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 foods.
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. Consequently, this helps begin the healing process of that wound. This process is completely normal and is often termed “innate immunity.” In other words, 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. However, this constant stimulation creates MORE cell recruitment, inflammation, and unwanted changes in our cells.
Subsequently, this repetitive cycle leads to increased inflammation in the body and chronic disease risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
These include conditions such as:
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 food can put our bodies into a chronic inflammatory state?!
Research shows that the food choices we make heavily impact whether or not your body enters into an inflammatory state.
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. This is a marker for inflammation that is found in our blood.
Research consistently shows 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
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 are often sought after for their creamy texture and satiating taste. But they are also 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 promote heart health by slowing the rate of LDL, otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol, oxidation.
Additionally, research shows 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!
Beets contain a naturally occurring pigment called betanin which gives beets their brilliant red color!
A 2016 study found that beetroot and beetroot juice were both were “effective in improving blood pressure, endothelial function, and systemic inflammation. Certainly, this makes them a highly anti-inflammatory food!
Additionally, beets may 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. This is the phytochemical that gives these berries their deep red, purple, and violet pigments.
Further, anthocyanins 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%!
Additionally, other benefits associated with berry consumption include a reduction in cancer risk, cognitive decline, dementia, heart disease, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Green tea contains antioxidant compounds called catechins. EGCG (Epigallocatechin-3-gallate) is the major and most active component.
EGCG reduces inflammation by decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
Green Tea Tip! To optimize health benefits, brew tea at lower temperatures, between 160-180 degrees F and then steep for 1-4 minutes (Note: Boiling water is 212 degrees F). Above all, 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 powder. Consumption of the entire leaf itself results in more potent effects, consequently making this a powerhouse anti-inflammatory food.
Olive oil is rich in:
This certainly makes it an excellent anti-inflammatory food.
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. As a result, it contains a more pleasant taste. Most importantly, it contains the highest amount of antioxidants, vitamins, and polyphenols.
A staple vegetable consumed worldwide, onions are packed with anti-inflammatory properties.
Onions contain an anti-inflammatory flavonoid called quercetin.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, quercetin reduces inflammation. It does this, for instance, by:
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.
Spinach Tip! Lutein is a fat-soluble antioxidant. 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. For example, you can use olive oil or a whole egg.
Turmeric is commonly referred to as the “golden spice”. Moreover, it 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 show 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.
However, curcumin is not well absorbed by the body on its own.
Turmeric Tip! Pair turmeric with black pepper. This is because it contains a bioactive ingredient called piperine that increases curcumin absorption by up to 2000%!
Walnuts contain the omega 3 fatty-acid Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA). Consequently, this promotes heart health through the reduction of artery blocking cholesterol.
Overall, ALA is particularly beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Here are some great ways to add walnuts to your diet for example:
Wild-caught salmon is an excellent source of:
Omega-3 fatty acids decrease, for example:
- C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the body
- concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines
- the synthesis of triglycerides which contribute to high cardiovascular disease risk
The American Heart Association recommends consuming 2 servings of fish (particularly fatty fish) per week. For example, a serving is 3.5 ounces cooked or about ¾ cup of flaked fish.
It’s important to remember that just one meal won’t make you healthy or unhealthy. That is to say, no single food or ingredient will make you healthy or unhealthy. Instead, it is your entire diet 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…
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 a whole-body approach and scientific research, I empower and educate individuals on how to implement small changes into their daily life. These changes, in turn, lead to sustainable and lifelong healthy habits.