Unlike an infection or acute inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to healing a major trauma, chronic inflammation is persistent. Research suggests that chronic inflammation may lead to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even dementia.
Some foods such as fried foods, sodas and other sweetened drinks, processed foods, foods high in sugar and animal fats can contribute to chronic inflammation. However, there are plenty of foods that are can help combat it.
For the best results, minimize the foods that can contribute to chronic inflammation and add beneficial anti-inflammatory items to your diet. Start with these:
NutsWalnuts, almonds, and nut butters are all anti-inflammatory foods. Although nuts have gotten a bad rap in years past for being high in fat, they actually contain healthy fats, which can protect the heart from cardiovascular disease.
Of all the nuts, walnuts have the highest amount of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that supports brain health. Research has shown that DHA protects the brains of infants, aids in adult cognition, and helps to prevent cognitive decline with aging.
Hazelnuts and almonds both have high concentrations of vitamin E, which has been associated with decreased cognitive decline in aging as well. A ¼-cup serving of nuts provides nearly half of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin E.
Want to get more nuts into your diet? Put a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of nut butter into your morning smoothie, add them to salads, or sprinkle ground nuts over the top of grilled fish or other main dishes. If you’re reaching for nut butters, make sure to choose one without artificial sweeteners or ingredients that can increase inflammation.
FishColdwater fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines are all anti-inflammatory foods. These fish need a lot of fat to stay warm in the colder northern waters; all of that fat is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, an effective anti-inflammatory.
A study from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that omega-3s are as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in reducing pain associated with inflammation. Anchovies and salmon have the highest content of omega-3s of any fish, followed closely by herring, mackerel, and tuna, according to the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine.
Check the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch card to ensure you’re eating varieties of fish that are sustainable and not high in toxins; then put some of your favorite fish on the grill and load up on all that anti-inflammatory goodness.
Herbs and SpicesThere are so many anti-inflammatory herbs and spices that there’s something to fit every taste bud. Whether you like the bold, spicy flavors of turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cinnamon, or the more earthy flavors of rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano, these powerhouse herbs all have incredible anti-inflammatory properties.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, which is high in anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to be a good pain reliever for arthritis and joint pain.
- Cinnamon, known for helping stabilize blood sugar, also aids in the relief of muscle and joint aches.
- Ginger, known for aiding in morning sickness and nausea, contains potent anti-inflammatory attributes.
- Oregano has the highest level of antioxidants of all the herbs—up to 20 times more antioxidants than other herbs and four times more than blueberries.
Healthy FatsOlive oil, avocados, and nut oils were once demonized as being unhealthy and causing people to gain weight, but nothing could be further from the truth. These healthy fats are actually anti-inflammatory and are supportive to brain, eyes, heart, and skin health. Consumption of monosaturated fats, like those found in avocados, has also been linked to decreased risk of cancer and diabetes.
In a study done in Australia, olive oil was shown to perform as well as or better than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in reducing inflammation and pain, and protecting against chronic inflammation.
Olive oil has become a popular, thanks to interest in and health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Unfortunately, many brands have added other oils, and even artificial flavoring and coloring to their products. To ensure you’re eating pure olive oil, check your favorite brand against this truth-in-olive-oil list.
Use olive oil liberally on your salads and in recipes that call for oil. The anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil can deteriorate with high heat, so it’s best not to cook with it higher than medium heat. Or eat an avocado a day to keep the doctor away.
FruitsBlueberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, you name it: If it’s a berry it’s going to be good for you. Of all the fruits, berries are packed with the most antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Blueberries contain phytonutrients called anthocyanins, which are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
A study at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that the phytochemicals of cranberries, long known for their protection in bladder health and urinary tract infections, may also help to prevent the development of cancer.
Berries are high on the dirty-dozen list of fruits containing pesticide residue. Try to buy—and eat—only organic berries. When fresh berries aren’t in season, frozen ones are nearly as healthy because they’re flash-frozen, which preserves the majority of their nutrients (unlike cooking or canning fruit.)
Pick up your favorite berries and add some to your smoothie, top your granola, snack on them throughout the day, or eat them for dessert after dinner.
VegetablesDark leafy greens, including kale, spinach, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, collard greens, and the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage all contain a large amount of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Research is ongoing to see exactly how these veggies help fight cardiovascular disease and cancer. We know they’re high in fiber, low in fat, and contain large amounts of folic acid, vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium as well as phytochemicals such as beta-carotene and lutein. Rather than taking a supplement or pill made up of one or two compounds, it’s best to eat the whole food and get the benefit of all phytonutrients working in harmony.
Try this salmon and greens recipe for a delicious meal that incorporates most of these anti-inflammatory foods. Just sprinkle a few blueberries on top and you’re good to go.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.