We all know that eating a healthy diet can vastly improve our health and lead to weight loss. However, what isn’t as widely known is that eating unhealthy foods can also cause inflammation in the body as well as in the intestinal wall via bacteria, allergens and other harmful toxins. What we choose to consume on a regular basis can either create a safe environment in our bodies for healthy cells or cause major harm, often by way of inflammation, in the long run. Luckily, there are foods that naturally fight inflammation.
What Is Inflammation And Why Is It Harmful?
Inflammation is defined as “a localized reaction that produces redness, warmth, swelling and pain as a result of infection, irritation or injury. Inflammation can be external or internal.”
While our bodies require temporary inflammation in order to fight off infections and injuries, when it becomes chronic “the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells, and the process that ordinarily heals becomes destructive,” explains nutritionist and dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, MD. Chronic inflammation is a big deal, as it is linked to promoting chronic diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. And one of the biggest offenders is the food we eat; inflammation can be brought on by foods such as sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, dairy products, processed meat, refined grains and artificial food additives.
But just like certain foods can lead to chronic inflammation, other foods naturally fight it off. Here are the top foods that fight inflammation naturally:
Herbs and Spices
Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine incorporates herbs and spices into their practices regularly as a means to treat a variety of ailments, including inflammation. Spices like turmeric and ginger have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties in a variety of studies. For instance, turmeric works to turn off NF-kappa B in the body, which kickstarts inflammation, while ginger reduces inflammation in the intestines when it is taken as a supplement—the form that has been shown to boast the highest health benefits. Roberta Lee, MD, vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center, suggests looking for brands that use “super-critical extraction” to get the purest form with the highest effect. Herbs like dill, garden thyme, rosemary and peppermint also have anti-inflammatory properties and oregano has the highest amount of antioxidants of them all.
Related: Health Benefits of Turmeric
Garlic and Onions
Garlic and onions are more than just pungent; allium vegetables (including onions and garlic) come complete with the phytonutrient quercetin, which is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Garlic not only contains allicin, which is a naturally occurring antioxidant, but also has compounds that work to provide antioxidant properties, too. It may even work to lower levels of homocysteine found in the body, which is a byproduct of protein that leads to inflammation.
Dark Leafy Vegetables
Studies have linked vitamin E to cutting the production of cytokine, which is a pro-inflammatory molecule. Dark green vegetables including spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens offer up high amounts of this vitamin. To get the most out of your veggies, try to eat them raw as much as you can; salads or even smoothies are great options.
Consuming healthy fats, like nuts, is a great way to fight inflammation. Almonds, in particular, are high in fiber, vitamin E and calcium, while walnuts are high in the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid. Nuts in general are chock-full of not only healthy fats, but protein, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, phytosterols and even antioxidants, which are known to reduce inflammation as well.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered pertinent to our health, are known to reduce inflammation in the body. However, our body cannot make them ourselves, so we need to incorporate them into our diet regularly. Oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and should be consumed several times a week. Steer clear of frying your fish and stick to baking or boiling it. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Hawaii in 2009 discovered that men who ate baked or boiled fish rather than fried, dried or salted reduced their risk of contracting heart disease by 23 percent.
Berries aren’t just beautiful in color; they’re incredibly good for you, too. Of all fruits, they’re packed with the most antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Blueberries, for example, have phytonutrients known as anthocyanins, known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. And a study conducted at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth discovered that the phytochemicals present in cranberries may prevent cancer.