary principles and suggestions based on who you ask. I specifically choose these anti inflammatory food groups based on research, experience, and to help support those with gut and autoimmune conditions. 

anti inflammatory foods to support autoimmune health

Choose a variety of colorful starchy and non starchy vegetables. Vegetables contain fiber which encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation. It is best to eat vegetables that are in season and local whenever possible and rotate the ones you are eating to increase nutrient diversity. 

In addition, I recommend cooking vegetables whenever possible instead of eating them raw to support leaky gut and autoimmunity. 

Examples: Broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, onions, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, jicama.


Fruits contain antioxidants that help scavenge free radicals and decrease inflammation. Choose fruits in season and rotate often. If fruit is out of season in your region (such as blueberries or strawberries), you can opt for frozen since they are likely packaged during peak season. 

Examples: Berries, melons, grapes, pineapple, citrus, papaya, apples, pears.  

Meat & Poultry:

Depending on who you ask, some nutrition experts will tell you to avoid meat high in saturated fat in an anti inflammatory diet. This is outdated advice and not the case if you are choosing high quality red meat that is organic, grass fed, and grass finished. It can be difficult to find meats that check all those boxes and for that reason, red meat can be inflammatory since the cow can be eating a grain based diet high in omega 6’s and grass that is chemically treated. 

Tip: Check out Farm Match for a quick zip code search to find a local farm in your area who sells high quality meat. 

In addition to meat, organic, pasture raised chicken is a great option for those eating an anti inflammatory diet! Vary your cuts of chicken and choose from thighs, breasts, drumsticks, etc. We can also plug pasture raised eggs into this category as well as part of an anti inflammatory diet. 

Examples: Grass fed and finished organic beef, pasture raised organic chicken, pasture raised organic eggs. 

Important note: Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures to support healthy inflammation since this will increase AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products)! AGEs are a significant factor in the aging process due to cellular damage and are associated with the development of many chronic diseases

Healthy Fats:

Not all fat is created equal! Many “healthy” fats can increase inflammation based on the cooking temperatures we are cooking them at. As an example, extra-virgin olive oil is a very healthy anti inflammatory fat, but when heated above 350 degrees, can increase inflammation in the body due to the toxins it produces. When it comes to cooking, I only recommend animal fats. 

Examples of animal fats: Organic pasture raised butter, ghee, beef tallow, duck fat 

For salads, smoothies, and other foods not cooked, you can vary other anti inflammatory oils and fats into your diet. 

Examples: Extra virgin olive oil, unrefined organic avocado oil, extra virgin expeller- pressed coconut oil, avocado, hemp seeds, olives 


Antioxidants are found in many foods such as herbs, spices, dark chocolate, fruits, and vegetables and support healthy inflammation levels. In addition to food based antioxidants, adding superfood powders is a great addition to an anti inflammatory diet as they contain more concentrated amounts of the fruit or vegetable to provide more antioxidants (such as beetroot powder or acai powder). 

Examples: Garlic, turmeric, beetroot powder, acerola cherry powder, ginger, green tea, dark chocolate 


Eating fish high in omega 3 fatty acids is an essential component to an anti inflammatory diet. Eating fish, such as wild caught salmon, 3-4 days per week can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation. 

Examples: Wild caught salmon, sardines, scallops, oysters 

Gluten Free Grains:

Typically grains such as organic quinoa, oats, and rice are encouraged on an anti inflammatory diet due to their B-vitamins and fiber. This is really going to come down to the individual though and should be added sparingly and on a case by case basis for those looking to support inflammation levels to heal leaky gut and reverse autoimmunity. 

This is something I like to customize for clients based on their unique chemistry and the status of their intestinal permeability, autoimmunity, etc. I teach a 4 phase process when it comes to diet and adding in grains is typically in the last phase when someone has successfully reversed autoimmunity. 


Its important not to neglect the importance of an anti inflammatory lifestyle in addition to an anti inflammatory diet. You can have the best diet possible, but if you are living a lifestyle that increases inflammation, it will be a lot harder for the diet to do what it can to help you heal. 

Here are just some of the lifestyle modification you can do to support healthy inflammation in the body: 

Be Physically Active

Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term, so try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day.

Try: 10,000 steps per day, 1 hour of pilates, 1 hour vinyasa or hot yoga, or 45 minutes of moderate biking. 

Get Enough Restful Sleep

Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair

Tips for better sleep: Try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screens an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing nighttime routine

Ditch the Toxins

Toxins, which can come from a variety of sources including environmental pollutants and chemicals, can significantly contribute to inflammation in the body through several mechanisms:

Oxidative Stress: This imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants damages cells, proteins, and DNA, leading to inflammation as the body attempts to repair this damage.

Activation of the Immune System: Toxins can trigger an immune response as the body recognizes them as foreign substances. This response involves the activation of various immune cells that release inflammatory mediators, such as cytokines and chemokines, leading to inflammation.

Endocrine Disruption: Some toxins act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with hormone functions. Hormones play a crucial role in regulating inflammation, and disruptions in hormonal balance can lead to inflammatory responses. 

Gut Microbiome Disruption: Toxins can alter the composition and function of the gut microbiome, which increases intestinal permeability and allows toxins and other inflammatory substances to enter the bloodstream more easily.

Direct Tissue Damage: Some toxins directly damage tissues and organs, prompting an inflammatory response as part of the body’s healing process. 

Mitigating the impact of toxins involves a combination of reducing exposure—such as choosing organic foods, using natural cleaning and personal care products, and avoiding polluted environments. For my list of healthy non toxic and safer items to support inflammation, check out my resources page for a curated list of swaps! 

Important note: Besides living a lower toxin life, supporting the body’s natural detoxification pathways helps to minimize the accumulation of toxins and their pro-inflammatory effects.

Quit Smoking And Limit Alcohol

Quitting smoking can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation. 

Limit your alcohol intake to no more than 3 drinks per week (or avoid it completely for best results)

Manage Your Stress

Stress is one of the biggest drivers of inflammation and can often be the hardest modification to support. Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi

Tip: Be social! New research suggests that feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones).

See Your Health Practitioner And Dentist

Get a full blood panel at least every 12 months to test your CBC, cholesterol, blood lipids linked to inflammation, homocysteine, CRP, etc. to monitor inflammation. 

If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist (preferably a biological or holistic dentist). 

Visual guide to foods to avoid and foods to embrace for reducing inflammation

Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues. The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by limiting to pro-inflammatory foods and focusing on adding in colorful fruits and vegetables, top quality meat and poultry, antioxidants, herbs and spices, gluten free whole grains, and fish to your diet. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, a lower toxin lifestyle, and stress management.

These changes can be integrated into your day-to-day practices. First try adding one additional fruit or vegetable to your day. Then, several times a day at each snack or meal. For inspiration, try recipes from my FREE meal plan here

If you’d like a plan designed to help you enjoy more of these anti inflammatory foods and customize a diet that is right for you, I would love to support you! I can help provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals as you navigate autoimmunity. Here is how you can learn more about my programs

Let me know in the comments below what foods you weren’t aware of when it comes to an anti inflammatory diet. I would love to hear from you! 

master the anti inflammatory diet

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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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