Inflammation is the body’s normal, healthy response to injury. Acute, or short-term, inflammation occurs when your white blood cells protect you from intruders — like splinters, bacteria, and viruses — to prevent infection. But when inflammation becomes chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time, it can increase the risk of long-term illness. Some conditions linked to chronic inflammation include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help seniors ward off illnesses related to chronic inflammation. In fact, it’s a key part of successful aging, according to a 10-year study of more than 3,000 adults conducted by the University of Barcelona in Spain. Since they’re highly recommended by geriatric dietitians, anti-inflammatory foods are often served in assisted living and other senior living communities.
Learn the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet, the 18 best anti-inflammatory foods, and easy ways for seniors to create new healthy eating habits.
6 healthy eating tips for an anti-inflammatory diet
An anti-inflammatory diet may not be what comes to mind when you hear the word “diet” — it isn’t about quick weight loss or trendy ingredients. It’s about small changes and embracing certain healthy foods. That means eating to lower inflammation doesn’t have to be difficult.
Here are some simple rules of thumb for anti-inflammatory eating:
- Enjoy a variety of plants
Many plant-based foods have anti-inflammatory nutrients your body needs. Eat a rainbow of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as the basis of any healthy diet.
- Add in antioxidants
A diet heavy in antioxidant-rich foods can help protect the body from “free radicals” that can prompt inflammation. Antioxidants are found in colorful fruits and vegetables like leafy greens, berries, avocados, beans, and whole grains. Plants like green tea, chili peppers, and ginger also boast high antioxidants.
- Get your omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids have enormous benefits for your body and brain, including the regulation of inflammatory processes. You can get your omega-3s from fish and high-fat plants, like walnuts, algae, and flax. Going for a fancy meal? Delicacies like caviar and oysters also contain high levels of omega-3s.
- Eat less red meat
Occasional red meat is OK, but avoid a pattern of daily burgers or steaks. Try replacing beef with chicken, fish, or vegetable-based protein a few times a week.
- Try high-fiber, unprocessed carbs
Good news for bread lovers! Contrary to some popular weight-loss diets, carbs aren’t actually bad for you. For anti-inflammatory benefits, replace your white bread and rice with seeded, whole-wheat bread and ancient grains.
- Cut “bad for you” foods
These are the obvious ones: deep-fried foods, sugary drinks and snacks, and ultra-processed packaged foods. Fried foods contain unhealthy fats that are linked to inflammation, heart disease, and obesity.
18 anti-inflammatory foods
Scientists continue to learn about the long-term effects of anti-inflammatory foods on our bodies, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Based on research to date, it appears that eating a variety of nutritious foods may help prevent chronic inflammation, or keep it in check.
That said, an anti-inflammatory diet for elderly loved ones isn’t a magic cure-all, and it shouldn’t take the place of prescribed anti-inflammatory medicines and treatments. If you have an underlying medical condition, ask a doctor before making dietary changes.
Adding these foods to a healthy lifestyle may reduce pain and the likelihood of chronic inflammation:
- Whole grains are high in fiber, which is associated with fewer signs of inflammation
- Berries and tart cherries contain healthy polyphenols and anthocyanins, and are high in antioxidants
- Olive oil is a heart-healthy, plant-based fat that’s versatile. Monosaturated fats, which also include safflower, sunflower, canola, peanut, and avocado oils, are good replacements for butter, shortening, and processed corn oil, according to AND
- Cruciferous vegetables are a family of veggies — including kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage — that contains antioxidants
- Fatty fish like salmon and sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids with significant anti-inflammatory properties
- Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce inflammation in the lungs and elsewhere in the body
- Peppers contain antioxidants and vitamin C. They also contain capsaicin, a chemical linked to lowering inflammation
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collards offer an abundance of healthy compounds including vitamin E, calcium, iron, and phytochemicals that may help fight inflammation
- Apples, like most other fruits, contain healthy phytonutrients to help protect against age-related diseases
- Nuts are versatile, healthy sources of fat and protein. Walnuts contain omega-3s, almonds and macadamias contain oleic acid, and nearly all nuts contain antioxidants — key ingredients in helping the body fight inflammation, studies suggest. Try tossing nuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds into salads for extra omega-3s
- Alliums, like garlic and onions, contain anti-inflammatory chemicals like the antioxidant quercetin, which naturally inhibits histamine
- Ginger and turmeric are two of many spices with anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric contains curcumin, a particularly potent anti-inflammatory compound
- Carrots are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which may help reduce free radicals in the body
- Beets are a year-round colorful vegetable with ample fiber, vitamin C, and phytonutrients
- Winter squashes, like the sweet butternut squash or the nutty acorn squash, contain plenty of the antioxidant beta-carotene
- Beans contain vegetable protein as well as fiber, so they’re important for people who avoid animal products
- Sweet potatoes are a healthy carbohydrate full of fiber, antioxidants, and beta-carotene
- Tea contains phytonutrients and flavonoids, which research suggests help reduce inflammation. White, green, and oolong teas are particularly good choices
6 foods that cause inflammation
Avoid or limit these inflammatory foods in your new diet:
- Refined carbohydrates, like sugary desserts, white bread, or crackers
- Fried foods, like french fries, fried meats, and battered vegetables
- Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, tea, and juices
- Red meat, like burgers and steaks, and processed meat like hot dogs and sausage
- Unhealthy fats, including saturated or trans fats like margarine, lard, and shortening
- Excess alcohol over medically recommended amounts (up to one drink a day for women and two a day for men, according to the CDC)
Diets vs. foods: easy, tasty healthy eating tips
Food is a comforting constant for seniors: Some cooks have made the same signature dishes for decades (Hello, fried chicken and tuna casserole). Drastically changing a long-term diet can be difficult — to say the least.
Ease yourself or your loved one into healthy habits with these healthy, anti-inflammatory updates to classic foods and cooking styles.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Can Diet Help With Inflammation?” https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/can-diet-help-with-inflammation
Harvard Health Publishing. “Foods That Fight Inflammation.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
Mayo Clinic. “How to Use Food to Help Your Body Fight Inflammation.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-use-food-to-help-your-body-fight-inflammation/art-20457586
Arthritis Foundation. “12 Best Foods for Arthritis.” https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/healthy-eating/12-best-foods-for-arthritis