Gut Health

What is an anti-inflammatory gut healing diet?

June 17, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Certain foods can cause inflammation and irritate your gut, including those with IBS and IBD.
  • You can reduce inflammation through diet. 
  • The Mediterranean and DASH diets are the two leading anti-inflammatory diet options. 

If you've been dealing with inflammation, you know how uncomfortable it can be. With both inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, inflammation can arise, leading to bloating, discomfort, and other digestive issues.

An anti-inflammatory diet can benefit almost anyone. But how exactly does diet reduce inflammation? What should you eat? Let's talk about anti-inflammatory diets and how they can help heal your gut.

How does food cause inflammation?

Your gut is a complicated system of microbes and bacteria. When these bacteria get imbalanced with too much "bad" bacteria, inflammation can result.

There aren't inherently inflammatory foods, per se, but certain foods can result in inflammation for certain people. A food allergy or sensitivity, for example, is likely to trigger inflammation.

Irritable bowel syndrome, a generic diagnosis covering general gastrointestinal disorders like bloating, abdominal pain, and altered bowel habits, is associated with inflammation in the mucosal layer of the intestine. This inflammation can have a variety of effects, including systemic inflammation throughout the body as a result of gastroenteritis, as well as neuroinflammation via the gut-brain axis.

IBS also overlaps substantially with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is characterized by chronic inflammation of the colon and gut, the impact of which can have lasting effects on gut function and intestinal permeability, leading to symptoms of IBS.

What are the risks of chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation isn't just uncomfortable – it can come with its own set of risks. Gut inflammation can result in the following symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

The gut lining can also become more sensitive and lead to increased pain. As many as 65% of people with IBS experience this visceral hypersensitivity.

Inflammation in the digestive tract can also contribute to leaky gut syndrome, which refers to gut lining permeability. Increased permeability can allow harmful bacteria and pathogens to pass through the gut more easily, potentially leading to other issues.

Stress can also cause inflammation. Because your brain and gut are connected, stress can send proinflammatory signals to the gut, which can lead to mood disorders.

What is an anti-inflammatory diet?

Regardless of the source of inflammation, there are many anti-inflammatory diets out there that can help. Most of these diets prioritize whole foods as a means to reduce inflammation while limiting processed foods and refined carbohydrates.

The Mediterranean diet is widely considered a well-rounded eating plan for plenty of risk factors and health concerns. Thanks to its prioritization of fruit and vegetables, olive oil, and whole grains, and a moderate amount of fatty fish, eggs, and poultry, the Mediterranean diet is believed to be anti-inflammatory, though it is still being researched.

The DASH diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that aims to reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Its focus on produce, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, and beans makes a good anti-inflammatory option. The DASH diet limits sodium, fatty and processed meats, full-fat dairy, beverages high in added sugar, sweets, red meat, and processed foods.

Generally speaking, it is also important to prioritize sleep, hydration, lowering stress levels, maintaining enough activity. Because all of these factors correlate with stress, it's important to think of your overall lifestyle being anti-inflammatory, not just your diet.

What are the best anti-inflammatory foods?

To reduce inflammation, focus on whole foods that support a healthy gut. Foods with prebiotics or probiotics can help rebalance the gut microbial balance and improve symptoms of IBS or IBD.

Anti-inflammatory foods include:

  • Whole grains
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Olive oil
  • Fruits and vegetables (aim for variety and try to eat whatever is in season)
  • Garlic and ginger
  • Walnuts
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Certain herbs and spices like cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, and rosemary
  • Beans
  • Green tea
  • Cocoa

Another key food group for an anti-inflamatory diet is polyphenols. Polyphenols are in plant-based foods like produce, whole grains, coffee and tea, legumes, herbs, spices, and more. They are high in antioxidants, which are known to reduce inflammation.

What foods can cause inflammation?

  • Saturated fats like red meat, cheese, and some oils. Saturated fats are correlated with cardiovascular risk factors and are known to promote inflammation. You may have heard, for example, that seed oils, like canola or sunflower oil, are inflammatory. The reality is a bit more complicated. Learn more here.
  • Full-fat dairy, like cheese, milk, or ice cream. These foods should be consumed in moderation, as they also contain saturated fats.
  • Refined grains and white flour. Baked goods, cakes, cookies, and other processed foods made with refined carbohydrates can all contribute to chronic inflammation.
  • Added sugars. Added sugars are everywhere, from more obvious culprits like candy and soda to more subtle foods like sauces and condiments. Be sure to check the label of any packaged food item to see if it had added sugar.
  • Processed foods. Fast food, pre-packaged convenience foods, and microwave meals tend to be high in saturated fats.
  • High sodium foods. This includes canned soups, processed meats, and pre-packaged meals. Chronic high sodium intake can increase blood pressure and lead to an inflammatory response.

How a dietitian can help with an anti-inflammatory diet

Whether you're dealing with chronic inflammation, a health condition like high blood pressure, or just want to reduce inflammation overall, a registered dietitian can help. They are well-versed in the latest research and recommendations for inflammatory bowel disease and a generally anti inflammatory lifestyle.

When you work with a dietitian, you don't have to worry about learning about the Mediterranean diet or polyphenols all on your own. Your RD will not only educate you on best practices, but will also provide you with your own personalized meal plan that's easy to follow.

You'll check in weekly to discuss how things are going, sharing all progress and talking through any challenges you might have. This is where you can share any relevant updates from your other providers as well. Your dietitian can work in tandem with other healthcare professionals to create a holistic approach to your IBD or IBS treatment.

Finding a registered dietitian covered by your health insurance to help heal from inflammation is easy with Fay. Simply input your insurance information and choose from any of their specialized IBS dietitians. Get started now.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.

  • Journal of Inflammation Research - The role of inflammation in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • BMJ Journals - Gut - The mast cell stabiliser ketotifen decreases visceral hypersensitivity and improves intestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome
  • American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology - Exercise and intestinal permeability: another form of exercise-induced hormesis?
  • Journal of Internal Medicine - The Mediterranean diet and health: a comprehensive overview.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - DASH Eating Plan
  • Nutrition Reviews - Effect of anti-inflammatory diets on inflammation markers in adult human populations: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials
  • MDPI - Nutrients - Does Sodium Intake Induce Systemic Inflammatory Response? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Studies in Humans

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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.