Reducing Inflammation with Proper Nutrition

I had never learned or thought much about the link between food and inflammation early in my career as a physical therapist.

That changed about 8 years ago when a patient mentioned to me that her knees hurt from eating too much sugar the previous day. Most people blame the weather or “old age” on their unexplained pain. I had never heard anyone blame food.

I was curious so I asked her more questions.

She had learned, through her struggle with a chronic illness, that certain foods increase her pain because they increase inflammation in the body.

The concept intrigued me. I’m always looking for new ways to help my patients reduce their pain and increase their quality of life.

Over the following few years I started to hear and learn more about links between nutrition and inflammation. I’ve been having more and more conversations with my patient’s about how nutrition can impact their pain and recovery process.

Recently I decided to create a brochure to summarize the information I’ve been sharing with my patients. I enlisted the expertise of our Registered Dietitian, Ashley Pearson and our Marketing/Graphic Design ninja, Mary Brown. Together we created a brochure that explains how proper nutrition can have an impact on chronic inflammation. Give it a read, and/or download the brochure using the link below.


Our bodies have an amazing capacity for healing.

Inflammation is an important – and normal – start of the healing process for acute injuries and problems in the body.

Chronic inflammation is what we want to target and eliminate. Chronic inflammation can last for months or years and persists because of repeated exposure to irritants such as poor diet, food allergies or sensitivities, sedentary lifestyle, and other poor health habits. Chronic inflammation is linked to conditions such as fibromyalgia, joint pain, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression, autoimmune conditions, and arthritis.

Even if you don’t have any of these conditions, improvements in your diet and lifestyle can enhance the body’s response to physical therapy and fitness-related activities, and can reduce inflammation – which leads to a reduction in pain and susceptibility to chronic health conditions, as well as increasing quality of life.

In general, it’s best to avoid excessive calorie intake because it stimulates fat cells and promotes obesity (a state of chronic inflammation). It’s also recommended to avoid excessive simple carbohydrates and sugar intake – in the form of candy, baked goods, white bread and rice, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Simple carbs increase insulin levels and promote inflammation. Eating trans and saturated fats such as hydrogenated vegetable oils, bacon, fatty beef, pork, butter, and cream raises cholesterol and LCL, and also stimulate an inflammatory response in cardiac tissues.

Reducing inflammation isn’t all about the “things to avoid” and restricting our diet to the extreme. It’s about learning the habits and foods we should embrace, and incorporating  them into our daily routine. We’ve assembled an expansive list of the foods and habits known for reducing inflammation – that can lead to a reduction in the amount of pain caused by inflammation. Consider this a quick reference guide for incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into a regular diet. 


Habit to Embrace



Stay hydrated
water, fruits, vegetables
Assists in heat regulation; decreases risk of injury and muscle cramps; helps transport nutrients and oxygen and eliminate waste products out of the body
Eat foods rich in
Omega-3 fatty acids
salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, walnuts, flaxseed, & chia seeds
Supports brain health; reduces inflammation
Eat foods rich in antioxidants
carrots, pumpkin, apricots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, almonds, mangos, nuts, broccoli, berries, cauliflower, & citrus fruit
Improves muscle recovery; reduces inflammation
Eat foods rich in Vit. C
citrus fruit, bell peppers,
and cantaloupe
Supports collagen synthesis aiding in wound healing and tissue repair; promotes immune function
Eat foods rich in Vit. A
sweet potato, spinach,
carrots, & tomatoes
Aids in cell growth and development; promotes good immune function
Eat foods rich in Vit. D
sun exposure, oily fish, dairy products, & fortified foods
Promotes calcium absorption and good bone health; regulates inflammatory response
Eat foods rich in zinc
almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, lean beef, chicken, seafood, & fortified cereals
Aids in wound healing and protein synthesis; promotes good immune function
Season with herbs
& spices
ginger, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, & cloves
Contains antioxidants to reduce inflammation
Eat more polyphenols
fruits, vegetables, whole grains, coffee, tea, chocolate, & olive oil
Reduces inflammation; reduces risk of chronic diseases
Eat more probiotics
and prebiotics
PRO: yogurt, aged cheese, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, & tempeh
PRE: garlic, onions, asparagus, artichokes, & bananas
Promotes growth of desirable microflora in the gut improving digestive health; promotes immune function; decrease activity of pro-inflammatory cells
Get enough sleep
aim for 7-8 hours per night
Reduces levels of C-Reactive protein and pro-inflammatory response
Reduce stress
work, relationships, financial
Constant psychological, emotional or physical stress raises cortisol levels in the body, which increases inflammation
Make time to relax
meditation, yoga, laughing, hiking, reading, & massage
Relaxation is one stress reduction technique that can lower cortisol levels, and therefore, inflammation


For more nutrition tips and additional information on reducing inflammation, contact our registered dietitian at 319-665-2630 or review our nutrition services page.

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