The #1 Lunch to Lower Inflammation, According to a Dietitian

Eat it at home or pack it for the office. This lunch is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and protein.

Inflammation may have a bad reputation, but it's crucial for your health. That's because acute inflammation is essential to healing from injury and infection. Think of the redness and puffiness you see when you get a cut, scrape or wound. This short-term inflammation is normal and helpful. However, long-term, low-grade inflammation is linked to the development of chronic disease. Decreasing chronic inflammation is a worthy health-promoting goal.

Many people wonder what to do to reduce inflammation, especially if they have an inflammation-related chronic disease. In this article, we'll share a dietitian-approved lunch to help reduce inflammation, plus other everyday habits that decrease inflammation.

What to Look For in an Anti-Inflammatory Lunch

Contains Fruits and Veggies

We all know that fruits and veggies do wonders for our health, but did you know that one of those ways is reducing inflammation? A higher intake of fruits and veggies is associated with lower levels of biomarkers of inflammation, according to a 2018 meta-analysis of 83 studies in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Colorful fruits and veggies, such as berries, dark leafy greens, bell peppers and tomatoes, are packed with phytonutrients, which are especially helpful for fighting inflammation, per a 2021 narrative review published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Research.

Low in Saturated and Trans Fats

Saturated fat and trans fat are associated with higher levels of inflammation and risk of heart disease, so opt for sources of unsaturated fats when possible. Trans fats were banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 2015, however trace amounts might still be found in fried and battered foods, as well as in commercial baked goods, per the National Library of Medicine.

To reduce your saturated fat intake, you can opt for lean proteins like fish or chicken, plant-based proteins like beans or nuts, and olive oil instead of butter.

High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, mackerel, oysters, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds) are widely known for their anti-inflammatory effects. They are a staple nutrient in the Mediterranean diet, an eating pattern found to reduce inflammation, per a 2019 study published in Nutrients.

Rich in Whole Grains

Eating whole grains can help reduce low-grade systemic inflammation, per a 2022 review in Nutrients. That research looked at randomized controlled trials that were at least four weeks long. In 12 of the 31 studies assessed, consuming whole grains reduced at least one inflammatory marker, particularly in people who had weights in the overweight or obese range or had health conditions. Whole grains have their germ, endosperm and bran fully intact, such as whole wheat, corn, brown rice, oatmeal and quinoa.

Contains Spices

Spices like ginger, curry, turmeric and rosemary (or any of your other favorites) are packed with antioxidants and other plant compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they add a lot of flavor to meals, helping you decrease the amount of salt or sugar you're adding.

salmon rice bowl
Ali Redmond

The Best Lunch to Lower Inflammation

Our top pick for an anti-inflammatory lunch is this Salmon Rice Bowl. Salmon is quick and easy to cook and can be enjoyed hot or cold, so whether you work from home and can cook a fresh lunch or are meal-prepping and need something cold to pack, salmon could do the trick. Adding avocado and veggies adds fiber and phytonutrients, and you can also add anti-inflammatory spices, such as red pepper flakes and ginger. Here's a look at the specific health benefits of a salmon rice bowl.

Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

This rice bowl is rich in unsaturated fat, and the salmon contains a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids. As mentioned above, these fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, so consuming more may help reduce inflammation.

Good Source of Heart-Healthy Whole Grains

Whole grains are another key part of keeping inflammation in check, and the brown rice in this recipe fits the bill. Using instant rice makes this lunch way easier to prepare at home or work. If you'd prefer a cold option, you may want to try another whole grain, like quinoa or whole-wheat couscous.

Loaded with Fiber for Digestive Health

Fiber offers a multitude of health benefits, including supporting heart health, digestive health and blood sugar management. Fiber promotes a healthy gut microbiome, which can also help manage inflammation. Thanks to the brown rice, avocado and cucumber, this recipe packs 6 grams of fiber per serving.

Other Tips to Manage Inflammation

While eating anti-inflammatory foods may help curb inflammation, there are other ways to steel your body against inflammation:

  • Quit smoking. Studies, including a 2020 study in Scientific Reports, have found that individuals who smoke have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
  • Exercise regularly. Don't forget to get a little sweaty. Aerobic exercise has been found to reduce certain inflammatory markers, including C-reactive protein (CRP), in middle-aged and older adults, per a 2019 review and meta-analysis in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
  • Manage stress. Stress has real physiological effects on our bodies, from inhibiting gastrointestinal function to raising blood pressure. If chronic stress persists, it can contribute to inflammation in the body. Both acute and chronic stress increase inflammatory activity, which can set the stage for depression, according to 2019 research in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The Bottom Line

While inflammation is normal in acute injuries, chronic inflammation is linked to a number of diseases. Eating whole grains, lean proteins, omega-3 fatty acids and fruits and veggies can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health. For a satisfying and tasty lunch that contains all of those good-for-you anti-inflammatory foods in one bowl, try our Salmon Rice Bowl.

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