10 Of The Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Acute inflammation is a process that happens normally and can facilitate healing after infection or injury. The complex process ultimately results in common symptoms of pain such as heat, swelling, and redness.

However, if inflammation persists for an extended amount of time, it becomes chronic, and chronic inflammation contributes to the physiological processes associated with many diseases.

Nutrition plays an important role in the prevention of chronic inflammatory diseases. For example, research has shown found that diets high in trans fat and saturated fat are pro-inflammatory.[1] And on the other hand, a diet high in monounsaturated fats can help reduce inflammation.[2]

1. Broccoli

Broccoli is one of the richest dietary sources of sulforaphane, a phytochemical with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.[3]

Studies have shown that sulforaphane activates a protein known as Nrf2, which helps to protect arteries from inflammation that can lead to atherosclerosis.[4] Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease which results in a build-up of plaque up inside the arteries, and can lead to angina, heart attack or stroke.

What to do: For optimum antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect, steam broccoli lightly as boiling and other cooking methods can destroy a lot of the nutrients in broccoli.[5] Steaming can also help to get rid of pesticide residue if your broccoli is not organically grown.

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2. Beets

Beets are an excellent source of betalain, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.[6]

Beets are also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is associated with inflammatory diseases. Individuals consuming less than the RDA of magnesium have been show to be 1.48 to 1.75 times more likely to have elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation marker.[7]

What to do: Do not throw your beet leaves away; they also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.[8]

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3. Olive Oil

Studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of phenolic compounds of virgin olive oil.[9][10]

One phenolic compound known as oleocanthal found in extra virgin olive oil has been discovered to have powerful natural anti-inflammatory benefits. Oleocanthal exhibits the same anti-inflammatory response in the body as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory ibuprofen by inhibiting the inflammatory enzymes cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2).[11]

Olive oil helps to reduce the risk of diseases that are associated with low-grade chronic inflammation such as atherosclerosis and arthritis.[12]

The predominant fatty acid in olive oil is known as oleic acid, which also been shown to help reduce levels of inflammatory markers.[13]

What to do: Add two to three tablespoons a day to your diet. Be aware that 1 tablespoon of olive oil has about 125 calories. Buy only extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and look for the brands that are sold in dark bottles as sunlight degrades the antioxidant properties. Use olive oil for salad dressings or as a substitute for butter. Although EVOO can be used for most types of cooking, the anti-inflammatory activity of oleocanthal is lost from heating.[14]

4. Coconut oil

Besides the immune boosting medium chain saturated fat content, coconut oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.[15]

One study has shown that antioxidants extracted from virgin coconut oil to be more effective for inflammation reduction in arthritis than Indometacin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug often prescribed for arthritis.[16]

What to do: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil a day to your diet. Make sure it is cold pressed and not the cheaper chemically processed kind. Coconut oil can be used for cooking as it has a high smoke point of 350°F (175°C). Add it to your morning coffee and oatmeal to help boost metabolism for the day.

5. Fish

Certain types of fish are rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), omega-3 fatty acids which have long been related to reduced inflammation and a lower risk of chronic inflammatory diseases.[17]

Studies have also shown a reduced use of anti-inflammatory drugs with an increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids.[18]

Higher intakes of EPA and DHA have been associated with decreased inflammatory markers.[19]

Salmon has the added benefit of containing astaxanthin, an antioxidant with potent anti-inflammatory properties. Astaxanthin is found in red hued shellfish and fish such as salmon and red trout.[20]

What to do: Include at least 3 to 4 ounces fish in your diet twice a week. Some of the best sources of omega-3 rich fish are salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel and anchovies.

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6. Turmeric

Curcumin is the active anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric, a commonly consumed spice in curry dishes.

Curcumin is effective for reducing inflammation associated with colitis, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.[21][22]

When a study compared the anti-inflammatory potency of curcumin to aspirin and ibuprofen, curcumin was found to more potent.[23]

What to do: Add 1 to 3 grams of ground turmeric powder a day to your diet; 1 gram is about ½ teaspoon. Use turmeric in rice, soups, curries or brew some tea with it. Ingested curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, but the addition of black pepper can increase absorption by 2000%.[24]

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7. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the best source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Lycopene is also an anti-inflammatory agent that prevents the production of inflammatory cytokines.[25]

Consumption of tomato juice has been shown to reduce inflammation in overweight individuals.[26]

What to do: Cooked tomatoes and processed tomatoes are better than raw tomatoes as the availability of lycopene is increased. Remember to choose BPA free canned tomatoes or purchase those sold in glass containers. Cooking tomatoes in olive oil boosts the availability of lycopene.[27]

8. Berries

Berries such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are an excellent source of antioxidants known as anthocyanins which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.[28][29][30]

A study has revealed that daily blueberry consumption can increase natural killer cell (NK) counts. NK cells are crucial components of the innate immune system and play an important part in the regulation of inflammatory responses.[31]


Image Source: Dr Axe

What to do: Add at least one daily serving of berries to your diet. Add them to your breakfast oatmeal or yogurt and replace sugar laden desserts with berries. Avoid conventionally grown strawberries as they have high pesticide residue levels.

9. Cherries

Sweet and sour cherries contain several antioxidants and polyphenols that possess anti-inflammatory properties.[32]

Bing cherries contain an anti-inflammatory compound called cyanidin which inhibits the activity of an enzyme involved in the production of uric acid.

One study showed that individuals who consumed Bing cherries for 28 days had a reduction in CRP inflammation markers which remained low for days after discontinuing cherry consumption.[33]

Studies have found that cherry anthocyanidins can block both COX-1 and COX-2, two enzymes part of the pain process. The anti-inflammatory activities of the cherry anthocyanidins were found to be as effective as the anti-inflammatory drugs ibuprofen and naproxen.

One study has shown that individuals who drank tart cherry juice after exercise had less muscle pain.[34]

What to do: Add a handful of cherries or a glass of cherry juice a day to your diet.

10. Dark chocolate

Cocoa and dark chocolate contain high concentrations of flavanols which act as strong antioxidants. Cocoa flavanols have been associated with numerous health benefits such as improving blood flow decreasing blood pressure, and having anti-inflammatory properties.[35]

A study has shown that regular consumption of small doses (20 g every 3 days) of dark chocolate is associated with lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein.[36]

In another study, participants who drank a beverage every day made with 40 grams of unsweetened cocoa powder had reduced levels of adhesion molecules, which are inflammatory markers associated with atherosclerosis.[37]

What to do: Add a couple of tablespoons of unsweetened dark cocoa powder to your morning oatmeal for an anti-inflammatory and dietary fiber combination. Choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa, read labels and keep an eye on calories. The higher the nonfat cocoa solid content, the higher the flavonoid content will be. Percentage of nonfat cocoa solids found in some chocolate products: 82% in unsweetened cocoa powder, 23% in dark chocolate, 6% in milk chocolate.[38]