Inflammation can be both good and bad. On one hand, it helps your body defend itself from infection and injury. But on the other hand, chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain and disease. Stress, unhealthy inflammatory foods and low activity levels can make this risk even worse. However, some foods can actually help fight inflammation.
Here is a list of some anti-inflammatory foods that are supported by science.
Berries – Berries are small fruits that are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Although there are dozens of varieties, some of the most common berries include:
Berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. These compounds have anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce the risk of disease. Your body produces natural killer cells (NK), which help keep your immune system functioning properly. One study found that men who consumed blueberries every day produced significantly more NK cells, compared to men who did not.
In another study, overweight men and women who ate strawberries had lower levels of certain inflammatory markers associated with heart disease.
- Berries contain antioxidants known as anthocyanins. These compounds may reduce inflammation, boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Fatty Fish – Fatty fish are a great source of protein and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Although all types of fish contain some omega-3 fatty acids, these fatty fish are among the best sources:
EPA and DHA reduce inflammation that can lead to metabolic syndrome, heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease, among others. This occurs after your body metabolizes these fatty acids into compounds called resolvins and protectins, which have anti-inflammatory effects. In clinical studies, people consuming salmon or EPA and DHA supplements had decreases in the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP).
However, in another study, patients with atrial fibrillation who took EPA and DHA daily showed no difference in inflammatory markers when compared to those who received a placebo (13).
- Fatty fish contain high amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which have anti-inflammatory effects.
Broccoli – Broccoli is extremely nutritious. It’s a cruciferous vegetable, along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale. Research has shown that eating a lot of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer. This may be related to the anti-inflammatory effects of the antioxidants they contain.
Broccoli is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant that fights inflammation by reducing your levels of cytokines and NF-kB, which drive inflammation.
- Broccoli is one of the best sources of sulforaphane, an antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Avocados – Avocados are a true “superfood.” They’re packed with potassium, magnesium, fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. They also contain carotenoids and tocopherols, which are linked to reduced cancer risk. In addition, one compound in avocados has been shown to reduce inflammation in young skin cells.
In one study, when people consumed a slice of avocado with a hamburger, they showed lower levels of inflammatory markers NF-kB and IL-6 than participants who ate the hamburger alone.
- Avocados contain various beneficial compounds that protect against inflammation and may reduce the risk of cancer.
Green Tea – You’ve probably already heard that green tea is one of the healthiest beverages you can drink. It’s been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and other conditions. Many of its benefits are due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially a substance called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
EGCG inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in your cells.
- Green tea’s high EGCG content reduces inflammation and protects cells from damage that can lead to disease.
Peppers – Bell peppers and chili peppers are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Bell peppers contain the antioxidant quercetin, which has been shown to reduce one marker of oxidative damage in people with sarcoidosis.
Chili peppers contain sinapic acid and ferulic acid, which may reduce inflammation and lead to healthier aging.
- Chili peppers and bell peppers are rich in quercetin, sinapic acid, ferulic acid and other antioxidants with strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms are fleshy structures produced by certain types of fungi. Thousands of varieties exist throughout the world, but only a few are edible and grown commercially. These include truffles, portobello mushrooms and shiitake, to name a few.
Mushrooms are very low in calories and rich in all of the B vitamins, selenium and copper. Mushrooms also contain lectins, phenols and other substances that provide anti-inflammatory protection.
A special type of mushroom called Lion’s Mane may potentially reduce the low-grade inflammation seen in obesity. However, one study found cooking mushrooms decreased a large portion of their anti-inflammatory compounds, so it may be best to consume them raw or lightly cooked.
- Mushrooms contain several compounds that may decrease inflammation. Consuming them raw or lightly cooked may help you reap their full anti-inflammatory potential.
Grapes – Grapes contain anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation. They may also decrease the risk of several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease and eye disorders. Grapes are also one of the best sources of resveratrol, another compound that has many health benefits.
In one study, people with heart disease who consumed grape extract daily experienced a decrease in inflammatory gene markers, including NF-kB. Also, their levels of adiponectin increased, which is a good thing because low levels are associated with weight gain and an increased risk of cancer.
- Several plant compounds in grapes, including resveratrol, can reduce inflammation. They may also reduce the risk of several diseases.
Turmeric – Turmeric is a spice with a strong, earthy flavor that’s often used in curries and other types of Indian dishes. It has received a lot of attention for its content of the powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient curcumin. Turmeric is effective at reducing the inflammation related to arthritis, diabetes and other diseases. When people with metabolic syndrome took 1 gram of curcumin daily, they experienced a significant decrease in CRP when compared to placebo. However, it may be hard to get enough curcumin to have a noticeable effect from turmeric alone.
In one study, overweight women who took 2.8 grams of turmeric per day had no improvement in inflammatory markers. Eating black pepper along with turmeric enhances the effects. Black pepper contains piperine, which can boost curcumin absorption by 2,000%.
- Turmeric contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin. Eating black pepper with turmeric can significantly enhance the absorption of curcumin.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat. It’s rich in monounsaturated fats and a staple in the Mediterranean diet, which provides numerous health benefits.
Many studies have analyzed olive oil’s anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, brain cancer and other serious health conditions. In one Mediterranean diet study, CRP and several other inflammatory markers significantly decreased in those who consumed 1.7 oz (50 ml) of olive oil daily. The effect of oleocanthol, an antioxidant found in olive oil, has been compared to anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.
However, it’s important to note the type of olive oil. Anti-inflammatory benefits are much greater in extra-virgin olive oil than in refined olive oil.
- Extra-virgin olive oil provides powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, which may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and other serious health conditions.
Dark Chocolate and Cocoa – Dark chocolate is delicious, rich and satisfying. It’s also packed with antioxidants that reduce inflammation. These may also reduce the risk of disease and lead to healthier aging. Flavanols are responsible for chocolate’s anti-inflammatory effects, and also keep the endothelial cells that line your arteries healthy.
In one study, smokers showed significant improvement in endothelial function two hours after eating high-flavonol chocolate. However, make sure to choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa (more is even better) in order to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Flavanols in dark chocolate and cocoa can reduce inflammation. They may also reduce the risk of several diseases.
Tomatoes – The tomato is a nutritional powerhouse. Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, potassium and lycopene, an antioxidant with impressive anti-inflammatory properties. Lycopene may be particularly beneficial for reducing pro-inflammatory compounds related to several types of cancer. One study found that drinking tomato juice significantly decreased inflammatory markers in overweight women. However, these markers did not decrease in obese women.
In a review of studies analyzing different forms of lycopene, researchers found that tomatoes and tomato products reduced inflammation more than lycopene supplements. Lastly, it’s interesting to note that cooking tomatoes in olive oil can maximize the amount of lycopene you absorb. That’s because lycopene is a carotenoid, which are fat-soluble nutrients. They are absorbed better when there is some fat in the meal.
- Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, which can reduce inflammation and protect against cancer.
Cherries – Cherries are delicious and rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins and catechins, which fight inflammation. Although the health-promoting properties of tart cherries have been studied more, sweet cherries also provide benefits.
In one study, when people consumed 280 grams of cherries per day for one month, their CRP levels decreased and remained that way for 28 days after they stopped eating cherries.
- Sweet and tart cherries contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation and the risk of disease.