In case you haven’t noticed, our food choices have evolved slightly since the days of early humans. And while that’s mostly a good thing (looking at you, maple almond butter), it also means we consume many things our bodies aren't familiar with.
When your body recognizes an invader—like a chemical or food allergen—it attacks, causing in the process. This is mostly a (and helpful) response, but when it becomes chronic, it causes trouble. Persistent inflammation has been linked to serious enemies like , , diabetes, , and . Esser N, Legrand-Poels S, Piette J. Diabetes research and clinical practice, 2014, Apr.;105(2):1872-8227. Yikes.
Read on for the best foods that fight inflammation (and a few of the worst).
The Best Foods to Fight Inflammation
Packed with antioxidants, berries are also a kick-ass anti-inflammatory. have shown that they reduce a marker of inflammation called TNF-alpha, which means good things for your heart health.
are bursting with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, but there’s an extra reason to reach for the edamame. In one study, soybeans also caused a drop in several inflammatory markers in the body. Wu SH, Shu XO, Chow WH. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012, Oct.;112(7):2212-2672.
Just like their berry cousins, are chock-full of antioxidants. They’re also teeming with a type of phytonutrient called anthocyanins, which does some serious inflammation fighting, helping to prevent the cell damage that leads to disease. Mena P, Domínguez-Perles R, Gironés-Vilaplana A. IUBMB life, 2014, Dec.;66(11):1521-6551." data-widget="linkref
Most nutrients have a good and a bad side—and omega-3 and fatty acids are no exception. While both are essential—your body needs them to function and cannot produce them on its own—it is possible to get too much of a good thing. The found in fish are major inflammation fighters, whereas the omega-6 fatty acids found in most vegetable oils can be inflammation starters. Calder PC. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 2013, Aug.;75(3):1365-2125. You can't exactly get one without the other, so the key is to always keep the ratio in favor of those good omega-3's. Not a fan of fish? A fish oil supplement will deliver all the omega-3’s you need.
We know—it's not the most original health food suggestion. But here's the thing: Kale is high in vitamin K, which has been found to reduce inflammation. Shea MK, Cushman M, Booth SL. Thrombosis and haemostasis, 2014, May.;112(3):0340-6245. If you can’t stomach the bitterness—or think chewing raw kale takes jaws of steel—try massaging the leaves for a minute with a coarse salt, then rinsing them to remove the excess; or blanch them to make the leafy green more palatable.
When you’re raiding the kitchen for inflammation fighters, don’t skip the spice cabinet. Many are chock-full of antioxidant phytonutrients, which can act as anti-inflammatory superfoods. Rosemary and are particularly potent inflammation fighters. Peng CH, Su JD, Chyau CC. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, 2007, Sep.;71(9):0916-8451. In , rosemary oil—an antioxidant—also protected the liver from oxidative damage. Sprinkle the dried herbs into your favorite recipes or, even better, pick them fresh from your window sill garden.
Ginger root is a real inflammation go-getter, especially for post-exercise flare-ups. have linked the plant’s active compound—gingerol—to anti-inflammatory effects. Blend some fresh ginger into your favorite post-gym smoothie for smarter recovery.
Walnuts are another great source of omega-3s and tons of inflammation-fighting phytonutrients. Feldman EB. The Journal of nutrition, 2002, May.;132(5):0022-3166. have linked a diet high in nuts to lower levels of inflammation, cholesterol, and oxidative stress.
Tea is essentially an anti-inflammatory elixir. Steeped in antioxidant catechins, both black and green teas put the kibosh on inflammation flare-ups. Hirao K, Yumoto H, Nakanishi T. Life sciences, 2010, Feb.;86(17-18):1879-0631.
Sweet potatoes aren't only for Thanksgiving. These babies are with carotenoids and vitamin C—a major inflammation fighter. Enjoy them all year by sticking to a simple recipe: Roast sweet potato slices in the oven with a little salt, pepper, and cinnamon.
Foods to Avoid
If you’re looking for an excuse to cut back at happy hour, consider this: Your favorite beer is with gluten, which is known to cause inflammation in some. Consuming barley and rye can cause tissue to flame up—among other negative side effects of too much booze.
Lots of people are —meaning their body is unable to process the sugar (lactose) in dairy products—making frozen yogurt an inflammatory trigger. Some types of fro-yo also contain a milk protein called , which has been shown to induce inflammation in the gut. Ho S, Woodford K, Kukuljan S. European journal of clinical nutrition, 2014, Jul.;68(9):1476-5640. On top of that, all those sugary toppings are only adding fuel to the fire. has shown that diets high in refined starches and sugars (hello, graham cracker cookie crumbles) cause inflammation.
When it comes to inflammation, white bread is always worse than whole grain. A in the Journal of Nutrition found that a diet high in refined grains, like white bread and pasta, led to an even greater incidence of inflammation than whole grains.
Despite the declarations of Tony the Tiger, cereal might not be great—at least when it comes to inflammation. Although the wheat grains found in most cereals are necessary for a balanced diet, of activating pro-inflammatory pathways in some—which won't feel great for those with an intolerance. Plus, many cereal grains contain gluten, another no-no for those with a sensitivity or intolerance.
We hate to break it to you, but that prime cut filet is packed with , which have been linked to low-grade inflammation. Kuipers RS, de Graaf DJ, Luxwolda MF. The Netherlands journal of medicine, 2012, Feb.;69(9):1872-9061. Consuming too much can screw with your body's natural ability to fight inflammation.
Add liver inflammation to the list of reasons we hate . This flavor additive has been linked to chronic inflammation, which is often associated with serious liver issues. Nakanishi Y, Tsuneyama K, Fujimoto M. Journal of autoimmunity, 2008, Apr.;30(1-2):0896-8411. Always check your labels—your liver will thank you.