Health/Wellness, Patient Blog | Nov 13 2023

What is the Dietary Inflammatory Index?  

Anti-inflammation has become a hot topic in recent years largely due to the growing evidence linking chronic inflammation with a variety of diseases. Both consumers and researchers alike are recognizing the importance of reducing inflammation for optimal health. The Dietary Inflammatory Index can guide consumers to adopt a more anti-inflammatory diet and reduce the risk of chronic disease.  

What is the Dietary Inflammatory Index?

The Dietary Inflammatory Index refers to a scoring system that measures the number of inflammatory foods in a person’s diet. Individual foods, nutrients and food components are all considered when determining the inflammatory potential of one’s dietary pattern. 

The Dietary Inflammatory Index is based on research that examined the effects of eating a pro-inflammatory diet and how it impacted the values of certain inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.  

The impact of inflammation on health

When discussing why the Dietary Inflammatory Index is important, it is essential to understand the impact of inflammation on the body and why we want to prevent chronic inflammation.  

There are two phases of inflammation – acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the body’s natural response and protective mechanism from injury and infection. The immune system identifies a threat to the body and sends a signal to prevent major damage to the site of the injury. However, in chronic inflammation, development of various chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and certain cancers can occur.  

How does the scoring system work? 

The Dietary Inflammatory Index assigns a numerical score to a total of 45 parameters consisting of individual foods, food components and nutrients to indicate whether a person’s overall dietary pattern is considered pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. The score system assigns a more negative number to foods that contribute to anti-inflammatory benefits, whereas a more positive number assigned to food components indicating they possess more pro-inflammatory properties. A food or nutrient with a score of zero is considered “neutral,” meaning it has neither pro- nor anti-inflammatory relevance.  

Anti-inflammatory foods, food components and nutrients

Among the list of the most anti-inflammatory foods are the following:  

  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout)
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Ginger
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Green tea
  • Turmeric
  • Tomatoes
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Dark chocolate
  • Antioxidants
  • Fiber

Pro-inflammatory foods, food components and nutrients

Among the list of the most pro-inflammatory foods are the following: 

  • Processed meats
  • Sugar sweetened beverages
  • Refined grains
  • Fried foods
  • Foods high in saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • High sodium foods
  • Alcohol 

Practical steps to reduce inflammation

In addition to consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, there are additional lifestyle changes that will make a positive impact on optimal overall health and decreased inflammation. Some actionable steps to take to adopt an anti-inflammatory lifestyle include, regular exercise, stress management, adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, as well as limiting your exposure to environmental toxins.  

In conclusion

The Dietary Inflammatory Index emphasizes the importance of consuming a majority of nutrient-dense, whole foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Using the Dietary Inflammatory Index as a guide to reduce intake of processed foods, unhealthy fats, sugar, and alcohol contributes to a healthier lifestyle that can help prevent chronic disease as well as promote a higher quality of life.  For personalized recommendations, meet with a registered dietitian who can help establish a customized plan for your own nutrition for exercise.   

Cavicchia PP, Steck SE, Hurley TG, et al. A new dietary inflammatory index predicts interval changes in serum high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. J Nutr. 2009;139(12):2365-2372. 
Hébert JR, Shivappa N, Wirth MD, Hussey JR, Hurley TG. Perspective: The Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII)-Lessons Learned, Improvements Made, and Future Directions. Adv Nutr. 2019;10(2):185-195.  
Sarah Hammaker, RDN

About Sarah Hammaker

Sarah Hammaker, RDN is a clinical dietitian working primarily in long term care and acute rehabilitation hospital settings in PA. She holds certificates of training in the areas of Adult Weight Management as well as Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and their four children. She loves running and being outdoors. Her hobbies include reading, planting and shopping.

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