Chronic inflammation leads to seven of the ten leading causes of death in the United States. Left unchecked, chronic low level inflammation could lead to diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and cancer. Unlike acute inflammation, which is your body’s natural healing response to injury, chronic inflammation can be caused by excess calorie consumption, cellular oxidative stress, and elevated blood sugar levels.
In other words, the Standard American Diet (SAD), full of refined carbs, added sugars, hydrogenated oils, and trans fat, is pro-inflammatory and can lead to deadly diseases.
Change your diet and you can change your life. Ditch the pro-inflammatory Standard American Diet, and replace it with an anti-inflammatory diet instead. Here are the best anti-inflammatory foods you can eat to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation and the dangerous health conditions that may follow.
Every anti-inflammatory diet starts with salmon. Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, and slightly less omega-6. The fats in salmon are the long-chain omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Salmon’s omega-3 rich oil has been studied extensively, and the benefits of consuming salmon include improved control of the body’s inflammatory response and lower levels of inflammatory markers.
There are only two foods higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3s than salmon, and one of these is flaxseed. Flaxseed is an outstanding source of omega-3s from alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. Flaxseeds also contain lignans, a polyphenol that offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection.
The second food higher in omega-3s than salmon (per serving) is walnuts. Like flax seeds, the omega-3 in flax seeds is in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) rather than EPA or DHA. Your body is able to synthesize ALA into EPA or DHA, although the amount of ALA that is converted into EPA by the body is less than 5%. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends including walnuts, cashews, and almonds as a good fat in his anti-inflammatory diet.
4. Leafy Greens
The carotenoids, or pigments, that give dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss Chard their signature colors also contribute powerful antioxidant protection against inflammation. Try to eat a variety of leafy greens, both lightly cooked and raw, for the best results in fighting chronic inflammation.
These tiny berries pack a big antioxidant punch. The wide variety of antioxidant phytonutrients function in your body as both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory compound. Studies have shown higher concentrations of these beneficial compounds in organically grown blueberries compared to traditional, and even higher antioxidant levels still in wild blueberries.
6. Green Tea
Dozens of studies have shown green tea to have anti-inflammatory effects. Two or more cups per day of green tea was associated with a nearly 20% reduction in inflammatory markers. Green tea also reduces blood pressure and oxidative stress, two of the major causes of chronic inflammation.
Edible mushrooms contain a vast array of compounds such as polysaccharides, terpenoids, and phenolic compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, White Button, Honey Brown, Shiitake, Enoki, and Oyster mushroom varieties were found to lose some of their anti-inflammatory activity to heat. However, cooking breaks down the tough cell walls of mushrooms and makes them easier to digest and releases the nutrients they contain. For best results, cook mushrooms lightly but do not subject to high temperatures or long cooking times.
Garlic can do more than ward off vampires, colds, and the flu. Garlic has sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin that have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic’s many health benefits also include anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and antioxidant activity. Raw garlic will provide the best benefits, so mince some up and stir it into salsa or salad dressing to fight inflammation.
Cloves are a popular spice in many places in the world, flavoring cuisines in Asia, India, Pakistan, and East Africa. You may be familiar with clove as a baking spice for gingerbread and pumpkin pie. Cloves contain a number of different compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, among them Eugenol. When combined with other anti-inflammatory foods, cloves can reduce inflammatory symptoms by an additional 15-30%.
A spice found in the most ordinary of ingredients, yellow mustard, has been studied extensively for its effects on inflammation and inflammatory diseases. Turmeric is used to in curries, and has been used in Indian and Chinese traditional medicine practices for thousands of years. Curcumin is the primary agent in turmeric responsible for its health benefits. Studies have found curcumin to be as effective as over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs and even as effective as hydrocortisone. Curcumin is safe and non-toxic. Use turmeric liberally when cooking to spice your foods and you can help reduce your inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory diets are not specifically tailored towards weight loss, but loss of fat and pounds is a typical side effect of swapping out a Standard American Diet for an Anti-inflammatory diet. This in itself can help reduce chronic inflammation, since fat cells — particularly those in the abdomen — produce large amounts of inflammatory chemicals.
Eating a diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, with lots of salmon, healthy fats such as nuts, and health promoting herbs and spices is the best bet against chronic inflammation, obesity, heart disease, and many other conditions.