Inflammation can result in many kinds of health problems, which you may know if your doctor has ever suggested an anti-inflammatory diet. But how does inflammation happen? And how exactly can different foods in your diet help?
When something enters your body that your body doesn't recognize, your system sees it as a threat. Your immune system activates in response to certain chemicals, plant pollen, or microbes, resulting in inflammation. When this persists constantly, you are dealing with chronic inflammation. Some diseases linked to chronic inflammation include:
An anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce inflammation as well as your risk for disease.
Health Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory diet is generally healthy. You want to follow a diet that is full of healthy oils, fish, whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. Many anti-inflammatory foods are full of natural polyphenols and antioxidants, which can lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions.
A diet that reduces processed food and focuses on plant foods has other positive health effects as well. These effects include weight loss, improved mood, and improved quality of life.
For the most successful diet anti-inflammatory, you should know which foods promote inflammation. Some foods that are pro-inflammatory include refined carbs and sugary drinks. Fried foods that contain trans fats have been linked to inflammation as well as processed foods, which has inflammatory markers. (1)
Some foods to avoid on an anti-inflammatory diet include:
According to experts of anti-inflammatory diet guidelines, you should even avoid sweeteners such as honey and agave. You also want to steer clear of saturated fat found in things lick cheese, whole milk, and butter.
Here is a list of some of the top anti-inflammatory foods you should add to your diet. As you adjust your eating habits, be sure to include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Some diets such as the Mediterranean diet are naturally anti-inflammatory, and it includes heart-healthy oils, fish, whole grains, and nuts.
In a 2006 study about cherries, researchers found that people who consumed 280 grams of cherries every day for a month reduced the levels of inflammatory markers CRP. (2) Both sweet cherries and tart cherries fight inflammation and are rich in antioxidants such as catechins and anthocyanin. Cherries are also delicious, and you can use them in a variety of different ways.
Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, which protects against cancer and reduces inflammation. Cooking tomatoes in olive oil can help you maximize the amount of lycopene that your body absorbs.
The compound lycopene may help reduce pro-inflammatory compounds that cause cancer. Additionally, tomatoes are high in potassium and vitamin C, so pick some up on your next trip to the supermarket.
Eating dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa or more will help you reduce inflammation. Dark chocolate is not only delicious, but it is packed with antioxidants called flavanols. The flavonols keep your endothelial cells healthy, which reduces your risk of disease. (3)
Dark chocolate is known to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood pressure. However, make sure to consume it in small quantities.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet because of its numerous benefits to your health. It is a healthy fat linked to a decreased risk of serious health conditions, brain cancer, and heart disease.
According to a 2014 study, people who consumed 50 ml of olive oil a day significantly decreased their inflammatory markers. Olive oil contains an antioxidant called oleocanthal, which may work similarly to ibuprofen.
Turmeric and Other Spices
Turmeric is a spice used in many types of dishes. You can find it in most grocery stores and use it in your cooking to fight inflammation and related diseases. The spice contains an anti-inflammatory compound by the name of curcumin. By combining turmeric with black pepper, you can increase your body's absorption of curcumin.
However, it can be hard to get large amounts of the compound in just turmeric alone. You may have better luck taking curcumin supplements that are combined with piperine.
Other spices with positive anti-inflammatory properties include:
Grapes may reduce your risk for several diseases, and they contain compounds that reduce inflammation. They are a source of the compound resveratrol, and they may help with eye disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and several other diseases. (4)
There are many different types of mushrooms with positive properties. Mushrooms can be a true superfood if you eat them lightly cooked or raw, as they contain many anti-inflammatory compounds.
Mushrooms such as shiitake mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, and truffles are rich in B vitamins, copper, and selenium. They are low in calories and may even help you with your weight loss program.
Bell peppers and chili peppers have compounds with strong anti-inflammatory effects such as ferulic acid, sinapic acid, and quercetin. Chili Peppers may lead to healthier aging according to some studies, while bell peppers are known to reduce inflammation in people with sarcoidosis. Both peppers are loaded with plenty of antioxidants and vitamin C.
Green tea has tons of positive properties, which is why it is known all over the world as a healthy beverage. People drink it to help all kinds of conditions, and studies show that it can reduce obesity, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and heart disease.
Green tea has a high content of EGCG, which reduces inflammation and prevents damage to your cells. Green tea can be a vital part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
Avocados have various positive compounds that fight inflammation. In a scientific study, researchers found that people who consumed avocado with their burgers had reduced levels of NF-kB and IL-6 inflammatory markers.
Avocados also have monounsaturated fats, fiber, magnesium, and potassium. They may even reduce your risk of cancer.
Broccoli is a powerful source of sulforaphane, which is an antioxidant as well. It's an extremely nutritious cruciferous veggie just like kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Some research contains evidence that these veggies are associated with a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease.
Garlic and Onions
Garlic, onions, and similar items result in gut health, as they feed the good bacteria in your intestines. Through this process, they lower inflammation and boost your immune system. Other foods in this category include artichokes, jicama, asparagus, and leeks. Incorporate these foods into your diet either raw or cooked.
Fish are known for being a great source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA as well as a source of protein. Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation that leads to kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.
They work in your body by becoming compounds call protectins and resolvins. A 2016 study found that people who ate salmon or Omega-3 supplements witnessed a reduced amount of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker. (5)
Berries are full of minerals, vitamins, and fiber. They contain antioxidants which can reduce your risk of many diseases based on their anti-inflammatory effects. In a study in the National Library of Medicine Journal, consuming strawberries led to lower levels of inflammatory markers associated with heart disease in adults. ()
Some common berries to eat include blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Overall, anthocyanins in berries can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and boost immunity.
Coffee is a hot topic when it comes to an anti-inflammatory diet. Some research shows that coffee can help reduce inflammation and some people, while contrary research demonstrates an increase in inflammation in others.
For example, one study asked regular coffee drinkers to stop drinking coffee for one month, and researchers found an increase in their inflammatory markers. However, other research shows that individual factors influence the effect of coffee on inflammation.
If you experience increased inflammation after you consume coffee, consider reducing your intake to see what happens. Otherwise, coffee does contain an array of beneficial compounds to your overall health.
Citrus fruits have high water content and provide your body with electrolytes and hydration. The flavonoids in citrus can potentially prevent cancer cell growth.
There are also important inflammation-fighting properties in the skin as well as the food itself, so incorporate the skin of fruits such as limes, lemons, grapefruit, and clementines into your diet. You can do so by using the skin as a zest or boiling it to make tea.
Other Tips for Anti-Inflammatory Diets
Many of the foods that can help control inflammation are found in the Mediterranean Diet. This diet places an emphasis on olive oil, vegetables, fish, whole foods, and exercise. In addition to the items already listed, you should also try:
Making conscious food choices in your diet is key to successfully reducing inflammation levels.
Some naturally anti-inflammatory foods include leafy greens such as collard, spinach, and kale; fatty fish such as sardines, tuna, and salmon; olive oil; nuts such as walnuts and almonds; tomatoes; and fruits such as cherries, oranges, and blueberries.
At the same time, you want to avoid processed foods, fried food, lard, and soda. These inflammatory foods promote inflammation-related health issues.
In addition to naturally anti-inflammatory foods such as berries, fish, and dark chocolate, you may want to take natural supplements to reduce inflammation. Some of these supplements include Alpha-lipoic acid, Curcumin, Fish oil with omega-3 fatty acids, Ginger, Resveratrol, and Spirulina.
Yes, eggs contain many compounds known to help reduce inflammation. They have biotin, vitamins A and B, and high protein content as well. If possible, buy organic and pasture-raised eggs to take advantage of high levels of omega-3s.
According to a study in 2018 from Appalachian State University, bananas can be as effective in reducing inflammation as ibuprofen. Bananas also contain antioxidants, which promote cell health.
Final Thoughts - Foods to Reduce Inflammation
Overall, many Americans struggle with inflammation and different resulting diseases. Our reliance on overly processed foods coupled with our high levels of stress causes many of us to be plagued with chronic inflammation that disrupts our bodies' natural balance.
Inflammation increases the risk of allergies, autoimmune diseases, joint pain, acne, and neurological disorders. Fortunately, there are ways to counter inflammation and free yourself of the negative side effects. While your diet may not solve everything, it's a great place to start to reduce inflammatory issues.
Consider incorporating the above foods into your basket during your next trip to the grocery store. For instance, an anti-inflammatory diet incorporates olive oils, black beans, red peppers, cherry tomatoes, apples, and many other products.
As you focus on wellness, make sure to seek medical advice from your doctor to help you reach your goals, especially if you have a health condition. Avoid foods that cause inflammation and weight gain such as trans fats and artificial sugars.
Lopes, A., Araújo, L. F., Levy, R. B., Barreto, S. M., & Giatti, L. (2019). Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and serum C-reactive protein levels: cross-sectional results from the ELSA-Brasil study. Sao Paulo medical journal = Revista paulista de medicina, 137(2), 169–176. https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-3180.2018.0363070219
Ferretti, G., Bacchetti, T., Belleggia, A., & Neri, D. (2010). Cherry antioxidants: from farm to table. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 15(10), 6993–7005. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules15106993
Fisher, N. D., & Hollenberg, N. K. (2006). Aging and vascular responses to flavanol-rich cocoa. Journal of hypertension, 24(8), 1575–1580. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.hjh.0000239293.40507.2a
Tomé-Carneiro, J., Gonzálvez, M., Larrosa, M., Yáñez-Gascón, M. J., García-Almagro, F. J., Ruiz-Ros, J. A., Tomás-Barberán, F. A., García-Conesa, M. T., & Espín, J. C. (2013). Grape resveratrol increases serum adiponectin and downregulates inflammatory genes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells: a triple-blind, placebo-controlled, one-year clinical trial in patients with stable coronary artery disease. Cardiovascular drugs and therapy, 27(1), 37–48. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10557-012-6427-8
Weylandt, K. H., Chiu, C. Y., Gomolka, B., Waechter, S. F., & Wiedenmann, B. (2012). Omega-3 fatty acids and their lipid mediators: towards an understanding of resolvin and protectin formation. Prostaglandins & other lipid mediators, 97(3-4), 73–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.prostaglandins.2012.01.005