Chronic inflammation can be very harmful to our body. It can lead to many diseases and weight gain. Many foods that we eat regularly can add to the inflammation. Having anti-inflammatory foods is the best way to deal with inflammation, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, improving mood and overall quality of life. Some of the easily available anti-inflammatory foods are leafy greens, beets, avocados, ginger, turmeric, nuts, coconut oil, etc.

In this article, we will understand everything about inflammation, foods that we should avoid and top anti-inflammatory foods that we should eat.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a part of our body’s immune response. When we are injured or a foreign body, like a microbe or pollen, enters our body, our immune system gets activated and triggers a process called inflammation.

Bouts of inflammation, directed at invaders, do the essential job of protecting our body. However, when this inflammation persists for days, even when there is no injury or foreign invader, it can be harmful to our health.

Many serious diseases like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, depression and Alzheimer’s are the result of chronic inflammation.

Foods that lead to inflammation

Foods that are highly processed and rich in many saturated fats and sugars are not a good choice. You must not eat these foods if you have inflammation.

  1. Refined carbs like white bread and pastries
  2. High fat and processed meat like burgers, steaks, and hotdogs
  3. Fried foods like fried meats and French fries
  4. Foods that contain trans fats like margarine and coffee creamers
  5. Foods with added sugars like sodas and candies

Foods that combat inflammation or anti-inflammatory foods

Several foods like leafy greens and berries are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. They contain natural antioxidants and polyphenols that help reduce the risk of inflammation and chronic diseases linked to it.

1. Berries

Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Berries contain polyphenol compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties (1).

They also contain antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins that help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Blueberries contain a flavonoid called quercetin that helps fight inflammation and even cancer.

During one study, 25 volunteers were given 250 grams of blueberries for six weeks and 375 grams one hour before running. After six weeks the researchers found reduced oxidative stress and increased anti-inflammatory cytokines in the volunteers (2).

During another study, when ten men and 15 women had strawberries over a period of six weeks, they had lower levels of specific inflammatory markers (3).

2. Leafy greens

Green leafy vegetables like spinach, chard, and collards are naturally alkalizing and high in antioxidant food, and they combat inflammation and optimize body functions on a cellular level.

Swiss chard is a rich source of antioxidants like vitamin A, C, and K. They help protect your brain against oxidative stress which is caused by free radical damage.

Spinach contains anti-inflammatory compounds, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B. Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce asthmatic inflation. They are one of the best anti-inflammatory foods.

3. Fatty fish

Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic ) acid (DHA help reduce inflammation that can lead to diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and kidney disease (4).

During an eight-week study, when 12 patients of ulcerative colitis were given 600 grams of Atlantic salmon, it reduced the simple clinical colitis activity index and increased the anti-inflammatory fatty acid index (5).

In another study when men consumed omega-3 rich fish, they cut their risk of heart disease by 23 percent.

You can take fish oil supplements if you do not like to eat fish.

3. Beets

Beets contain betalain, an antioxidant that gives them their signature color and excellent anti-inflammatory properties (6). Beets are also rich in potassium and magnesium which also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Animal studies have also suggested that beetroot is useful in the reduction of oxidative stress and inflammation (7).

During another study, a group of 24 people was divided into two groups and given beetroot juice and cooked beet for two weeks. Both forms of beetroot were effective in reducing inflammation (8)

Beets are a rich source of carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which play an essential role in eye health as they reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.

4. Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, arugula, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are rich sources of inflammation-fighting agents. They are also one of the best anti-inflammatory foods.

According to two population-based studies, increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables promotes cardiovascular health and improved longevity (9). This may be linked to the anti-oxidant properties of cruciferous vegetables.

Kale contains glucosinolates that are known to prevent cancer. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin which prevents atherosclerosis and reduce the risk of developing cataracts.

Broccoli contains sulforaphane, an antioxidant that fights inflammation by helping to reduce the levels of cytokines and NF-kb, which are responsible for inflammation (10).

Bok choy is a Chinese cabbage that has over 70 antioxidant phenolic substances.

5. Avocados

Avocados are an excellent source of antioxidants and healthy unsaturated fat. They contain persenone A, which suppresses the effects of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase (COX-2), chemicals that are responsible for inflammation in the body.

Avocados also contain carotenoids and tocopherols, which help reduce the risk of cancer (11, 12). Avocados also contain a unique compound that helps in reducing inflammation in young skin cells (13).

One 2013 study found that volunteers who had avocado along with a burger patty showed less inflammation as compared to those who ate the patty alone (14).

6. Turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory properties and thus making it one of the best anti-inflammatory foods. Curcumin is helpful in reducing inflammation that can lead to pathological conditions like cancer, atherosclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases. The anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin is attributed to its ability to inhibit cyclooxygenase-2, lipoxygenase, and inducible nitric oxide synthase (15).

According to the journal Oncogene, curcumin is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative agents (16).

According to one study, when 117 volunteers took 1 gram of curcuminoids for eight weeks, their oxidative and inflammatory status improved (17). Having black pepper along with turmeric can enhance its effects.

7. Ginger

Ginger contains gingerol which provides it its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (18) that help patients with arthritis.

According to a trial of 247 patients with osteoarthritis, the patients who took ginger extract experienced fewer effects of osteoarthritis (19).

Ginger is also helpful in reducing muscle pain, lowering blood sugar, treating chronic indigestion and lowering cholesterol levels.

In fact, ginger also helps reduce allergic inflammation that can lead to respiratory disorders (20).

8. Pineapple

Pineapple is rich in vitamin C and bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme that makes it a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Pineapple is quite helpful in reducing swelling, bruising and pain caused by injuries, arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis.

The anti-inflammatory properties come from bromelain’s ability to reduce levels of thromboxane A2 and prostaglandin E2. These hormone-like substances are associated with blood vessel constriction, blood clotting and modulation of inflammation.

Pineapple contains vitamin B1, C, potassium and manganese and many other antioxidants that prevent disease formation.

9. Nuts

Nuts contain monounsaturated fats, proteins, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin E, mineral, and phytochemicals. All these contents make nuts as one of the best anti-inflammatory foods.

Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are a tremendous anti-inflammatory addition to your meal if you are a vegetarian. They inhibit the production of neurotransmitters like substance P and bradykinins, which increase pain and inflammation.

Almonds are a rich in vitamin E, and they also contain high amounts of unsaturated fats that reduce inflammation and helps keep joints lubricated.

According to a 2016 study, researchers found that frequent nut consumption is associated with an excellent profile of inflammatory biomarkers (21).

10. Chia seeds

Chia seeds have the right ratio of fatty acids which is 3:1 omega-3 to omega-6. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to decrease inflammation which is the cause of diseases like cancer, arthritis and heart disease.

Chia seeds also contain flavonols, which promote anti-inflammatory responses and cardiovascular health.

According to a 2014 study, chia seeds are a rich source of phenolic compounds. Its antioxidant properties can stop 70 percent of free radical activity (22). This shows that chia seeds are amongst the richest anti-oxidant foods.

11. Coconut oil

Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and thus making it one of the best anti-inflammatory foods. According to a 2014 study, coconut oil has anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic properties (23).

According to one animal study, the antioxidants present in coconut oil help reduce inflammation and are very useful in treating arthritis (24).

Coconut oil is also helpful in treating inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

12. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. The high-polyphenol content in cocoa reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and atherosclerosis (25).  Cocoa also contains flavonols that are responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects (26).

According to a 2006 study, the flavonols present in cocoa possess potential anti-inflammatory activity relevant to cardiovascular health (27).

Make sure you choose chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content to get its anti-inflammatory benefits.

Final words on anti-inflammatory foods

You must have an overall healthy diet to reduce inflammation. In addition to including these anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, you must also avoid highly processed foods.

Some of the easily available anti-inflammatory foods are leafy greens, beets, avocados, ginger, turmeric, nuts, coconut oil, etc.