Here’s the issue: inflammation is both good and bad for your health. There are 12 anti-inflammatory foods that both reduce your risk of disease and promote longevity.
Brief bouts of inflammation are beneficial to your health. For example, we need inflammation to help us recover from injury or to fight off infections.
Chronic inflammation is what you need to avoid as it leads to severe health outcomes. These include weight gain and every chronic disease you can get.
Inflammation is caused by diet and lifestyle. Stress is a contributor, as are inflammatory foods.
Can you reduce inflammation by eating certain foods
No single food will boost your health. But does a strict anti-inflammatory diet reduce inflammation?
This depends on your definition of inflammation. Inflammation, as used in nutrition and health, is a buzzword used by both medical practitioners and the public.
We have certain blood markers for inflammation like C Reactive Protein of TNF Alpha. However, these blood markers are rarely tested in studies that use anti-inflammatory foods.
So where does that leave us? Let’s get practical.
We vary in our sensitivity to dietary changes. We also vary in our sensitivity to foods and medications.
Certain foods can decrease inflammation
Anti-inflammatory foods work, the issue is that these changes might take a long time to happen. Further, they may not be life-altering changes you are looking for.
So where does that leave you?
Experiment with yourself eating these different anti-inflammatory foods. All the superfoods below have almost no downside and a large upside for your health. This is referred to as asymmetric risk.
Here’s the 12 best anti-inflammatory foods you should eat:
1. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish are a potent anti-inflammatory due to the high amounts of omega-3s: EPA and DHA.
All fish have some omega-3s, but fatty fish have the most.
Omega-3s reduce inflammation and are beneficial for brain health. How? Your body breaks down EPA and DHA into potent anti-inflammatory compounds.
There are positive results for omega-3s in the treatment of many chronic diseases. These include: Alzheimer's, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer (3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10).
2. Dark Chocolate
Who knew that something so delicious also fights inflammation. I’ll have another.
Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants called flavanols. Flavanols reduce inflammation in your body by clearing bad stuff out of your cells and arteries.
Choose chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. 85% is better for anti-inflammatory benefits. Using cocoa or cacao in your baking and cooking is a great idea as well.
Eating berries helps your body produce natural killers cells (NK cells). Think of NK cells as your body's internal police department.They keep your immune system running properly.
Turns out that those who eat berries regularly produced way more NK cells (19).
Perhaps one of the best anti-inflammatory foods, berries are also packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Popular berries for fighting inflammation include blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.
Certainly having a moment, avocados are worth the hype. They contain many useful compounds for fighting inflammation and reducing cancer risk.
Avocados also help your skin stay healthy by removing inflammation in skin cells (22).
Should you eat avocado on your hamburger?
One study showed those who ate an avocado slice on their burger had lower inflammation to those who ate the hamburger sans avocado (23).
When you think about anti-inflammatory foods, you probably think of turmeric. It’s that strong spice that gives curries and other dishes a distinct yellow hue. It’s also impossible to get turmeric stains out of clothes. Trust me.
Some (but not all) of the anti-inflammatory benefits are due to a nutrient within turmeric called curcumin.
Daily curcumin consumption reduced inflammation in those suffering from metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity (24).
Many people supplement with curcumin directly, as it may be difficult to get enough from turmeric alone.
The research shows that curcumin seems to be more effective than just turmeric.
If you are going to take curcumin or turmeric, be sure to include black pepper (or piperine on your supplement label).
Piperine is an active component in black pepper which helps to boost curcumin absorption by 2000% (28).
Perhaps more than any other anti-inflammatory food, mushrooms have stood the test of time. They’re history dates back 3000 years when they were and still are used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine.
Mushrooms are also full of B vitamins, selenium and copper. They’re rich in flavor and low in calories -- making them a popular choice among dieters.
For anti-inflammatory benefits, mushrooms are best eaten lightly cooked or raw.
For a full list of mushrooms (including Chaga, Reishi, Lions Mane) and their health benefits, read this.
7. Leafy Green Vegetables
You know they're good for you, you may not like to eat them… these include broccoli, spinach and kale.
The antioxidants in these vegetables seem to stop inflammation in its earliest stage.
For example, broccoli is full of sulforaphane, a potent anti-inflammatory compound (36).
Try to get at least two servings per day. Add your green vegetables to soup, sauces (diced up or blended) or casseroles.
My partner and I dice up broccoli bits and add them to our lasagna sauce. No one notices them and you get all the health benefits.
Quercetin decreases inflammation in your body, especially if you are fighting a disease (39).
Red and orange peppers have a compound called capsaicin, which helps reduce inflammation and chronic pain.
You may not like hot peppers like chili, but they have other powerful anti-inflammatory compounds like ferulic and sinapic acid. These also reduce inflammation and contribute to longevity (40).
9. Bone Broth
Gelatinous bone broth is loaded with anti-inflammatory amino acids like glycine, proline and glucosamine.
Proline fights respiratory inflammation to boost your immune system (42).
Glucosamine is great for fighting joint inflammation. Combined with chondroitin, it helps to rebuild cartilage around creaky joints (43).
You can find properly made bone broth or bone broth powder online. Bluebird Provisions makes a chicken bone broth powder that is full of these anti-inflammatory compounds.
10. Green Tea
Turns out, drinking green tea is great for everything, including inflammation. I’m not a huge fan, but the evidence is solid.
Green tea contains antioxidants (namely EGCG) that protect your cells from damage. This keeps your arteries clear from fatty acids and reduces inflammation.
11. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Turns out the Mediterranean diet was on to something when it comes to anti-inflammatory foods. Extra virgin olive oil is full of the healthier monounsaturated fats, which provide many health benefits.
Some antioxidants in olive oil perform similarly to drugs like ibuprofen. Crazy right?
What’s more, those who use 50 ml of olive oil per day had much lower inflammation than those who do not. It is difficult to parse out the healthy user bias in this study, as the subjects were on the Mediterranean diet. But it’s incredibly interesting (51).
Only use extra virgin olive oil. Any other forms of olive oil are refined and likely diluted with other industrial seed oils. Industrial seed oils are horrible for your health.
The anti-inflammatory foods committee (doesn’t actually exist) is split on whether tomatoes are inflammatory.
Many believe that nightshades (which tomatoes are a part of) are pro-inflammatory due to the skin on them. They claim our bodies cannot digest the skin properly. That being said, there are many benefits to tomatoes, so I included them on the list.
Tomatoes are the best source of lycopene in the Western diet. Why should you care about lycopene? It’s a carotenoid, which is an important precursor to vitamin A.
It is another anti-inflammatory food that helps to prevent chronic degenerative and inflammatory health conditions.
Lycopene is fat soluble, meaning you need to combine it with fat to get properly absorbed. You also need to gently heat lycopene for 15-60 minutes to help with absorption. You might as well pair your tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil (see above) in a slowly simmered sauce for extra anti-inflammatory benefits.
Store bought sauces and tomato paste will have some benefits, but ensure they are organic, without added salt or preservatives.
Inflammatory foods you should avoid
Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply eat some good foods. The benefits from any diet are more about what you are not eating than what you are eating.
It is crucial to limit foods that promote inflammation.
Highly processed foods like fast food, TV dinners and processed meats like hot dogs directly lead to higher inflammation in your body (52).
Hydrogenated oils and deep-fried foods are full of trans fats. Trans fats are pro-inflammatory and should be avoided (53).
Refined carbohydrates (think baked goods), sugary drinks are also known to increase inflammation (54).
Here’s some pro-inflammatory foods you should avoid:
- Junk foods: Chips, fast food, TV dinners.
- Refined carbohydrates: White bread, baked goods, pasta, crackers.
- Sugar: It’s in everything… seriously, check your labels.
- Industrial seed / vegetable oils: Shortening, grapeseed oil, soybean oil, margarine, hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- Fried foods: Fries, donuts, fried chicken, etc.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: Soda, iced tea, kombucha, sweet tea, energy drinks, coffee beverages, sports drinks.
- Processed meats: Hot dogs, pepperoni, some bacon, hamburgers, salami, canned meat, beef jerky.
- Trans fats: Shortening and hydrogenated vegetables oils.
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
Anti-inflammatory diets are in vogue right now. Tom Brady and many other celebrities are pushing the merits of these diets.
“No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG. I’ll use raw olive oil, but I never cook with olive oil. I only cook with coconut oil. Fats like canola oil turn into trans fats.... I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt.”
They’ve been around for a long time in different forms like: auto-immune paleo diet (AIP), low FODMAP, Wahls Protocol and paleo.
These diets typically restrict the foods listed above. They’ll also remove grains and legumes completely from your diet as they’re thought to be inflammatory.
In reality, the Mediterranean diet is pretty close to many anti-inflammatory diets out there. It’s a great starting point if you are looking at anti-inflammatory foods as medicine.
Here’s what you need to know
Chronic inflammation leads to disease and shorter lives. You can do your part by avoiding inflammatory foods and adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet.
Leafy greens, turmeric and fatty fish are great options for reducing inflammation. But here are four good rules to follow before you begin loading up on all the inflammation fighting foods above.
- Fresh, whole food ingredients are best
- You should check the labels of premade foods
- Avoid things you can’t pronounce
- A colorful plate will provide a range of antioxidants
What are your favorite anti-inflammatory foods? Leave a comment and let me know.
FAQs About Anti-Inflammatory Foods
What can be done to reduce inflammation in the body?
You can change your diet to reduce inflammation in your body. The best starting point is to remove common inflammatory foods like fried foods, vegetable oils, processed foods and refined carbohydrates / sugar. From here, you can look at anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, turmeric, green tea and bone broth.
How do anti-inflammatory foods work
Anti-inflammatory foods work by providing compounds like antioxidants that fight inflammation at the cellular level. These compounds fix your cells and remove damaged cells so your body can function properly. Also, these foods help heal your damaged gut and intestinal lining. A properly functioning gut is the hallmark of health and longevity.
I agree! Fermented foods like yogurt are incredibly anti-inflammatory. I decided to leave yogurt out this time because some research shows a significant portion of population develop allergies to dairy products.
Bacteria in yogurt called Lactobacillus rhamnosus reduces uptake of mercury by 36% & arsenic by 78% in humans. Why is yoghurt off your list. I eat organic yogurt with the purest ingredients.