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Eating Out? How to Stick to Your Anti-Inflammatory Diet at Restaurants

Medically reviewed by 
Eating Out? How to Stick to Your Anti-Inflammatory Diet at Restaurants

Dining out often entails confronting tempting dishes that may not align with these dietary principles. Navigating restaurant menus while adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet can present challenges, but it is feasible with the right approach. 

By implementing specific strategies, you can stay true to your nutritional principles without sacrificing the social and culinary enjoyment of eating out.


Understanding the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

An anti-inflammatory diet is an eating style that promotes eating foods that reduce inflammation while limiting those that can trigger it. The Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets are two examples of well-researched anti-inflammatory diets.

When you break it down, an anti-inflammatory diet is simple: eat whole foods and limit ultra-processed foods. Whole, minimally processed foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help combat inflammation. Processed foods are high in salt, refined sugars, and trans/saturated fats that promote inflammation and are linked to various health issues. (4

Foods to Eat

Incorporating certain nutrients into your diet can help mitigate inflammation by targeting various pathways.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Found in fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds, omega-3s are potently anti-inflammatory. They inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules like prostaglandins and leukotrienes and downregulate the expression of inflammatory genes like nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) (5).


Antioxidants are like firefighters; they are molecules that protect cells from damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are highly reactive molecules that damage cells. Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, put out ROS fires by neutralizing them. Antioxidant-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and spices. 


Polyphenols are antioxidant compounds that occur naturally in plants. Polyphenols are abundant in berries, apples, dark chocolate, green tea, and olive oil. Studies indicate that polyphenol-rich diets may reduce markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). 

Prebiotics & Probiotics

An unhealthy gut can perpetuate systemic inflammation. Imbalances in the gut microbiota (dysbiosis) and compromised gut barrier function (leaky gut) can dysregulate immune responses and release pro-inflammatory molecules into the bloodstream. (10)

Eating probiotic, prebiotic, and fiber-rich foods can maintain a healthy intestinal environment. 

  • Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that confer health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
  • Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria. Onions, garlic, bananas, chicory root, and asparagus are examples of prebiotic foods.
  • Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot fully break down. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are high-fiber foods.

Herbs & Spices

Herbs and spices add flavor to food and contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that modulate inflammatory pathways and support gut health to dampen inflammation. For example, turmeric is rich in curcumin, which downregulates NFκB and has been found to alleviate symptoms of inflammatory conditions like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. 

Foods to Avoid

People following an anti-inflammatory diet should limit their intake of these foods that hold the potential to trigger inflammation:

  • Red meat
  • Processed meats: hot dogs, bacon, sausage
  • Foods and drinks high in added sugars: soda, energy drinks, candy, baked goods
  • Refined carbohydrates: white bread, white rice, pasta
  • Trans fats: margarine, fried foods, packaged snack foods (1, 24)

Preparation Before Dining Out

Research restaurant menus online before dining out. Many restaurants now provide their menus on their websites, allowing you to preview options and identify dishes that fit within the anti-inflammatory dietary framework. Reviewing menus can help you plan in advance to avoid feelings of overwhelm or pressure when you are actually at the restaurant. 

Choose a restaurant that offers a variety of healthy options. Menus that feature fresh, local, and whole-food ingredients increase the likelihood of finding suitable, anti-inflammatory meal choices. 

Call the restaurant ahead to inquire about possible menu modifications or substitutions. Many restaurants are willing to accommodate special dietary needs or preferences, especially if they have prior notice. By explaining your nutritional requirements, you can confirm that your meal is prepared to your needs and avoid last-minute complications or disappointments.

Key Menu Terms to Know

While menus may not always list all nutrients and ingredients, there are terms that you can look out for that indicate whether a menu item aligns with anti-inflammatory principles or should be avoided.

Menu Terms to Look For: 

  • Baked
  • Steamed
  • Fresh
  • Seasonal
  • Plant-based
  • Lightly seasoned

Menu Terms to Be Wary Of:

  • Fried
  • Breaded
  • Creamy
  • Brined
  • Cured

Asking for Modifications

While it may initially feel uncomfortable, you should feel empowered to advocate for your dietary needs and preferences. You can ensure that your meals align more closely with anti-inflammatory dietary requirements by speaking up and asking for modifications. 

For example, requesting dressings or sauces on the side helps to control the amount of added fats and sugars in meals. Substituting steamed vegetables for fries or brown rice for white can enhance the nutritional value of meals and support anti-inflammatory goals.

Choosing Anti-Inflammatory Foods at Different Types of Restaurants

The versatility of the anti-inflammatory diet makes it possible to follow its principles at nearly any type of restaurant. In general, ordering items that highlight whole, unprocessed foods and opting for lighter cooking methods can help you make anti-inflammatory choices regardless of the restaurant type. 

Here are some examples: 

  • Italian: salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing; dishes with lean proteins like grilled fish or chicken paired with vegetables; whole grain pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces
  • Mexican: grilled fish tacos with corn tortillas and salsa and guacamole as toppings instead of cheese or sour cream
  • American: grilled or baked proteins like fish or turkey burgers with steamed vegetables or a side salad. Avoid fried foods, heavy sauces, and dishes with excessive cheese, processed meats, and sugary sauces (e.g., barbeque sauce).
  • Asian: steamed, stir-fried, or fresh vegetables with lean proteins like tofu, chicken, or shrimp. Substitute white rice for brown rice. Avoid fried appetizers and dishes with sugary sauces (e.g., teriyaki).

Dealing With Social Dining Pressures

Navigating social pressures and the feeling of missing out when dining out with others who may not be following an anti-inflammatory diet can be challenging. However, with the right mindset, you can still enjoy the social aspect of dining out.

Shift the focus away from the food itself and instead emphasize the social aspect of dining out. Engage in meaningful conversations with friends or family, focusing on shared interests, experiences, and connections. 

Reframe the dining experience as an opportunity to explore new flavors. Instead of dwelling on restrictions, embrace the chance to try new dishes and ingredients.

Communicate openly with dining companions about your dietary preferences and goals. Let them know beforehand about any dietary restrictions or preferences you may have and offer suggestions for restaurants that accommodate those needs.

Mindful Eating Practices

Mindful eating is a practice that involves paying full attention to the experience of eating, with all senses engaged, without judgment or distraction. It emphasizes awareness of the present moment, including thoughts, feelings, and sensations related to food and eating. Mindful eating encourages individuals to savor each bite, recognize hunger and satiety cues, and make conscious choices about what and how much to eat.

Tips for Practicing Mindful Eating

Eat Without Distractions: Minimize distractions such as television, phones, or computers during meals.

Slow Down: Take your time to chew each bite thoroughly and savor the flavors and textures of your food. Put your fork down as you chew, and wait until you have swallowed before taking your next bite.

Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body's hunger and fullness signals. Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're satisfied, rather than eating on autopilot.

Engage Your Senses: Notice your food's colors, smells, and tastes as you enjoy it. 

Alcohol and Beverages

Alcohol, soda, energy drinks, and juices are not recommended on an anti-inflammatory diet for several reasons. Alcohol can disrupt gut health and promote inflammation. Soda, energy drinks, and juices often contain high levels of sugar, artificial additives, and preservatives, which can exacerbate inflammation.

Instead, opt for beverages like water, herbal teas, and coconut water, which hydrate the body without adding excessive sugar or artificial ingredients. 

Red wine, in moderation, is often included as a component of the Mediterranean diet. Red wine is preferred to other types of alcohol because it contains a polyphenol called resveratrol. Drinking in moderation is defined as one glass (5 fluid ounces) per day for women and up to two glasses per day for men.


Key Takeaways

  • An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on consuming whole, nutrient-dense foods that help reduce inflammation.
  • Anti-inflammatory diets and eating out can be compatible. Choose dishes on the menu prepared with fresh, whole ingredients and avoid heavily processed or fried options. 
  • Speak up for your needs at restaurants by requesting modifications. Ask for dressings and sauces on the side and swap unhealthier side options for a salad or steamed vegetables. 
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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