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Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Boost Senior Health

Written by Claire Samuels
 about the author
10 minute readLast updated February 14, 2022

Inflammation is the body’s normal response to injury. Acute inflammation, also known as short-term inflammation, occurs when your white blood cells protect you from intruders — like splinters, bacteria, and viruses — to prevent infection. Inflammation can increase the risk of long-term illness when it persists over time and becomes chronic. Some conditions linked to chronic inflammation include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Why an anti-inflammatory diet is important

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 communities and other senior living settings.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet, the 18 best anti-inflammatory foods, which inflammatory foods to avoid, and other easy ways seniors can create healthy eating habits.

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: 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.
Remember these five tips:
  1. Add antioxidants. A diet heavy in antioxidant-rich foods can help protect the body from free radicals — the natural byproducts of chemical processes, seen in foods such as processed meats — that can prompt inflammation. Antioxidants are found in colorful fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, berries, avocados, beans, and whole grains. Plants, such as green tea, chili peppers, and ginger, also provide high antioxidants.
  2. 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, such as walnuts, algae, and flax. If you’d like a fancier meal, delicacies such as caviar and oysters also contain high levels of omega-3s.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Reduce “bad for you” foods. It’s best to avoid 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.

Top anti-inflammatory foods

Scientists are continuing to learn about the long-term effects of anti-inflammatory foods on our bodies, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Based on research to date, it appears that eating a variety of nutritious foods may help prevent chronic inflammation or keep it in check.

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That said, an anti-inflammatory diet for elderly loved ones isn’t a 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:
  1. Whole grains are high in fiber, which is associated with fewer signs of inflammation.
  2. Berries and tart cherries are high in antioxidantsand contain healthy polyphenols and anthocyanins.
  3. Olive oil is a heart-healthy, plant-based fat that’s versatile. Monosaturated fats — such as safflower, sunflower, canola, peanut, and avocado oils — are good replacements for butter, shortening, and processed corn oil, according to the AND.
  4. Cruciferous vegetables are a family of veggies — including kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage — that contains antioxidants.
  5. Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, contain omega-3 fatty acids with significant anti-inflammatory properties.
  6. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce inflammation in the body.
  7. Peppers contain antioxidants and vitamin C. They also contain capsaicin, which is a chemical linked to lowering inflammation.
  8. Leafygreens, such as spinach, kale, and collards, offer an abundance of healthy compounds — including vitamin E, calcium, iron, and phytochemicals — that may help fight inflammation.
  9. Apples, like most other fruits, contain healthy phytonutrients to help protect against age-related diseases.
  10. Nuts are versatile, healthy sources of fat and protein. Walnuts contain omega-3s, while almonds and macadamias contain oleic acid. Nearly all nuts contain antioxidants, which studies suggest are key ingredients in helping the body fight inflammation.
  11. Alliums, such as garlic and onions, contain anti-inflammatory chemicals like the antioxidant quercetin, which naturally inhibits histamine.
  12. Ginger and turmeric are two of many spices with anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric contains curcumin, a particularly potent anti-inflammatory compound. Ginger reduces swelling and helps treat rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
  13. Carrots are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which may help reduce free radicals in the body.
  14. Beets are a year-round vegetable with ample fiber, vitamin C, and phytonutrients.
  15. Winter squashes, such as the sweet butternut squash or the nutty acorn squash, contain plenty of the antioxidant beta-carotene.
  16. Beans contain vegetable protein as well as fiber, so they’re especially important for people who avoid animal products.
  17. Sweet potatoes are a healthy carbohydrate full of fiber, antioxidants, and beta-carotene.
  18. Tea contains phytonutrients and flavonoids, which research suggests can help reduce inflammation. White, green, and oolong teas are particularly good choices.

Common foods that cause inflammation

Now that you know what foods to add to your diet, here are some inflammatory foods to avoid:
  1. Refined carbohydrates, such as sugary desserts, white bread, or crackers
  2. Fried foods, such as french fries, fried meats, and battered vegetables
  3. Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, tea, and juices
  4. Red meat, such as burgers and steaks, and processed meat, such as hot dogs and sausage
  5. Unhealthy fats, including saturated or trans fats like margarine, lard, and shortening
  6. Excess alcohol, which is more than seven drinks per week for seniors

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Diets vs. foods: 7 easy, tasty, and healthy eating tips

Food is a comforting constant for seniors ­­— enjoying the same meals on a routine basis provides security and happiness. Drastically changing a long-term diet can be a difficult and emotional task.
Ease yourself or your loved one into healthy habits with these nutritious, anti-inflammatory replacements for classic foods and cooking styles:
  1. Ditch dairy for creamy fruits and veggies. Low-sodium hummus, homemade guacamole, and fresh salsa are high-flavor alternatives to creamy dips. Fresh fruit sorbet and coconut milk ice cream are delicious alternatives to dairy ice cream.
  2. Swap rice with healthier grains. Quinoa and other ancient grains, such as amaranth, are healthy alternatives to rice. They also add delicious texture and protein to salads. Pair these grains with your favorite greens, grilled chicken, and veggies for a filling entrée.
  3. Stock up your spice cabinet. Introducing flavorful new spices is one of the easiest steps to take when starting an anti-inflammatory diet. Certain spices can target inflammatory channels and reduce chronic inflammation, according to the Journal of Translational Medicine. Vibrant, yellow turmeric, which is common in Indian cuisine, has been proven to soothe osteoarthritis, while fresh ginger and cinnamon reduce swelling. Another benefit is that all three of these spices are versatile to both sweet and savory dishes.
  4. Rethink potatoes. It’s normal to crave a salty, fried side or a classic comfort food as your body adjusts to a new diet. Try replacing regular fries with crispy, roasted sweet potato fries. Swap out your mashed potatoes with parsnips or cauliflower for an almost identical side. If you aren’t ready to give up potatoes altogether, consider adding anti-inflammatory olive oil and roasted garlic instead of butter and salt.
  5. Enjoy an easy alternative to a hearty classic. Rich, hearty oatmeal is a breakfast classic. Replace this buttery, sugar-heavy recipe with creamy, no-fuss overnight oats along with nut milk and fresh berries.
  6. Enhance flavor with simple techniques. Mushy vegetables are a thing of the past. Replace traditional vegetable preparations, such as boiled or steamed, with roasting, toasting, and air frying for delicious, developed flavor and versatile texture.
  7. Sip on something healthy. Try replacing sugary sweet tea with antioxidant-rich green tea, or trade in a milkshake for a fruit-filled smoothie. When buying juice, check the label for artificial sweeteners and the percentage of real juice to avoid beverages with a high sugar count. Even the best tasting beverages can be healthy. For example, dark chocolate hot cocoa with almond milk is packed with flavor and nutrients.


  1. Gordon, B. (2019). Can Diet Help With Inflammation?Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Dietary guidelines for alcohol.

  3. Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, November 16). Foods that fight inflammation.

  4. Journal of Translational Medicine. (2018). Chronic diseases, inflammation, and spices: how are they linked?

  5. Mayo Clinic Health System. (2021, October 14). Want to ease chronic inflammation? Start with your grocery list.

  6. Tyrovolas S., Haro J.M., Foscolou A., Tyrovola D., Mariolis A., Bountziouka V., Piscopo S., Valacchi G., Anastasiou F., Gotsis E., Metallinos G., Papairakleous N., Polychronopoulos E., Matalas A., Lionis C., Zeimbekis A., Tur J., Sidossis L.S., Panagiotakos D.B. (2018). Anti-inflammatory nutrition and successful ageing in elderly individuals: The multinational MEDIS studyGerontology. 64(1), 3–10.

Meet the Author
Claire Samuels

Claire Samuels is a senior copywriter at OurParents, where she helps guide families through the dementia and memory care journey. Before transitioning to writing, she gained industry insight as an account executive for senior living communities across the Midwest. She holds a degree from Davidson College.

Edited byJoe Carney

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