Food as Medicine: Anti-Inflammatory Diet

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What is the anti-inflammatory diet?

The anti-inflammatory (AI) diet is based on two traditional healthy patterns of eating that come from Asian and Mediterranean cultures. The combined pattern is thought to be one of the healthiest ways to eat.

  • It encourages fresh foods and avoids processed foods.  
  • It is built on foods rich in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • It is rich in healthy fats like olives and olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.
  • It includes a variety of sources of protein:
    • Some are rich in fiber, like beans and other legumes.
    • Some are lower in animal fat, like white meats.
    • Others include more healthy fats.  
  • Water and caffeine-free tea are the main beverages.  
  • The AI diet also encourages slower, more mindful eating.

Why an anti-inflammatory diet?

Inflammation is the way that the body reacts to protect us and to help us heal. When inflammation continues for a long period of time, it can lead to chronic diseases. The AI diet, when followed daily, may decrease inflammation and lower a child’s risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. It is used to maintain health. The AI diet is also useful as part of a broad approach to treat other chronic diseases linked to inflammation.

How do I know that my child is eating a safe, healthy, and balanced anti-inflammatory diet?

A well-planned AI diet can meet the nutritional needs of infants, children and adolescents.  Please work with your registered dietitian or nutritionist to plan a pattern of eating that is best for your child.

Calories and fat

The AI diet is high in fiber, which can make a child feel full quicker. Healthy foods with a higher fat content can be used to help a child meet their energy needs. These foods include: nuts and seeds, their butters, dried fruits, avocado, and fatty fish.


Protein needs can be met by eating lean white meats, fish, eggs, yogurt, cheese, milk and a variety of plant foods. Plant foods rich in protein include legumes, nuts, and seeds.


The main source of calcium is dairy products, like yogurt and natural cheeses. Children can also get calcium from dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans, oranges, almonds, figs, tofu, fortified milk alternatives, and fortified juices.


Iron is the most common mineral deficiency in all children. Good sources of iron include lean white meats, fish, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, whole grains, blackstrap molasses, and iron-fortified cereals. Vitamin C, found in fruits and vegetables, helps the body absorb iron from these sources.


Animal products are the best sources of zinc. The body absorbs animal sources of zinc (such as meats, fatty fish, eggs, dairy products) better than plant sources. The anti-inflammatory diet is rich in the best plant sources of zinc: nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Vitamin D

The body can make its own vitamin D with regular safe exposure to sunlight in summer months. There are few foods naturally rich in Vitamin D, including fatty fish and eggs. Foods fortified with vitamin D include: cow’s milk; soy, almond or rice milk; some brands of orange juice (check labels). Because the vitamin D content of fortified foods may vary, safe sun exposure and vitamin D3 supplements are the best sources of vitamin D.                          

Food group Suggested daily servings & serving sizes (for 4 to 10 year-olds)
Toddlers: use half serving
For teens: add more servings
Vegetables and fruits
  • Eat a variety of colors
  • Raw and cooked
  • All colors and textures
  • Fresh, frozen, canned (rinse)
4 or more servings of vegetables
  • ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw

3 or more servings of fruits
  • 1 piece fresh fruit
  • ¾ cup fruit juice
  • ½ cup canned fruit
Whole grains

Oat, rice, wheat, barley, rye, quinoa, millet, corn, spelt, sorghum, teff, buckwheat

5 or more servings
  • 1 slice bread
  • ½ bun, bagel, or English muffin
  • ½ cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
  • 1 cup or 1 ounce dry cereal
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas, dried peas, hummus, refried beans
  • Nuts: almond, walnuts, pistachio
  • Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin
  • Salmon, black cod, tuna
  • Lean meats, skinless poultry
2 servings
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup cooked legumes
  • 2 tablespoons nuts or seeds
  • 2 tablespoons nut or seed butter
  • ½ cup edamame or chickpeas
  • 3 ounces tempeh
  • 1 cup tofu cubes
  • 3 ounces fish, seafood
  • 3 ounces lean meats
  • Cow’s milk
  • Alternatives: Calcium-fortified soy, pea, oat, almond, cashew, coconut, hemp
2 servings
  • 8 ounces cow’s milk or fortified soy milk
  • 1 cup yogurt or fortified alternative
  • 8 ounces calcium-fortified orange juice
  • 1 ½ ounces natural cheese
Healthy fats
  • Oils: choose extra virgin olive, walnut, flax seed, expeller-pressed canola oil
2 to 3 servings
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 2 tablespoons olives
  • 2 tablespoons mashed avocado
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons wheat germ
Herbs and spices
  • Basil, cinnamon, clove, dill, garlic, ginger, mint onions, oregano, parsley, scallions
Choose dark chocolate
Sugar substitutes: consider stevia, local honey, maple syrup
Limit: sugar, margarine, soda, cakes, cookies, candy, juice, fruit drinks, sweetened beverages

Ideas to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats throughout the day:

Breakfast ideas:

  • Whole grain cereal, berries, 8 ounces  milk or fortified alternative
  • Veggie and cheese omelet, ½ cup calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Hot whole grain cereal (congee, oatmeal, quinoa) with vegetables and chicken or tuna, herbal tea
  • Sunflower seed butter and banana on whole grain bread plus 8 ounces fortified soy milk

Lunch ideas:

  • Tabbouleh salad, hummus, olives and plain Greek yogurt over greens and glass of water
  • Lentil soup, veggies sautéed with tofu and glass of water flavored with mint leaves
  • Leftover rice stir-fried with egg, snow peas, and mushrooms, 4 ounces kefir smoothie
  • Tuna salad on whole grain wrap with greens (romaine lettuce, spinach, baby kale, etc.) and avocado plus 4 ounces calcium-fortified orange juice

Dinner ideas:

  • Whole grain pasta with pesto sauce and salad with greens, red peppers, olives, tomatoes, walnut pieces, edamame
  • Salmon burger with baked sweet potatoes and sautéed green vegetables
  • Brown rice with black beans, broccoli, cheese and salsa (option to spoon into tortilla or taco shell)
  • Baked tofu cubes with soba noodles, carrots, and green beans in a ginger garlic broth

Snack ideas:

  • Banana and almonds
  • Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fruits and a sprinkle of cocoa/dark chocolate
  • Cut up veggies with hummus
  • Guacamole with whole grain pita chips
  • Natural cheese and fruit kebabs
  • Trail mix: almonds, pistachios and walnut pieces, dried fruits and dark chocolate chips
  • Hard-boiled egg and diced melon
  • Applesauce cup and cheese stick

Additional resources

November 2022