Purpose of this article: To provide nutrition knowledge and food sources to help prevent the exacerbation of chronic disease as well as enhance overall wellness through evidence-based guidance on anti-inflammatory eating.
What is Inflammation?
Simply put, inflammation is the body’s protective response to injury or infection.
So isn’t inflammation a good thing? Well, yes…and no.
When we incur an acute injury like a cut, our body sends immune helper cells to the site of the injury where it induces acute inflammation and helps begin the healing process of that wound. This process is completely normal and is often termed “innate immunity.” This is the normal acute inflammatory response which IS what we want!
However, when it comes to chronic inflammation, that IS NOT what we want.
Chronic inflammation is triggered by an ongoing stimulus in which the immune helper cells try to do their job of healing, but this continuous and ongoing stimulation creates MORE cell recruitment, MORE inflammation, and results in MORE unwanted changes in our cells.
This repetitive cycle leads to increased inflammation in the body and chronic disease risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, 4 in 10 adults have 2 or more chronic diseases, and 7 in 10 deaths worldwide are attributed to chronic illnesses including but not limited to:
- Heart Disease
- Cancer, Diabetes
- Chronic Lung Disease,
- Chronic Kidney Disease, and
Factors like stress, poor sleep quality, age, environmental exposure to toxins, and immune dysfunction can all contribute to chronic inflammation, but did you know that the food can put our bodies into a chronic inflammatory state?!
Food Can Either Fight or Foster Inflammation
Research shows that the food choices we make heavily impact whether or not or body will enter into an inflammatory state or not.
So how do we know which foods are going to cause inflammation and which foods are going to help fight inflammation?
This is where we turn to evidence-based research.
One way we measure inflammation is through C-Reactive Protein – a marker for inflammation that is found in our blood.
Research has consistently shown that the following ingredients contribute to increased levels of inflammation in our bodies:
1. Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
2. Vegetables and seed oils high in omega-6 fatty acids
3. Refined carbohydrates
4. Processed meats
5. Trans fat
10 Anti-inflammatory Fighting Foods
Now that we have defined what inflammation is and discussed factors that contribute to inflammation, here are 10 powerful foods you can incorporate into your diet to fight inflammation!
Avocados, often sought after for their creamy texture and satiating taste, are powerhouses when it comes to fighting inflammation.
Avocados contain a significant amount of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and B-vitamins.
Vitamins C and E are two antioxidants found in avocados that have been shown to promote heart health by slowing the rate of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol oxidation.
Additionally, research has shown that avocados’ potassium and lutein content may help promote normal blood pressure and help to control oxidative and inflammatory stress.
Here are a few great ways you can add avocado into your diet!
- Use as a spread or a mayonnaise substitute on a sandwich
- Create a delicious guacamole dip for crackers or veggie sticks
- Add sliced avocado on top of a healthy egg omelet or scramble
- Enjoy as a decadent avocado mousse dessert
Beets contain a naturally occurring pigment called betanin which gives beets their brilliant red color!
A 2016 study found that beetroot and beet root juice were both were “effective in improving blood pressure, endothelial function, and systemic inflammation.
Additionally, beets have been shown to improve joint discomfort associated with osteoarthritis.
Beet Tip! Due to the fact that betanin concentration is diminished when exposed to heat, lightly steam your beets for about 15 minutes to get the most anti-inflammatory benefits!
Berries like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are rich in anthocyanins – the phytochemical that gives these berries their deep red, purple, and violet pigments.
Anthocyanins have been shown to reduce inflammation through inhibiting nuclear factor-kappaB activation and increasing the PPAR-γ gene.
A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating 1 cup (150g) of blueberries daily reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 15%!
Additional benefits associated with berry consumption include a reduction in cancer risk, cognitive decline, dementia, heart disease, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
- Include fresh and frozen berries into your diet to maximize intake
- Purchase produce in season for optimal nutritional value
- Wash berries just before serving to retain freshness
4. Green Tea
Green tea contains antioxidant compounds called catechins with EGCG (Epigallocatechin-3-gallate) being the major and most active component.
EGCG has been shown to reduce inflammation by decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and oxidative stress caused by free radicals in the body.
Green Tea Tip! To optimize health benefits, brew tea at lower temperatures, between 160-180 degrees F. and steep for 1-4 minutes (Note: Boiling water is 212 degrees F.). Steeping green tea at too high of a temperate, or for too long, can produce an unwanted bitter taste.
Want to up your antioxidant intake even more?! Try matcha powder! Matcha powder is created by grinding green tea leaves into just that, powder. Consumption of the entire leaf itself results in more potent effects.
5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Olive oil is rich in the monounsaturated fat oleic acid, the anti-inflammatory antioxidant oleocanthal, and is a good source of vitamins E and K.
- Study #1: Oleic acid found in olive oil was inversely associated with inflammatory markers such as CRP.
- Study #2: Oleocanthal contains similar anti-inflammatory properties that are found in ibuprofen.
- Study #3: The Mediterranean diet, characterized by an increased consumption of olive oil, is associated with a reduction in CRP and overall inflammation.
Olive Oil Tip: When choosing olive oil, be sure to opt for extra-virgin, or cold-pressed, olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed, contains a more pleasurable taste, and most importantly contains the highest amount of antioxidants, vitamins, and polyphenols.
Onions, a stable vegetable consumed worldwide, are packed with anti-inflammatory properties.
Onions contain an anti-inflammatory flavonoid called quercetin.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, quercetin has been shown to reduce inflammation by:
- Inhibiting inflammation-causing leukotrienes, prostaglandins and histamines in osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA),
- Reducing heart disease risk by lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol,
- Helping prevent the progression of cancer.
Onion Tip! When cooking with red onions, aim to remove as little of the outer layer as possible to best retain its quercetin and antioxidant components.
Spinach is rich in the anti-inflammatory antioxidant Lutein.
- A 2017 study published in Atherosclerosis found that lutein decreased chronic inflammation found in Coronary Artery Diseases (CAD) patients by decreasing the pro-inflammatory cytokine Interleukin 6 (IL-6).
- A 2018 study found that lutein bioavailability is affected by temperature and heating times. Specifically, they found that cooking spinach at higher temperatures decreased its lutein concentration.
Spinach Tip! Lutein is a fat-soluble antioxidant meaning that in order to get the most health benefits from you spinach and increase bioavailability, be sure to pair this leafy green with a healthy fat such as olive oil or a whole egg.
8. Turmeric + Black Pepper
Turmeric, commonly referred to as the “golden spice,” is known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-carcinogenic properties.
The main active ingredient found in turmeric that gives it its anti-inflammatory effects is curcumin.
Studies have shown that curcumin can aid in fighting chronic inflammation in the body by suppressing inflammatory molecules and can subsequently reduce osteoarthritis, general pain, and depression symptoms.
Did you know… curcumin is not well absorbed by the body on its own.
Turmeric Tip! Pair turmeric with black pepper, which contains a bioactive ingredient called piperine, to increase curcumin absorption by up to 2000%!
Walnuts contain the omega 3 fatty-acid Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) which has been shown to promote heart health through the reduction of artery blocking cholesterol.
Overall, ALA has been shown to be particularly beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Here are some great ways to add walnuts to your diet:
- Add chopped walnuts to a green salad
- Toss a small handful of walnuts in a Ziplock bag to enjoy as an on-the-go snack
- Serve walnuts on top of yogurt or oatmeal for a delicious crunch
- Add walnuts into a homemade granola
- Use crushed walnuts as a coating for chicken or fish
10. Wild-Caught Salmon
Wild-caught salmon is a great source of protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and the omega- 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the body, reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and reduce the synthesis of triglycerides which contribute to a high cardiovascular disease risk.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming 2 servings of fish (particularly fatty fish) per week. A serving is 3.5 ounces cooked, or about ¾ cup of flaked fish.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Action Plan
It’s important to remember that just like one meal won’t make you healthy or unhealthy, no one single food or ingredient will make you healthy or unhealthy. Rather it is your entire diet as a whole and the foods you choose to consume on a consistent and regular basis that will ultimately determine your overall state of health.
Not sure of where to start?! Here is my…
Beginner’s Guide to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet:
- Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods, like the one’s listed above, regularly into your diet
- Aim for you meals to be composed of predominantly plants, ~3⁄4 of your plate, with ~¼ coming from high quality animal sources
- Include a wide variety of plant foods and colors in your weekly intake – eat the rainbow of colors
- Choose fresh and whole foods that are full of nutritional value and packed with antioxidants
- Reduce your intake of processed foods & drinks containing chemicals and/or artificial ingredients
Jasmine El Nabli MS, RDN
Creating healthy eating and lifestyle habits without the right tools, skills, and knowledge is often seen as a daunting task, but that’s where I come in. I am here to show you that becoming the happiest and healthiest version of yourself can be done!
Through the combination of a whole-body approach and scientific research, I empower and educate individuals on how to implement small changes into their daily life that in turn lead to sustainable and lifelong healthy habits.
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