Dietary Interventions for the Management of Inflammation and Autoimmune Effects

By: Sarah Burke, RDN

Inflammation is an extremely regulated process that triggers actions to attack invading pathogens, as well as repairing damaged tissue (Calder). Generally symptoms include heat, swelling, pain, or redness to a certain area. Once balance has been restored and damage has been repaired, a signal, called a negative feedback loop, is sent, and the inflammation stops. This is an example of acute inflammation. When damage and flare-ups continue for long periods of time, or return regularly, the body is not able to repair the damage. This would be considered chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammatory conditions, like those seen in autoimmune diseases, are often specific, and are treated with specific medications and pharmacotherapies. Dietary components are also utilized in treatment of chronic inflammation.

When using dietary interventions to manage chronic inflammation there are several goals to keep in mind. The first is to manage symptoms of inflammation. In doing so, our second goal, to slow the progression of the disease, can become the main focus. Once symptoms are managed, and equanimity is achieved, the main objective is to support a sustainable, nutrient-dense diet that meets nutritional needs of the individual, and prevent future flare-ups.

Generally following a healthy diet that includes variety and a wide range of essential nutrients will support the management of chronic inflammatory symptoms. Here are some specific tips to follow:

Avoid Packaged Foods: Food products made to be shelf-stable and offer convenience are packed with additives to keep the quality of the product including taste and texture long lasting. These products also typically contain more sodium, added sugars and added fats.

Increase your phytochemical consumption: Phytochemicals are plant-based sources of antioxidants, which act by stabilizing molecules and reducing oxidative stress. Phytochemicals are found in brightly colored produce including dark leafy green vegetables, vibrant orange and red peppers, carrots and beets, deep purple eggplant, white cauliflower and mushrooms, and more. Eating a variety of colors will incorporate a variety of phytochemicals that each function in a unique way.

Add Omega-3 Fatty Acids to your day: Omega-3 Fatty Acids also contain antioxidant properties and have a strong correlation with decreased inflammation. These are found in fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, flax seed, chia seeds, and walnuts.

Reduce your intake of red meat: Opt for poultry, fish, or non-meat sources of protein including lentils, beans, quinoa, nuts and nut-butters, and tofu. Red meat should be limited to less than 2 servings per week.

For management of specific diseases and conditions, consulting a medical team is essential. After a cursory search at your local bookstore or most convenient search engine, one will find ‘anti-inflammatory diets’ ranging from general wellness guidelines to extreme and regimented diet plans. In order to receive specific and evidenced-based dietary information for managing chronic inflammation or an autoimmune disease, it is important to speak to a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Consulting a licensed medical professional will result in the best care for your condition.


Calder, P.C., R. Albers, J.-M. Antoine, S. Blum, et. Al. “Inflammatory Disease Processes and Interactions with Nutrition.” British Journal Of Nutrition 101.S1 (2009): Web. 9 Mar. 2017.