Every time we open the fridge or scan a menu, we have a choice – to either select foods that help our bodies fight inflammation or pick ones that trigger an inflammatory response. In other words, foods that improve or hurt our overall wellness.
Inflammation occurs naturally as part of the body’s immune response. It’s essential to our body's healing system against toxins, infection and injury – you know, those classic signs of swelling, redness and sometimes pain. However, the story changes when inflammation lingers and never fully goes away. Chronic inflammation can be a problem that experts link to a wide range of diseases, like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, eye disorders, arthritis, obesity, autoimmune diseases, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Diet Matters, Really!
In order to reduce harmful levels of inflammation, we need to aim for a well-rounded healthy diet, and prioritize self-care to keep our bodies strong and functioning correctly. One eating plan that closely follows the tenets of anti-inflammatory eating is the Mediterranean Diet, an eating regimen high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthy oils. In order to have ample amounts of energy and improve our long-term health, it’s critical that we load our bodies full of clean, organic foods. Here are 10 of our top nutrient-dense foods that are scientifically proven to help fight inflammation.
Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are fruits we can (and probably should) be eating on the daily. They’re low on the glycemic scale, high in fiber, packed with vitamins A, C, and E, and contain a substantial amount of antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which give them their vibrant red and blue colors. They are great for fighting and reducing inflammation, cancer and cardiovascular, in addition to training our cells to respond better to any episodes of future inflammation. We love eating berries as a snack, just as is, or throwing them in a smoothie.
Avocados are loaded with monounsaturated “good” fats that help reduce cholesterol and soothe inflammation in the joints. They are also high in vitamin K, C and E, manganese, selenium and zinc. Avocados are needed for energy, blood clotting, brain development, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins and limiting inflammation. The various nutrients in avocados have also proven beneficial in preventing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Also, avocados have more potassium than a banana! We can eat an avocado almost every day. Whether it’s guacamole, avocado toast or throwing it on top of pretty much anything, we’re definitely avocado fans for their taste, texture and health benefits, of course.
3. Leafy Greens
Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, dandelion greens and other leafy greens are rich in anti-inflammatory properties and contain a variety of phytonutrients and antioxidants that are alkalizing to the body. They’re packed with vitamins and nutrients like amino acids, vitamins A, C, and K, fiber, magnesium, iron and calcium.
Leafy greens can be included in every meal. They give us glowing skin, keep our eyes healthy and strengthen our digestive system and bones. We like to throw a stem or two in our smoothies, sauté a bunch in the morning with our eggs, whip up a batch of kale chips or simply eat a yummy salad filled with the various colors of the foods we love most.
4. Fatty Fish
Wild salmon and other fatty fish such as trout, sardines, anchovies and mackerel are high in essential omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which have significant anti-inflammatory properties and are critical for brain health (depression and anxiety). This well-studied nutrient is essential to our diet because our body can’t make omega-3s, so we must get them from our food. Fatty fish also is packed with protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B-12, B-3, D, potassium and selenium.
In fact, if we have an autoimmune disease, omega-3’s are even more important because they can help alleviate symptoms caused by Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes, Ulcerative Colitis, Psoriasis and Multiple Sclerosis.
An easy way to get sufficient fatty fish intake is to pan-sear, grill or bake salmon with dill and lemon. We also add anchovies to salad dressings or sauces, eat sardines right out of the tin with some citrus or add them into our vegetable sides, like smashed potatoes.
Studies show that walnuts, almonds, and a variety of other nuts may help reduce harmful inflammation throughout the body and heart disease. Most nuts are high in “healthy” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) as well as omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. We enjoy apples with unsweetened nut butters or a handful of raw cashews for a healthy fat snack. Though be careful not to overdo it – nuts are super high in calories!
6. Beans and Legumes
Dry lentils, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans and chickpeas are all excellent anti-inflammatory sources of plant protein, minerals, B-complex vitamins and vitamin K. They're also filled with beneficial soluble fibers and contain polyphenols that work as antioxidants. Since beans are also high in protein, they're the perfect meat replacement for a complete plant-based meal. Research suggests dry beans may provide health benefits and help prevent some types of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, as well as reduce inflammation.
On the contrary, some people believe that beans and legumes can cause inflammation because they contain lectins which can be hard for some of us to break down. But new studies are proving otherwise. Soaking, sprouting and cooking beans and legumes can actually neutralize the lectins and make consuming these foods perfectly safe. Additionally, some people may have a natural sensitivity to beans and legumes, which can cause an inflammatory response. Therefore it’s important to go slowly in order to determine our body’s personal response. Then it’s easy to incorporate beans into many meals by adding them to salads or using them as a main side in our veggie-grain bowls.
Garlic has been used for hundreds of years for its medicinal properties and studies show that it has both cancer preventative and immune boosting effects. It’s naturally anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-viral, which is what makes it so popular in reducing symptoms of the common cold.
Fresh garlic adds an enormous amount of flavor to recipes, but the wide-ranging health benefits are where garlic truly shines. Garlic contains anti-inflammatory chemicals such as quercetin which naturally inhibits histamine and sulfur compounds that stimulates our immune system to fight disease.
Garlic is great to help treat arthritis pain, inflammation and cartilage damage. We add garlic to pretty much everything. Garlic confit is our new jam for cooking.
8. Ginger and Turmeric
Ginger and Turmeric, similar to garlic, has been used for centuries around the globe as a spice and for its healing properties. Ginger is well known for relieving nausea and helping with motion sickness and pain. As turmeric, its main active ingredient is curcumin, which can suppress molecules known to play major roles in inflammation and is a very strong antioxidant.
Ginger contains substances known as gingerols that reduce inflammation and turn off pain-causing compounds in the body. Ginger supports digestion and aids our intestine function. We love the taste of fresh ginger, but if it’s a little too spicy and strong, ginger capsules are a great alternative, plus they can move things through our intestines twice as fast!
Due to its digestive benefits, ginger has proven to reduce colorectal cancer and boost the immune system (75-80% of our immune system comes from our gut).
Turmeric, and especially its most active compound curcumin, have many scientifically-proven health benefits, such as the potential to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. It may also help improve symptoms of depression and arthritis.
Supplements are a great way to get a high intake of curcumin. Note: It’s recommended to find a product with BioPerine (the trademarked name for piperine), which is the substance that enhances curcumin absorption by 2,000%. Without this substance, most of the curcumin just passes through our digestive tract.
9. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are considered a superfood and the word “chia” translates to “strength” in ancient Mayan language. They are packed with vitamins and nutrients and provide a significant dose of fiber (in fact, they’re one of the best sources of fiber in the world!). Fiber is key for balancing blood sugar and promoting good gut health.
Chia seeds, along with flax seeds, are loaded with antioxidants and omega-3’s. The antioxidants fight free radicals and the omega-3’s reduce inflammation (similar to fatty fish). In a world where our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is not balanced, chia seeds are an easy way to keep our health. We love to keep a chia pudding in the fridge when we’re craving something sweet, sprinkle some seeds on top of our granola or oatmeal, or simply put a spoonful in some water and drink it that way (we’re a fan of the texture!).
Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, some of which have powerful biological effects, and contains nutrients that fight inflammation, such as monounsaturated oleic acid. This incredibly healthy oil benefits our heart, brain, joints and may even reduce cancer risk.
Buying the right kind of olive oil is extremely important. During processing, extra virgin olive oil retains some of the antioxidants and bioactive compounds from olives. For this reason, it’s considered healthier than the more refined varieties of olive oil. You can use olive to cook almost anything and it’s perfect as a base for salad dressings.
Eliminating Inflammatory Foods
It’s important that we cut back or remove foods high in simple sugars like soda, fruit juices or sports drinks with added sweetener, processed meats like hot dogs and deli meats, fried foods like french fries and fried chicken, and refined carbs like white breads and pasta. These foods are bad for our gut, body and mind. We know they taste good, but once we begin to realize how much harm they do, those instant gratifications really aren’t worth the harm. It’s really mind over matter. Food can heal us, if we want it to, and there are hundreds of beautiful, healthy foods to consume and nourish our bodies.
"Eating healthy food fills your body with energy and nutrients. Imagine your cells smiling back at you and saying: 'Thank you.'" – Karen Salmansohn