Anti-inflammatory . . . a buzz word that is commonly used but what exactly does it mean? Inflammation is a natural response of the body in times of assault or stress. For example, if you cut your hand, you would experience pain, redness, swelling, and irritation to the area. This is inflammation that you can see but this response also happens internally.
Inflammation is a function that the body needs but when it affects a person chronically and across many bodily systems, this natural process can cause major problems and lead to disease. Chronically elevated inflammation is associated with cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that there are many foods that calm inflammation in a variety of ways. From healthy fat like omega-3s to antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, the following foods contribute to cooling inflammation in the body and promoting health.
Apples are great for your heart! The fiber in apples contains a form called pectin which contributes to decreased blood cholesterol. Aside from high fiber content in apples, their antioxidant capacity is unique and abundant. Apples are known especially for a flavonoid called quercetin, linked in studies with anti-cancer effects and anti-inflammatory support.
Beans and lentils
Packed with fiber and protein, beans have been shown in studies to lower inflammation and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. What many people don’t realize is that beans and lentils are also full of antioxidants. Whether you choose black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, soy, lentils or split-peas in soup, include these powerful little plant-based protein sources in your diet regularly to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits.
Choose strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries or some of the more exotic varieties like acai because all these brightly colored berries are anti-inflammatory powerhouses. Like so many of these other cooling foods, berries are rich in fiber and they also contain antioxidants. The blue, purple and red colors of fruits and veggies often indicate a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins. In human studies, these compounds have been shown to reduce inflammation so be sure to include delicious berries in your diet daily.
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are wonderful for supporting detoxification and calming inflammation. Compounds in these foods particularly support the liver’s ability to get rid of toxic metabolites that need to exit the body. You’ve heard “eat your broccoli” before but for calming inflammation and gaining access to a rich collection of health supporting compounds, it’s really true!
Love the consistency of tapioca or rice pudding? Then chia seeds may be for you. With an outer shell that becomes gelatinous when exposed to liquid, chia seeds are functional food to include in a pudding for breakfast, dessert, or a snack. These trendy seeds are rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids to support inflammation and healthy digestion and elimination. In particular, chia seeds are known for their polyunsaturated fat content including healthy omega 3 linolenic acid.
Unlike chia, sesame or sunflower seeds, the body cannot digest the hard outer coating of a flax seed to access the nutrition within. For a boost of fiber (2 grams per tablespoon!) and plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, be sure to grind your flax seeds and eat them sprinkled on cereal, mixed into muffins or even in a smoothie. Tip: these are HIGH in fiber so introduce to the diet slowly and with increased fluid intake to avoid gastrointestinal distress.
Cold-water fatty fish like salmon, halibut and trout are rich in protein, vitamins and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. In order for these types of fish to survive in cold water climates, they carry a type of fat that has been shown also to support human health. A 3-ounce serving of this type of fish offers a rich protein source as well as over 1500 mg of omega 3 fatty acids.
Dark leafy greens collectively offer iron, calcium, and an array of antioxidants like vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. Aside from commonly consumed spinach and lettuce, include other options like Swiss chard, kale, watercress, lettuce and collard greens. Include dark leafies in your diet daily to maximize benefits like decreased inflammation, reduced risk for certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.
These little red fruits are full of health compounds like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Famous for their lycopene, tomatoes have been shown to protect against certain cancers and support heart health as well. They are low in sugar and high in nutrients so include both fresh and cooked tomatoes in a variety of ways from snacking on cherry tomatoes to using red sauce on veggies or pasta.
Higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than other nuts like almonds, peanuts or cashews, be sure to include walnuts as a snack. Like these other nuts, you’ll still find antioxidants like vitamin E and lots of protein and fiber. Use caution with overconsumption any nut or seed, however, because though they are a healthy whole food, they are rich in calories and fat so a small portion goes a long way.
Anti-inflammatory foods are an important part of cooling this disease-related process in the body. However, a healthy diet works with other practices like daily physical activity and avoiding inflammatory habits like smoking. What other inflammatory foods do you enjoy? With so many whole foods to include in the diet, seek nutrient-rich foods like the ones listed above to help support your body.
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Bouchenak B, Lamri-Senhadji M. Nutritional Quality of Legumes, and Their Role in Cardiometabolic Risk Prevention: A Review. Journal of Medicinal Food. March 2013, 16(3): 185-198.
Kavanaugh, C. J., Trumbo, P. R., & Ellwood, K. C. (2007). The US Food and Drug Administration’s evidence-based review for qualified health claims: tomatoes, lycopene, and cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute,99(14), 1074-1085.
Omega-3 Content of Frequently Consumed Seafood Products. http://www.seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood-nutrition/healthcare-professionals/omega-3-content-frequently-consumed-seafood-products. Accessed 10/2/16.
Worlds Healthiest Foods. Apples. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=15. Accessed 9/30/16.
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.