When looking at the major health issues that plague our population today - arthritis, heart disease, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, and IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) - we know that lifestyle changes are needed to help heal and achieve better health. But, what's shocking is that the one thing connected with them all, is inflammation.
We can address these issues by eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods. In some cases symptoms of these diseases can be alleviated and other times disappear. Let's take a look at the top 12 anti-inflammatory foods that will combat, and calm inflammation.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is not always a bad thing- it can help provide protection from foreign substances.
"Inflammation is a process by which the body's white blood cells and substances they produce protect us from infection with foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses.
However, in some diseases, like arthritis -- the body's defense system -- the immune system, triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign invaders to fight off. In these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, the body's normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal." (1)
With increased activity to the area, symptoms like redness, swelling, pain and discomfort may begin to appear. Inside a healthy body inflammation is a normal response to begin healing.
Unfortunately, there's more to this story.
When the immune system overreacts and starts to attack healthy body tissues it can create an autoimmune disorder. For example, leaky gut is caused when inflammation attacks healthy areas of the body. Other diseases linked to inflammatory effects are arthritis, asthma, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel disease, and celiac disease.
Although there's clearly a connection between inflammation, chronic diseases, and diet, many fail to realize this important key. In a study on IBD and diet, researches found that 33 percent of patients opted against a anti-inflammatory diet. All those who chose to participate and eat anti-inflammatory foods, were able to discontinue at least one of their medications, and all patients had symptom reduction. (2)
There are definitely some lifestyle changes which can help heal the body.
The standard American Diet has become a diet full of inflammatory foods. The average American is consuming way too many calories a day. An overconsumption of calories combined with refined sugars, salt, saturated fat, artificial sweeteners, gluten, and genetically modified foods may all lead to increased inflammation, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease. (2)
Today's Western modern diet is starving our bodies of real nutrition. Sure it may provide our bodies with plenty of calories but those empty calories may be leading to other problems down the line like inflammation.
To return to a diet that works with the body's system naturally, many health experts are recommending a Mediterranean Diet. There's no question, that both scientists and researchers agree that the Western Diet is directly connected with heart disease, and types of cancer. Many also agree that a Mediterranean diet may help prevent coronary heart disease in the elderly. (3)
The Mediterranean Diet consists of plenty of leafy greens, nuts, vegetables, fruits, little to no red meat, absolutely no chemicals, no additives, and plenty of Omega-3's. This diet has been shown to be rich in anti-inflammatory foods that promote a healthy heart, unlike the Western diet which features an abundance of highly processed foods.
Many herbs and foods contain powerful anti-inflammatory components like:
- Essential fatty acids
There's no doubt that diet plays an important role in good overall health, and the best healing diet starts with a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, and sprouted seeds rich with omega-3 benefits. These anti-inflammatory foods can modulate immune and inflammation processes and a plant-based diet may help lower the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. (4)
Top 12 Anti-Inflammatory Foods
1. Leafy Greens
Fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants can help restore cellular health and fight against inflammation. Swiss chard is one of those vegetables, for example it's very rich in antioxidants and flavonoids like quercetin, kaempferol, rutin and vitexin.
Kaempferol is an extremely powerful flavonoid known for it's anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. In a test study published in 2016, researchers found that kaempferol attacked pancreatic cancer cells by inducing cell death and inhibited cancer cells from growing by blocking signaling pathways.(5)
There's also evidence to suggest that Vitexin, another mighty antioxidant found in Swiss chard, may help reduce inflammation and fight heart disease by lowering blood pressure levels. (6)
Swiss chard is also rich in Vitamins A, C, and K, all which help protect the brain against free radical damage causing oxidative stress.
Celery has been shown to have both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties to help improve cholesterol levels, improve blood pressure, and even help prevent heart disease. (7)
One important key to remember when supporting a healthy body free of inflammation is minerals inside the body. Minerals like sodium and potassium work in different ways. Sodium helps to transport nutrients and fluid into the body, while potassium flushes toxins out. Without both minerals present, toxins can build up, ushering in inflammation swelling. Celery can be an excellent source of both potassium and beneficial vitamins and antioxidants.
Bright, vivid colors in the vegetables world tell us they're loaded with antioxidants. Beets are no exception their bright, rich color is an indication that they're packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants are known to fight cell damage caused by inflammation. Beets contain a pigment called betalain, which is been shown to be anti-inflammatory. (8)
Beets are also extremely rich in potassium and magnesium. Both minerals have been shown to help heal and repair the body, and fight inflammation. Magnesium is a macro mineral much like calcium and phosphorus, which your body needs to help form bones and teeth, and to keep your nerves and muscles functioning normally.
Following calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, sodium, and chlorine; Magnesium is the seventh most abundant element present in the body. Magnesium deficiencies are strongly linked to inflammatory conditions. (9)
Broccoli is amazing for any diet, but for an anti-inflammatory diet, broccoli is absolutely essential because it's loaded with minerals like potassium and magnesium. Broccoli has been shown to produce potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. (10)
Broccoli is an antioxidant powerhouse with crucial vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and flavonoids. These all work together to fight chronic inflammation and may also have anti-cancer properties.
This antioxidant rich fruit is a very powerful anti-inflammatory food, maybe even the best. One super antioxidant found in blueberries is called Quercetin. Quercetin is a flavonoid that fights inflammation and also prevents cancer by neutralizing free radicals inside the body before they damage us. It's also found in capers, onions, dark chocolate, olive oil and blueberries. (11)
Blueberries are also an excellent source of polyphenols. In a published study in 2014, blueberries were shown to have amazing anti-inflammatory effects inside the body, by reducing levels of inflammation. (12)
Pineapples aren't just tasty, there extremely rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, antioxidants, and potassium.
Pineapples contain a digestive enzyme called bromelain. This digestive enzyme has been used in popular anti-inflammatory food protocols for years. Bromelain has been shown to help improve immune response and battle inflammation. (13)
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7. Wild-Caught Salmon
Salmon is known to be the king of fatty fish because it is one of the richest fish in essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Omega-3's are some of the most powerful anti-inflammatory substances at lowering inflammation and reducing the use of anti-inflammatory medications. (14)
Wild-caught fish is the best source of omega-3's, because farmed fish doesn't include the same nutrient levels and most often includes dangers like antibiotics, pesticides, dioxins and other chemicals.
8. Coconut Oil
There's no doubt that the combination of herbs and oils can create a powerful anti-inflammatory tonic. Fats and spices work together synergistically to create amazing compounds that help reduce and calm inflammation. In a specific study conducted in India, coconut oil was proved effective in treating arthritis induced rats by suppressing inflammation through it's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (17)
Coconut oil can be used for cooking, or sautéing vegetables, or even taken daily in it's raw form.
9. Chia & Flax Seeds
Many acknowledge flaxseeds as a great source of dietary fiber, but what many don't understand is that they're loaded with polyphenols that have been shown to produce antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antibacterial effects. (18)
Flax seeds are also an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids and phytonutrients including flavonoids and antioxidants.
Flax seeds are a great addition to oatmeal, smoothies or salads but may be difficult for most to digest. Instead, try adding flax meal to smoothies or oat bran, to ensure easy digestion and experience all the benefits that come with it.
Chia seeds are one of the most astonishing superfoods packed with both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. It's one of the few foods that contains a healthy balance of both omegas.
Chia seeds also contain potent antioxidants, Vitamins A, B, E, and D, and minerals like magnesium, iodine and sulphur.
Chia seeds have even been shown to decrease blood sugar levels, and inflammation in those with type 2 diabetes. They may also help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL). (19)
Also rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids, walnuts are a great source of protein and omega-3 fats. Walnuts can easily be added to salads or be used an an on the go snack.
Walnuts contain phytonutrients that support the metabolic system and the cardiovascular system.
The main compound in turmeric that works as a super anti-inflammatory, is curcumin. Curcumin is a phytochemical found in the spice turmeric, that's been used in India for centuries to battle the effects of many chronic illnesses. (20)
Curcumin has been shown to be more potent as an anti-inflammatory than both aspirin and ibuprofen, and may be among the most potent anti-inflammatory agent's studied in the world. (21)
Turmeric has been shown to be really effective at helping those with rheumatoid arthritis, due to it's anti-inflammatory properties. A recent discovery shows curcumin has been shown to also help reduce inflammatory markers for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. (22)
Ginger root has a long history globally of medicinal uses for a range of diseases. Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor, and anti-ulcer effects of ginger have been shown in numerous scientific studies. (23)
Ginger root can be used fresh or dried in teas, juices or tinctures. It can also be dried and crushed into a powder for supplement forms.
Ginger contains many important vitamins and minerals but it also contains a compound called gingerol. Gingerol is known to produce a variety of biological activities including anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, and anti-oxidation properties that have been linked to many health benefits. (24)
In conclusion diet and lifestyle play in a huge role in your bodies ability to fight off unwanted inflammation. It is important to eat a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and avoid inflammation causing foods. Food to avoid are processed foods and foods high in Omega-6. You can read more about these foods here. Make sure to get plenty of exercise, sleep, and avoid stress. Omega-3 Fatty Acids are one of the strongest compounds to help fight inflammation.