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Eating Out on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Written by Linda Said, MS, RD, LDN and medically reviewed by Beth Holloway, RN, M.Ed
2021-09-10

Even though it can be challenging to eat away from home, you can still maintain your anti-inflammatory diet. It is easier when you have information and plan ahead. In general:

  • Know which foods are good choices

  • Call the restaurant to ask questions or review their menu online

  • Pay attention to serving size since restaurants often have very large portions

  • Ask how foods are prepared and request healthy methods

  • Watch for hidden sources of unhealthy ingredients like fat and sugar in sauces and dressings

Contents:

What is the Difference Between Pro-inflammatory and Anti-inflammatory Diets?

What Are Some Anti-inflammatory Food Choices At Restaurants?

What Can I Eat At Fast Food Restaurants?

What Are Some Anti-Inflammatory Choices From Popular Fast Food Restaurants?

What Are Some Snacks I Can Take With Me?

Are There Anti-Inflammatory Meal Delivery Services?

What is the Difference Between Pro-inflammatory and Anti-inflammatory Diets?

Pro-inflammatory

Our Western diet is pro-inflammatory - i.e. it tends to increase inflammation. It is lacking in fruits and vegetables and contains large amounts of red meat, high-fat dairy products, refined grains, high-sugar foods, and highly processed foods. 

Anti-inflammatory

A Mediterranean-style diet is anti-inflammatory - i.e. it helps to decrease inflammation.  It has a high proportion of fruits and vegetables (phytonutrients); a moderate amount of chicken, fish, eggs, and milk products; and minimal red meat and processed foods. It also includes healthy fats (e.g. omega-3 fatty acids), vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), and fiber. 

What Are Some Anti-inflammatory Food Choices At Restaurants? 

Here are some ideas to consider, based on the type of cuisine.

Italian Food

  • Cioppino,  a fish or mixed seafood stew combined with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce. Ask if the base contains heavy cream, if so they can make it without the high-fat dairy product. 

  • Baked or grilled chicken or fish, with a side of vegetables. Request it without butter and cream.

  • Whole wheat pasta dish. Ask for olive oil or vegetable (marinara) sauce.  You can also ask to add vegetables to the dish.

Asian Food

  • Order sushi* with vegetables and salmon or tuna

  • Request brown, instead of white rice

  • Try miso soup or seaweed salad

  • Ask for low-salt soy sauce

  • Avoid fried (tempura) menu choices and sweet, creamy,  and mayonnaise-based sauces

*Is Sushi Actually Anti-inflammatory?

Sushi is full of anti-inflammatory ingredients. Seafood like tuna, salmon, or mackerel; seaweed and brown rice; vegetables, included pickled ones; and even wasabi, are all anti-inflammatory.  However, sushi can be pro-inflammatory - i.e. it can increase inflammation. Avoid sushi that is fried, prepared with white rice, or topped with cream sauce. 

Indian Food

  • Many spices used in Indian cooking are anti-inflammatory (e.g. clove, cinnamon, ginger,  turmeric)

  • Try curry or dal (lentil- or garbanzo-based dish)

  • Avoid dishes with added cream

  • Order chicken or fish tandoori - tandoori is an Indian cooking method using a traditional clay oven

  • A great side dish is palak paneer (Indian cottage cheese cooked with spinach and spices)

What Can I Eat At Fast Food Restaurants?

You should limit how often you eat fast food. If you do eat at a fast food restaurant, there are some choices that are better than others - i.e. some ways you can avoid pro-inflammatory foods.

Some General Suggestions

When making your selections:

  • Choose grilled instead of fried chicken

  • Skip the cheese, sauce, and bacon

  • Instead of French fries, choose a side salad with low-fat dressing

  • Have the burger without a bun

  • Avoid soda and milkshakes

Three healthy examples:

  • A salad with leafy greens, grilled chicken strips, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat dressing

  • A taco salad with leafy greens, black beans, guacamole, salsa, and a lean protein (e.g. grilled chicken breast)

  • A fajita with grilled, lean chicken or seafood and vegetables. Top it with lettuce and tomatoes.

What Are Some Anti-Inflammatory Choices From Popular Fast Food Restaurants?

Here are some suggestions:

McDonalds®

  • Fruit and Maple Oatmeal for breakfast

  • Chicken McNuggets® and honey dipping sauce

  • Side of Apple Slices

Chick-Fil-A®

  • Grilled Chicken Sandwich

  • Grilled Nuggets and honey roasted BBQ sauce

  • Market Salad without blue cheese*

  • Sides: Kale Crunch*; Fruit Cup

  • Egg White Grill without cheese

*Choose Light Italian Dressing

Taco Bell®

  • Black Bean Crunchy Taco, Fresco Style

  • Vegetarian Burrito plus Guacamole, without cheese

  • Vegetarian Nachos with Black Beans, without cheese sauce and sour cream

  • Power Menu Bowl, without cheese, sour cream, sauce

  • Sides: Black Beans, Guacamole

Starbucks®

You may not go to Starbucks for a meal, but you should still keep anti-inflammatory choices in mind.

  • Drinks

    • Coffee with unsweetened almond, soy, or coconut milk

    • Matcha Tea Latte with unsweetened almond, soy, or coconut milk

    • Jade Citrus Mint® Brewed Tea

    • Iced Green Teas

    • Honey Almondmilk Nitro Cold Brew

    • Some good food choices: Sprouted Grain Bagel with Avocado Spread and Strawberry Overnight Grains

What Are Some Snacks I Can Take With Me?

When you’re away from home, take anti-inflammatory snacks with you. Make sure you check the portion size and ingredient list. Some excellent choices are:

  • 1 tablespoon of nut butter with 1 serving of fruit

  • Snack-size nuts or trail mix 

  • 1 serving Greek yogurt

  • 1 serving of fruit

  • ¼ cup of raw unsalted nuts

  • 2 tablespoon hummus or guacamole with carrots, bell pepper strips, or celery sticks

  • ½ ounce dark chocolate

  • 1 cup cooked edamame 

  • ½ cup cottage cheese with 1 serving of fruit

  • 1 cup goat milk yogurt with live cultures and 7 almonds

  • 1 baked pear or apple with cinnamon, nutmeg, and walnuts

  • 2 dates with a ¼ cup of raw unsalted nuts

Are There Anti-Inflammatory Meal Delivery Services?

If you’re not preparing your own meals, you may choose one of the meal delivery services. There are so many from which to choose, some with specific anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet selections. 

General Points

  • Carefully review the nutritional information and ingredients. You may find great anti-inflammatory choices, even if they’re not labeled as such. Also, watch for pro-inflammatory ingredients like added sugar, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products.

  • Meal services may allow for customization, while others have set meals.

  • Most of the services offer vegetarian, gluten-free, and low-calorie options.

  • Some meals require time and preparation while others are single-serve and only need to be heated.

  • Some delivery services are available in limited areas (see the West coast examples below). Check company websites for locations.

  • Promotional discounts and free or low-cost trials are available for many of the services. Check their websites or elsewhere on the Internet.

Anti-inflammatory/Mediterranean Meals

Although there are many more, here are a few examples of home-delivery companies that offer anti-inflammatory and Mediterranean diet meals.

  • The Custom Plate. Anti-inflammatory subscriptions

  • The Good Kitchen. Available through amazon.com and walmart.com

  • Sunbasket. Single-serve and meal kits

  • Urban Remedy. Pick-up at local Whole Foods Market

  • Paleta. Anti-inflammatory and Mediterranean meals delivered daily*

  • Thistle. All gluten-free and dairy-free*

*West coast only

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