While inflammation gets a bad reputation, it is a normal part of the healing process. It’s your body’s response to injury, irritation, or infection. In small doses, inflammation can actually protect you. Unfortunately, many people experience chronic inflammation that persists for months on end. In these cases, it can lead to serious illnesses, including heart disease and chronic pain. Add the best anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to lower your risk of severe inflammation to protect your health. Start with these suggestions.
What are the basics of an anti-inflammatory diet?
The anti-inflammatory diet was first popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. In his writing, he explains that it really isn’t a diet: it’s a way of life. By choosing foods based on scientific knowledge of how they can benefit your health, he notes, you can improve how your body functions.
An anti-inflammatory diet is not a weight-loss program, nor is it a temporary eating plan. If you stick to anti-inflammatory foods, you can permanently maintain ample vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, and protective phytonutrients in your diet.
In general, you can adapt many of your favorite recipes to incorporate the basics of an anti-inflammatory diet. General tips include:
- Aim for a variety of fresh, whole, and unprocessed foods
- Include as much fresh food as possible
- Minimize your consumption of processed foods, sugar, and fast food
- Eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables
- Try to include carbohydrates, fat, and protein in each meal
- Decrease your consumption of animal protein, except for fish and high-quality cheese and yogurt
- Eat more vegetable protein, especially from beans
- Include soy foods in your diet
- Drink pure water (or drinks that are mostly water) throughout the day
- Drink tea instead of coffee
As always, this diet should be a part of your overall healthy lifestyle. It’s important to get adequate sleep and engage in regular physical activity as well in order to truly reap the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet.
What are anti-inflammatory diet benefits?
Scientists continue to study how food affects the body’s inflammatory processes. While there is still a lot to unravel, their findings begin to confirm a few things about an anti-inflammatory diet.
Research shows that what you eat can affect the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in your blood. CRP is a marker for inflammation. Foods like processed sugars release inflammatory messengers that can raise your risk of chronic inflammation. On the other hand, fruits and veggies help your body fight against oxidative stress, which can trigger inflammation.
Beyond the possibility of keeping inflammation at bay, there are many additional benefits to following this type of diet. All of the foods discussed here can help lower your risk of obesity, heart disease, and a range of other conditions.
The best anti-inflammatory vegetables
Vegetables are a critical part of any healthy diet. Low in calories and high in vitamins, they can prevent inflammation and help you maintain a healthy weight.
When possible, add the following vegetables into your diet.
Broccoli is one of the best sources of sulforaphane, an antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
It’s a cruciferous vegetable that can also decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, which may reduce inflammation and even protect against cancer. In one study, women with excess weight significantly decreased inflammatory markers by simply drinking tomato juice.
Bonus tip: Preparing tomatoes in olive oil (which is also later on this list) can maximize the amount of lycopene you absorb.
Many varieties of mushrooms, including portobello and shiitake, are rich in anti-inflammatory components.
Some of these include polysaccharides, carotenoid vitamins, and all of the B vitamins. Bonus: mushrooms are also fairly high in protein for a veggie!
4. Leafy greens
We’ve heard it time and time again: eat your greens! In this case, leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and collards are considered superior to their counterparts.
Through vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E ,and vitamin K, these vegetables help your body fight chronic inflammation. Many leafy greens also contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat that is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits.
The key to the nutritional benefit of carrots is in the name. They contain beta-carotene, which your body can convert to vitamin A.
This powerful antioxidant may help reduce your risk of cancer by keeping your healthy cells in good working order.
The best anti-inflammatory herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are a wonderful way to add flavor and depth to your food. But, did you know that many can even pack beneficial anti-inflammatory nutrients?
Add these herbs and spices to your kitchen today.
Cinnamon is one of the most beloved spices. From pies to lattes, it is extremely versatile, which means you won’t have a problem incorporating it into your anti-inflammatory diet.
One study found that the compound cinnamaldehyde disrupts the signaling that’s responsible for the formation of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
You’ll find garlic in many savory recipes, which makes this one easy to add to your diet.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, garlic contains diallyl disulfide. This is another compound that limits the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Opt for fresh garlic to reap the full benefits!
Spice up your meals with a little cayenne pepper. If you love a bit of heat, feel free to turn it up.
Chili peppers contain capsaicinoids, a well-known anti-inflammatory compound.
9. Black pepper
Black pepper is a staple in nearly every kitchen cupboard.
According to a study published in Arthritis Research & Therapy, piperine, a compound that gives black pepper that sharp taste, can prevent inflammation.
We can’t praise ginger enough! The anti-inflammatory properties of this root have been known for centuries.
During the past few decades years, many researchers have found scientific support for the belief that ginger is a staple in any anti-inflammatory diet. Get it in powder form for easy use or use it grated raw in tea or stir fries.
The best anti-inflammatory teas
Research suggests that anti-inflammatory tea can help treat many different chronic conditions. Here are the best teas for inflammation and pain.
11. Green tea
If you can only choose one anti-inflammatory tea, green tea is the way to go!
Like other forms of true tea, green tea is made from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve heart health.
To get the most from your green tea, look for high levels of EGCG.
12. Black tea
Black tea carries with it many of the same research-proven benefits as green tea.
Two black tea compounds (flavonoids hearubigins and theaflavin) inhibit inflammatory enzymes and control or eliminate free radicals in the body.
13. Ginger tea
As noted, ginger is well-researched as an effective remedy for both pain and inflammation. Gingerol and shogaol are the compounds in ginger that fight inflammation and oxidative stress (which can lead to heart disease).
Add ginger to your warming teas (like chai) or create a plain hot ginger tea.
14. Rooibos tea
Caffeine-free and with a flavor some compare to cranberries, rooibos contains two of the most powerful flavonoids found in anti-inflammatory tea: aspalathin and nothofagin.
Since it’s also caffeine-free, it can be helpful for those who suffer from caffeine-induced migraines or pain.
15. Turmeric tea
Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory root that has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal tea.
It harnesses the power of curcumin, a well-studied compound that fights inflammation, and has been found effective in reducing the pain and inflammation of arthritis.
The best anti-inflammatory fruits
While they do contain more natural sugar than other whole foods, fruit is still incredibly nutritious. Here are the best anti-inflammatory foods in the fruit category.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that berries make an appearance on our list of the best anti-inflammatory foods.
From strawberries to blueberries, berries are full of antioxidants known as anthocyanins. These compounds may reduce inflammation, boost immunity, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
While it may seem like a fad, avocado toast is all it’s cracked up to be!
According to 2013 analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), people who regularly eat avocados have better diet quality and nutrient intake than others.
Avocados also contain carotenoids, an antioxidant that can help lower inflammation.
Whether they’re red or green, grapes contain a mix of antioxidants that can combat inflammation.
One of these, known as resveratrol, even shows promise in helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as cancer.
Oranges (and citrus fruit in general) pack a punch when it comes to vitamin C and potassium.
Whether you peel it and eat it whole or enjoy a glass of freshly-prepared juice, you’ll also get a healthy dose of fiber, calcium, and folate.
Given the high concentration of beneficial compounds, such as anthocyanin, it’s not surprising that cherries pack serious health benefits.
They’re also a rich source of polyphenols and vitamin C, which both have antioxidant anti-inflammatory properties. In one particular study, consumption of cherries decreased markers for inflammation in 11 out of 16 cases.
What are other anti-inflammatory foods?
If you’re looking to round out your meals with more anti-inflammatory components, we have you covered. Add the following best anti-inflammatory foods and ingredients to your next meal plan.
21. Olive oil
The Mediterranean diet has long been linked to long-term health and wellness, and olive oil is an essential ingredient in this way of eating.
It is rich in monounsaturated fats, which are good for blood vessels. Plus, it also contains polyphenols that work as antioxidants to protect your cells. Olive oil can also reduce inflammation and prevent high cholesterol.
Like olive oil, almonds are a great source of monounsaturated fats, as well as vitamin E and magnesium. Several studies have shown a correlation between eating almonds and having a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
What’s more, almonds are a healthy part of any weight loss plan. While they may be higher in calories than fruits or vegetables, they can help you feel full longer.
Beans and legumes are an important part of the anti-inflammatory diet. According to Dr. Weil, they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Even better? They’re affordable.
Navy beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans are all great sources of protein that contain polyphenols that work as antioxidants to fight inflammation.
24. Fatty fish
The American Heart Association suggests you eat fatty fish at least twice a week because of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest a higher intake of these fatty acids is good for the heart because these healthy fats help reduce inflammation and keep cholesterol down.
Bonus tip: Salmon contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other type of fish or seafood. Also look for sustainably and safely sourced types of fish from Seafood Watch.
25. Chia seeds
These tiny seeds are some of the best anti-inflammatory foods!
Simply sprinkle them over yogurt, smoothies, and cereal for a boost of alpha-linolenic, another type of omega-3 fatty acids.
Find delicious anti-inflammatory recipes
Ready to get cooking? Dinner is a great place to start. From fresh vegetables to heart-healthy whole grains and fats, there are so many options. Check out our list of 20 easy dinner recipes to combat the consequences of inflammation. From baked turkey meatballs to buffalo cauliflower, there are flavors for every palate. You can also find some of the best anti-inflammatory cookbooks here.
On the other hand, if you’re suffering from chronic pain, start your day with anti-inflammatory breakfast recipes. Although all fruits and vegetables contain powerful micronutrients, some foods carry extra anti-inflammatory benefits. Our anti-inflammatory smoothies may help you feel better on a particularly sore day. Have time to sit and enjoy a full meal in the morning? Don’t miss our quick and easy anti-inflammatory breakfast recipes.
While your diet can have a significant effect on pain and inflammation, sometimes it isn’t enough. Advanced care from a specialist may be necessary to find the relief you need. For more help with your pain or other inflammatory condition, find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below.