The Diet and Inflammation Connection

Is Your Diet Inflammatory?

The University of South Carolina developed a Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII). This index is based on forty-five food parameters and the effect of food on specific food parameters. In addition, the DII considers macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats), micronutrients (omega 3, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and others), and the whole diet.

Moreover, the DII looked at the effect of many dietary studies and their correlation to inflammatory markers. The six inflammatory markers that can be measured in the blood include C-reactive protein and others. A number of studies have demonstrated that higher DII scores are associated with a variety of diseases, including cardiovascular, cancer, and diabetes. For example, a meta-analysis of 15 studies showed that those with the highest DII had a 41% increased risk of cardiovascular disease incidence and a 31% elevated risk of death compared to those with the lowest scores.

In terms of cardiovascular disease, a high DII increases the body’s levels of inflammatory compounds, which in turn causes inflammatory cells to make their way to blood vessels and initiate the build-up of plaque. Researchers also found that an inflammatory diet shortens telomeres. Telomeres are the end of chromosomes that contain our genes. Shortened telomeres are associated with an increased risk of disease and shortened life.


Problematic Foods

Research published in the Journal of The American Medical Association has shown that death from cardiovascular disease and diabetes was related to the following dietary issues:

  • High sodium intake
  • A lack of nuts and seeds
  • High intake of processed meats
  • Low intake of seafood omega-3 rich foods
  • Low intake of fruits and vegetables
  • High intake of sugar-sweetened beverages


MedDiet Cools Inflammation

The Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet) was recognized as a dietary pattern that reduces DII. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, sees, herbs, spices, whole grains, and olive oil are MedDiet components that reduce inflammation. You can read about the MedDiet by searching for more articles at


Dr. Mark Stengler NMD, MS, is a bestselling author in private practice in Encinitas, California, at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine. His newsletter, Dr. Stengler’s Health Breakthroughs, is available at His clinic website is



Ji, M., Hong, X., Chen, M., Chen, T., Wang, J., & Zhang, N. (2020). Dietary inflammatory index and cardiovascular risk and mortality: A meta-analysis of cohort studies. Medicine99(20), e20303.

Micha et al. (2017). Association Between Dietary Factors and Mortality From Heart Disease, Stroke, and Type 2 Diabetes in the United States. JAMA, 317(9), 912-924.

Shivappa, N., Steck, S. E., Hurley, T. G., Hussey, J. R., & Hébert, J. R. (2014). Designing and developing a literature-derived, population-based dietary inflammatory index. Public health nutrition17(8), 1689–1696.