When you think of inflammation, you probably imagine the obvious: arthritis, for instance, or an inflammatory disease like IBD. But inflammation is rarely a case of “you either have it or you don’t”. Most of us deal with inflammation on a near-daily basis – we just don’t know it.
Inflammation is capable of affecting the whole body, both on the inside and the outside, and is characterised by a whole host of symptoms. Simply put, inflammation is the body’s response to infection or injury. When a part of your body becomes inflamed, it means something isn’t right, and the body begins to work towards healing the issue.
There’s no denying that inflammation is important, as it’s the first step towards getting better. But symptoms of inflammation, including pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, swelling, fever and sickness can be unpleasant to deal with. You may also suffer from chronic inflammation, which happens when the body’s inflammatory response is triggered unnecessarily. Chronic inflammation is more serious, and can result in stroke, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders.
Thankfully, reducing or even eliminating inflammation is relatively easy – you just need to know what to do. Our diets can affect our body’s levels of inflammation – the foods we consume can either be categorised as neutral (i.e. they don’t do anything positively or negatively, inflammation-wise) or ani-inflammatory, which means they can help to fight the source of te inflammation from the inside out.
Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods on the planet are as follows:
1. Olive oil
Olive oil is a popular Mediterranean cooking staple, and is considered one of the most healthful foods when consumed in moderation. Opt for extra-virgin olive oil, which is the most potent. It contains oleocanthal, a natural compound that has similar effects to ibuprofen, therefore making it useful as a short-term anti-inflammatory drug.
If you currently cook with vegetable or sunflower oil, switch it for olive oil instead. Olive oil is considered one of the healthier cooking oils, and there’s lots you can do with it. Try roasting your veggies in the oil or using it as a meat marinade. Olive oil is healthiest when it isn’t heated, so you could also add it to your salad dressings or drizzle it onto soups or paellas when serving.
Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s worth adding tomatoes to your diet. They have a high content of vitamin C and potassium, as well as a compound called lycopene. According to research, lycopene exhibits anti-inflammatory activity by targeting certain inflamed immune cells and programming them to die.
Tomatoes offer a myriad of health benefits when eaten raw or cooked. If you’re looking for inspiration, why not add them to salads, pasta bakes or curry dishes? You could also roast and blend them to make a soup or stuff them with rice and veggies and bake them in the oven.
3. Leafy greens
Your school dinner lady was right when she told you that eating your greens would make you strong and healthy! And when it comes to anti-inflammation, leafy greens are your best friend. Greens like spinach, rocket, kale, beet greens and collard greens are packed full of vitamins and minerals, and studies have found them to be some of the most impressive anti-inflammatory foods available.
It’s easy to add leafy greens to your dishes, even if you’re not the biggest fan. A good trick is to add them to your curries and hotpots within the last 2 minutes, which will wilt them down so small that you’ll hardly even taste the healthy addition to your dish. You could also blend greens to make a healthy green smoothie or toss them in a tasty salad.
With its high content of essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, salmon is one of the best anti-inflammatory foods available. It helps to maintain and improve the health of some of our most important organs, including the skin, brain and heart. In studies of people who required anti-inflammatory medications, omega-3s were found to reduce the dosage of these medications that was needed.
Cooking with salmon is easy once you get the hang of it. If you don’t already have a favourite way of preparing it, try marinating it in a source, like honey garlic or lemon butter, or add it to your breakfast hash for something a little different.
The majority of nuts are healthy sources of fats, making them effective natural anti-inflammatories, but almonds are the most impressive of them all. They’re packed full of healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, while containing almost no unhealthy saturated fats. Almonds are also high in vitamin E, which helps to protect the immune system from free radical damage, thus reducing inflammation.
You can enjoy almonds as they are as a healthy, easy snack. If you find them a little boring by themselves, you could always add them to a curry or stir fry, or toast them in a pan and add them to soups, salads and breakfast dishes. Just be sure not to eat too many of them at once, as they’re relatively high in calories.
Strawberries are a good source of anthocyanin, which is a type of flavonoid that gives strawberries their deep red colour. Anthocyanins are considered pharmaceutical compounds because of their healthful properties, and, when combined with other phytochemicals found in strawberries, they have potent antioxidant abilities. Strawberries are also rich in folic acid, which is particularly helpful in reducing inflammation in pregnant women.
Like almonds, you may enjoy snacking on strawberries on their own, but they’re brilliant for adding a natural, healthy sweetness to dishes like muesli, yogurt and porridge, too. For something a little different, whip up a strawberry and yogurt smoothie or bake strawberries into a cobbler for a delicious treat.
We all know about the incredible benefits of turmeric by now. This superfood, which is usually added to curries and has a distinct orange colour, has been found in a number of studies to have anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its curcumin content. Curcumin can modify the immune response, helping to prevent inflammation, and has proven particularly beneficial for those suffering from inflammation of the joints.
As with all spices and seasonings, you can pretty much do whatever you like with turmeric. It can be used in a spice rub for grilling meats, or added to soups or curries for flavour. It has a slightly bitter taste, so it’s best to only add a teaspoon at a time. Turmeric is even added to teas nowadays, which are particularly popular in the wellness world. . It works well as a rub for grilling meats, or can be used in curries or soups to add a distinctive Indian flavour. Turmeric tea is also very popular and very easy to make.
Who knew that beans, a staple pantry food, were a source of anti-inflammatory plant protein? Pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans and black-eyed beans are particularly effective, being packed full of B-complex vitamins, vitamin K, and a whole host of healthy minerals. It’s best to cook beans from raw rather than opting for tinned beans, as raw beans tend to be much more nutritious.
You can do so much with the humble bean – and it doesn’t have to be boring, either! Skip the baked beans on toast and add beans to your bakes, pastas, curries, Mexican dishes and salads. Being high in protein, you can use beans as a meat replacement if you’re trying to cut down on your intake of animal products.
9. Whole grains
Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain they were derived from, unlike refined grains, which usually only contain one part of the grain. Brown rice, whole grain pasta, and whole-wheat bread are all examples of whole grains, and are much higher in fibre than their “white” alternatives. Fibre has been linked to anti-inflammation in research, and one study found that participants who consumed whole grains saw a reduced number of inflammatory markers as a result.
Of all the foods on this list, whole grains are the easiest to add to your diet. You simply replace your white bread, pasta, rice and noodles with whole grain alternatives. Most of the time, there’s no distinct taste difference between the two, so you may as well make the healthier decision.
Ginger, a popular Asian cooking ingredient that you probably associate with gingerbread and Christmas, is well-known for its medicinal properties. Gingerol, a compound found in ginger, has been found in studies to have anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumoral effects. It’s no wonder ginger is one of the most popular and effective natural remedies used widely today.
If you love to cook, you’ll find it easy to add ginger to your curries, stir fries, sweet breakfasts and meat dishes. You can also add a thumb-sized piece of ginger to hot water to make a simple ginger tea. This tends to be the easiest way to benefit from ginger on a daily basis.
We all love garlic, and what’s even better is that this fragrant vegetable is incredibly good for you. It contains a compound called diallyl disulphide, which can hinder cytokines in their mission to create inflammation in the body. Garlic is highly recommended as an anti-inflammatory food, especially to those who are suffering from arthritis.
You might be that person who loves garlic so much that they add it to every savoury dish they cook. If that’s the case, we don’t need to tell you how to include it in your diet! But if you need a little advice, try roasting it, frying it, including it in oven bakes, or making your own healthier garlic bread.
Avocados are another food that have reached superfood status in recent years, and for good reason. In terms of nutritional value, they’re very similar to walnuts, which, as we now know, are famed for their anti-inflammatory properties. Being a healthy monounsaturated fat option, avocados contain a wealth of antioxidants and can reduce inflammation effectively.
If you want to start your day the right way, why not eat smashed avo on toast for breakfast? You can also make your own guac using avocado and a few other simple ingredients, or add chunks of avo to your salads and even pasta sauces.
Like strawberries, blueberries are a good source of the anti-inflammatory flavonoid, anthocyanin. They’re also rich in a variety of vitamins that can help to lesson your body’s inflammatory, and chemicals that can regulate the function of the immune system, reducing the risk of chronic inflammation.
You can add blueberries to your sweet breakfasts and healthy desserts, so you can always reach for an anti-inflammatory pick-me-up between your main meals. The internet is packed full of inspiration if you’re looking for blueberry recipes, so search online if you need ideas.
14. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are perhaps the mightiest seeds out there. They might only be tiny, but a single teaspoon of them is incredibly beneficial to brain and heart health. One portion of chia seeds contains a high percentage of your daily intake of fibre, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, and it doesn’t take a lot to benefit from their anti-inflammatory effects.
With their unique, nutty flavour, chia seeds work just as well in sweet dishes as they do savoury. Most people choose to sprinkle chia seeds on top of porridge, yogurt, salads and stir fries. You can also make a vegan egg substitute for chia seeds or mix them with milk to make tasty, healthy chia pudding.
15. Green tea
It’s considered the healthiest beverage in the world – we’re talking about green tea, of course. Packed full of polyphenols, which are well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties, green tea is the best beverage to enjoy when you wake up in the morning.
We don’t need to tell you how to make green tea – just swap out your regular breakfast tea for a green tea alternative and enjoy! It’s best to drink green tea exactly how it’s brewed, but you can add a little cinnamon honey to taste if you prefer.
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We’ve only featured the anti-inflammatory foods on this list, but are there any you should avoid? Generally, you should reduce your intake of foods that are high in sugar or salt, or those that are highly processed. Avoid processed meats, which are packed full of saturated fats, as well as whole milks and cheeses, butter, and fizzy drinks.
Ultimately, switching out your foods for anti-inflammatory alternatives can greatly reduce your risk of disease and help you to stay at the peak of health. If you’re keen to live the longest, happiest life possible, following an anti-inflammatory diet is the way forward.