Inflammation refers to your body’s natural process of fending off things that could be harmful—injuries, infections, or toxins—in an attempt to heal itself. When something hurts our cells, we release chemicals that trigger a response from our immune system, which includes antibodies, proteins, and increased blood flow to the damaged area. In the case of acute inflammation (like a bruise or swelling from an injury), this doesn’t linger for longer than a few days. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is what happens when our body’s “fending off” response lasts and leaves us in a constant state of alert. It’s no secret that chronic inflammation can be detrimental to our health: it’s been linked to many major diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
The good news is that we can use food to combat chronic inflammation. Instead of focusing on all of the inflammatory foods that are quite obvious—sugar, soda, refined carbs, alcohol, red, meat, and processed foods—let’s hone in on the delicious ingredients you can load up on to reduce inflammation.
Leafy greens like Swiss chard, spinach, and kale and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts have powerful anti-inflammatory effects that reduce certain levels in the body that drive inflammation. For extra credit, add avocado to the mix (it also has beneficial compounds that protect against inflammation). Chili peppers contain certain acids that may reduce inflammation, too, as well as raw or lightly cooked mushrooms. Cook them in a frittata, or trying throwing your favorite veggies on the grill.
Berries like acai, strawberries, and blueberries are packed with antioxidants that may reduce inflammation while also boosting immunity. Pack them into superfood smoothies, stir into oatmeal, or try making a DIY acaí bowl.
Fish and Nuts
When it comes to combating inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids are where it’s at. Salmon and sardines might ring a bell as super sources of omega-3s, but seeds and nuts are packed with anti-inflammatory effects, too. Add hemp seeds, flaxseeds, almonds, and walnuts to your diet to help reduce inflammation. You can add them to your breakfast bowl, or sprinkle nuts on salads or roasted vegetables.
Turmeric has a powerful constituent called curcumin: this is what’s responsible for turmeric’s rapid rise in popularity. It has serious anti-inflammatory benefits. Go beyond the golden latte, and add this superfood spice to soups, grain bowls, and dressings. Pro tip: add freshly-ground black pepper to increase turmeric’s absorption.
Ginger helps ease inflammation by slowing the body’s production of cytokines, a protein that triggers chronic inflammation. Ginger’s a natural remedy for an upset stomach, too. Serve it with sauteed vegetables, fish, or bake into cookies.
Last but not least, water: it hydrates us and helps soothe inflammation in the body. For an anti-inflammatory upgrade, make tea. Green or black tea has flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Brew it yourself to avoid any unwanted sugars from packaged versions.