by guest blogger Stephanie Eckelkamp, senior associate editor at Prevention magazine
Inflammation has become an absolute epidemic. Sure, at its most basic, it’s our body’s response to outside irritants, a natural part of our immune system without which our wounds wouldn’t heal. But thanks to increasingly high stress levels and an over-reliance on processed foods, many of us are plagued with chronic inflammation—the nasty variety that disrupts the body’s natural balance, upping the risk for everything from acne and allergies, to intestinal issues, neurological disorders, autoimmune diseases, and joint pain.
If there’s any silver lining, though, it’s that countering inflammation and its host of negative side effects can be as simple (not to mention delicious) as eating fewer foods that come in a package and more nourishing whole foods that fight inflammation-triggering free radicals and toxins. Here are 10 of the very best to keep in rotation.
- Olive oil
Olive oil is a rich source of polyphenols, which provide both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Try to use extra-virgin olive oil for most of your cooking. More than 70% of its fat content comes from a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which has been found to help lower blood pressure, reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increase HDL (good) cholesterol, among other heart-healthy properties.
- Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are packed with health-promoting phytonutrients, they add complexity to dishes, and they can take the place of excessive salt or sugar—both of which can promote inflammation. Some stand-out picks: cinnamon, which has been shown to reduce bloating and stabilize blood sugar; turmeric, which packs proven anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties; oregano, which has antibiotic properties; and rosemary and lavender, which have been shown to calm anxiety and ease pain.
- Garlic and onions
These and other short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides (scFOS) such as leeks, asparagus, jicama, artichokes, and Jerusalem artichokes are delicious sources of sweet low-cal carbs. Since these foods aren’t fully digested in the gut, the remaining material feeds the good bacteria living in our intestines, resulting in a healthier gut—and it’s through this process that they boost the immune system and lower inflammation.
- Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate—70 percent cocoa or more—may be the one truly guilt-free dessert. Research has shown it improves blood flow, helps reduce blood pressure, and improves the body’s response to a carbohydrate-heavy meal by improving insulin sensitivity, thereby helping prevent the onset of diabetes if consumed regularly in small quantities, or about 1 oz per day.
Avocados boast major benefits, thanks to their star nutrients: mono- and polyunsaturated fats, phytosterols, alpha-linolenic acid, and carotenoids. Research shows that avocados reduce inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol and lessen the pain associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They’re even a great replacement for oils and fats—use mashed avocado wherever you’d typically spread butter or mayo.
- Cruciferous veggies
Cruciferous veggies include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, and watercress. These vegetables are packed with sulforaphanes, which offset inflammation by enhancing hase two detoxification in the liver. Multiple studies have also found that compounds in these vegetables called glucosinolates have potent anticancer properties.
- Citrus fruits
Any way you squeeze it, citrus fruits like clementines, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and oranges are health heroes. Due to their high water content, any type of citrus will provide hydration and electrolytes to thirsty bodies. Citrus flavonoids have also been shown to neutralize free radicals, potentially preventing the growth of cancer cells. Their inflammation-fighting properties are found in the skin as well as the juice and flesh—so don’t forget to use that zest!
- Grass-fed organic chicken, pork, lamb and beef
Organic and grass-fed free-range animals are healthier, and their meat offers you better nutritional value. In fact, pasture-raised chickens, pigs, lambs, and cows have higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids than corn-fed animals. Research even shows less disease among people who opt for meat from grass-fed animals over conventional.
Many doctors call eggs the “perfect food,” given their high content of protein, vitamins A and B, and biotin. Eggs help offset inflammation because they contain the potent carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein (both good for vision), as well as choline (good for brain and heart function). The first rule for enjoying these oval powerhouses is to always buy organic—and preferably “pasture-raised”—as these have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Fatty fish
Ideally, adults should eat three servings of cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, and herring—all of which contain low levels of mercury and high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (check out these 12 types of fish to stay away from). These omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve heart health, autoimmune conditions, and mood disorders, as well as promote skin and nail health.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a senior associate editor covering food and nutrition at Prevention magazine and is also a certified holistic-health coach. She’s obsessed with her pup, Milo, and loves to get a little crazy in the kitchen. For more from Stephanie, visit StephEckelkamp.com.
Adapted from a story previously published on Prevention.com