Inflammation is something we all hear about. But what is it, what causes it, and what are some of the best anti-inflammatory foods? I will cover it all in today’s post. Feel free to add your experiences, ideas, and insights in the comment section below.
Inflammation has become quite a buzz word in recent years. I know that in my experiences with my health in the past, inflammation was something I really wanted to reduce, and maybe you can relate.
When we hear the word ‘inflammation’ we often associate it with something bad. And it can be! But not all the time.
What is inflammation?
Very generally speaking, inflammation is the body’s immune response to an irritant. This irritant could be things like a foreign object such as a splinter in your finger, or invaders like germs or viruses. Inflammation can be seen and felt as soreness, redness, and swelling. Even exercise can cause inflammation in the body, especially if we overdo it.
But not all inflammation is bad. In fact, a healthy inflammatory response is crucial for helping us overcome illness and heal wounds.
That being said, there is such thing as too much inflammation. Chronic or systemic inflammation is associated with cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, metabolic diseases including obesity and metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and autoimmune conditions. Conditions ending in “-itis” denotes inflammation, such as arthritis, dermatitis, or gastritis.
So while some inflammation can be a good thing (and is simply part of life) too much can be problematic.
What causes inflammation?
Inflammation can be caused by things like a cut or wound, virus, or even exercise. But there are also food and lifestyle factors known to promote inflammation. These include:
• excessive alcohol intake
• trans fats from ultra-processed foods
• excessive intake of refined carbohydrates
• high intake of red meat
• sedentary lifestyles
Which foods can reduce inflammation?
A simple rule of thumb for combating inflammation in the body is to eat more whole foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and healthy fats. You know, the stuff we already know are best for us to eat! No surprises here. These foods contain a variety of antioxidants and nutrients like minerals and essential fatty acids. The Mediterranean Diet is known for being quite anti-inflammatory because it’s based on so many fresh, whole foods. I will most likely write an article about this diet and its specifics very soon.
Let’s explore 12 anti-inflammatory foods that are wonderful for our body. These are foods that I personally eat most often! I’ll also be sharing ways that you can incorporate these foods into your diet. Remember though that while these are great to eat more of, there’s no need to stress about them or become obsessive about eating anti-inflammatory foods at all times.
I love berries! Berries like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries all contain potent antioxidants called anthocyanins that give them their rich ruby red and blue colours. These compounds have anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce your risk of disease.
Ways I Use Berries:
- frozen in smoothies
- frozen in cereal
- a fresh handful as a snack
2. Broccoli & Other Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and cauliflower are rich in an antioxidant compound known as sulforaphane that fights inflammation by reducing your levels of inflammatory cytokines (small proteins our cells release that mediate inflammation and have an effect on the communications between cells).
For even more sulforaphane, try broccoli sprouts! You don’t know how to sprout your own broccoli? Stay tuned for the next upcoming health articles on sprouting. Broccoli sprouts specifically are small but mighty powerhouses that contains an even richer source of sulforaphane than regular broccoli.
3. Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collards contain plenty of fibre, minerals like calcium and magnesium, B vitamins and antioxidants that support our cells. Minerals like magnesium are a wonderful way to help to protect against inflammation and it’s great to get a good supply of this nutrient in your diet daily.
4. Whole Grains
Studies show whole grains may help reduce systemic inflammation. The key here is whole grains. Refined ‘white’ grain products have the germ and bran removed, whereas whole grains have them intact and contain much more fibre and nutrients. Think whole grain brown rice, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, whole wheat. Look for words like whole grain on package labels.
Whole grains are also wonderfully beneficial for our microbiome, supplying prebiotic fibres that help support gut health.
Seeds are small but mighty. Specifically, flax, hemp, and chia seeds offer a fantastic source of anti-inflammatory omega-3-fatty acids. Omega-3s have been shown to benefit heart health, cholesterol levels, and inflammation of the joints and skin. I love adding seeds to just about everything! Toss them in a smoothie, sprinkle on toast, or mix into a salad.
6. Fatty Fish
Speaking of omega-3s, fatty fish are another great source. Think salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies. If you’re worried about mercury, opt for smaller fish rather than large ocean predator fish. Safer fish include salmon (farmed or wild), trout, tilapia arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, sole, flounder, halibut, haddock, Pollock, cod, and canned light tuna. Big fish like tend to have higher amount of mercury.
Fish oil supplements can be a great option also. I like the brand Nutrasea. Go for an algae based omega-3 supplement if you want a plant-based option.
I love baking salmon in the oven with some salt, pepper, lemon and garlic. I also have a few sauces and glazes I love using.
Fish oil supplements can be a great option also. I like the brand PURE.
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil contains an antioxidant called oleocanthal that has anti-inflammatory effects. In one study on the Mediterranean diet, several inflammatory markers decreased in those who consumed 3 tbsp olive oil daily. The key here isn’t just any olive oil, but extra virgin. Look for ones packaged in dark glass bottles to help protect their delicate properties. Also, Linseed oil is a great oil but be aware that it should never be heated. Just drizzle over your salad. Yum!
Extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are the primary oils I use in my kitchen for cooking and whipping up salad dressings. Enjoy uncooked in vinaigrettes or drizzled over soups and pastas, or use for sautéing — just don’t let the heat get too high or the oil to start smoking or burning.
I love Avocados. The are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fibre, potassium and B vitamins, avocados also contain unique compounds that have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body. I love them in Guacamole, just plain with a bit of salt or sliced up on a slice of bread with salt and pepper.
Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and lycopene, two antioxidants with impressive anti-inflammatory properties. Lycopene may be particularly beneficial for reducing pro-inflammatory compounds related to several types of cancer. And heads up — lycopene is increased when tomatoes are cooked, so enjoy your tomato sauce!
Ginger is such a wonderful plant. Not only does it add an incredibly unique, zesty flavour to a variety of recipes, it contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, most notably gingerol, a main bioactive compound that’s responsible for its medicinal properties.
Ginger is also great for digestion by enhancing gut motility and easing nausea or an upset stomach. Add freshly grated ginger with lemon to hot water for a warming drink, or enjoy ginger tea!
11. Green Tea
Green tea is my favourite tea! You can enjoy it from a teabag or as matcha green tea powder. I adore matcha. Enjoy green tea in the morning instead of coffee!
Many of the benefits of green tea are due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, particularly epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EGCG inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to cells.
Matcha also contains L-theanine, a relaxing amino acid that can help offset the caffeine content, making it energizing but not too overstimulating.
Turmeric contains an active constituent called curcumin that’s responsible for its bright yellow colour and gives it its powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Use it when you cook together with black pepper (freshly grinded is best) because the inflammatory effects are enhanced.
Turmeric can be purchased in its whole root form, or in powder (that’s how I usually use it). It can easily be added to smoothies or cooked in a variety of dishes, like curries and stir fries. I enjoy it in a golden milk latte.