Because so many products today list “anti-inflammatory” as a selling point, it’s easy to think that inflammation is only a bad thing. But, that’s not always the case. Inflammation is your body’s natural defense mechanism to a threat. In the face of, say, an injury or a bacteria, inflammation is your immune system’s way of protecting itself. It’s not necessarily regular inflammation we worry about, but rather chronic inflammation. In some cases, the immune system overreacts, causing excessive and chronic inflammation that, in and of itself, leads to a slew of other health issues.
Chronic inflammation can manifest itself as always feeling tired, flu-like symptoms that won’t seem to go away, joint pain, digestive issues, chronic fatigue, frequency of infections, and even depression. If you have some chronic symptom that your doctor hasn’t been able to connect to a more specific diagnosis, there is a chance you live with inflammation. Seeking a doctor’s opinion to eliminate any other serious causes is always important, but there’s no harm in trying an anti-inflammatory diet to see if that provides some relief. If you’d like to create your meals to target inflammation, take a look at our tips on how to do just that.
Bell peppers contain several compounds that fight inflammation. First, they’re high in vitamin C, which can reduce inflammation, and they’re also loaded with antioxidants, which fight oxidative stress that can lead to inflammation. The great thing is there are so many varieties, it’s easy to find one you enjoy. Easy use: slice them up raw and dip them in hummus, which is made with fiber-full, anti-inflammatory chickpeas.
Eat more fish
Fish have a little magic thing called monounsaturated fats, which aren’t only good for your heart health and cholesterol numbers, but also have anti-inflammatory properties. Monounsaturated fats can help combat the adverse effects of saturated fats – like those found in red meat. So if you’re looking for a new, anti-inflammatory protein base for your meals, try less steak and more salmon/mackerel/tuna. Easy use: if cooking fish overwhelms you, keep canned tuna or salmon on hand for quick sandwiches and salads.
Olive oil is another good source of monounsaturated fats. It’s important to pay attention to the oils you use to saute your veggies, drizzle over appetizers, and mix up your salad dressings because their fat profiles are all over the map. Palm oil and butter, for example, are high in saturated fat, so just switch these out for olive oil – it’s tastier anyway. Easy use: combine olive oil with anti-inflammatory apple cider vinegar for an inflammation-fighting powerhouse of a salad dressing.
Avocado is great for an anti-inflammatory diet for several reasons. First, it’s high in the monounsaturated fats of which we’re big fans now. But second, it’s high in fiber. If your inflammation manifests itself as inflammatory bowel disease and resulting constipation, this little green fruit can help treat the cause and the symptom. Easy use: cut avocados in half, fill with anti-inflammatory tuna fish salad and drizzle with olive oil.
Leafy greens in general – like kale, spinach, and arugula – have been known to fight inflammation. But one particular group of the cruciferous family contains a compound that can fight inflammation in its infant stages. Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, and broccoli are particularly good for this. So stink up your kitchen with them – it’s worth it. Easy use: Roast these veggies with anti-inflammatory olive oil in the oven.
Pineapple contains bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme that’s known to fight inflammation. It’s also a great source of vitamin C, which also has inflammation-fighting properties. So it’s a good idea to have one of these pointy fruits on hand at all times. Easy use: add blended pineapple to your morning smoothie along with hemp milk, which has anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
Get ready to make your recipes bright orange with this inflammation-fighting ingredient. When inflammation starts in your body, it’s kicked off by something called NF-κB. Without getting too deep in the weeds on science, Turmeric contains something called curcumin which blocks the activation of NF-κB. Turmeric is actually quite versatile and goes well in chicken marinades, tea, soup, and even smoothies. Easy use: Add it to scrambled eggs – the vitamin D in eggs can regulate the inflammatory response in arthritis sufferers.
Berries are high in antioxidants that fight oxidative stress, which can cause inflammation, so in an indirect way, they’re great for fighting inflammation. They’ve also been known to relieve constipation so, again, if this is one way inflammation is showing up in your body, berries can be very helpful. Easy use: keep bags of frozen berries on hand to blend into smoothies, or warm up and add to oatmeal.
Red wine contains a polyphenol called resveratrol, and the reason we love resveratrol is that it inhibits a certain enzyme in the body that causes inflammation. Do keep in mind that excessive alcohol consumption of any kind can increase inflammation, particularly in the gut, so keep it to just the occasional glass of wine. Easy use: we don’t need to tell you. Just grab your bottle opener!
Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa are all high in fiber, which has been shown to fight inflammation. Foods that are high in fiber help your gut produce healthy bacteria that release inflammation-fighting substances. A diet high in fiber may also promote a healthy weight, while excess weight can lead to inflammation. Easy use: cook up a large batch of brown rice or quinoa at the beginning of the week to use as a side dish or base to stir fry or risotto.
Good news for those with a sweet tooth: cocoa contains compounds called flavonols that fight blood clotting and inflammation. It’s important to have the pure stuff, though, and not the sugary packets your kids like. Easy use: make hot cocoa with pure cocoa powder and anti-inflammatory hemp milk. Add cinnamon for a little spice, as it’s also anti-inflammatory.
Sauerkraut helps your gut produce healthy bacteria, which in turn fortify your intestinal tract against inflammation. If you aren’t big on sauerkraut, many pickled veggies like pickled ginger or pickled beets can do the trick, too. Easy use: add sauerkraut to your next hot dog to combat the inflammation caused by red meat.
Citrus fruit, like pineapple, is loaded with inflammation-fighting vitamin C. And the great thing about it is that most varieties offer this benefit, whether you choose a grapefruit, tangerine, orange, or clementine. Easy uses: citrus fruit can last several weeks in the fridge, so load up your fresh produce drawer with them, and add them to smoothies, oat bowls, or salads.
There is some controversy around red meat and inflammation. A lot of that is linked to the fact that most cows are fed corn and grain, and their resulting meat is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause inflammation. Grass-fed cows, however, produce meat that’s high in anti-inflammatory omega-3s, and anti-inflammatory vitamin E. Easy use: pair grass-fed steak with brown rice and olive-oil roasted Brussels-sprouts for a super anti-inflammatory meal.
Nuts and seeds
Certain nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseeds are particularly high in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also high in protein so they make good snack items when you need to fight cravings for things like chips that are high in inflammation-causing saturated fats. Easy use: keep chopped walnuts and flaxseeds on hand to add to smoothies, breakfast bowls, and baked goods.