Inflammation is one of those terms that’s been going around the wellness community a lot lately. It seems like everyone wants to know what it is, why it’s bad, and how to prevent it — which, as it turns out, is something you can do by taking a closer look at your diet. Anti-inflammatory foods are a thing, and it’s time to get a little more familiar with them.
For background, it’s helpful to know exactly what inflammation is, because it’s not actually all bad. “Inflammation is a natural response by the body’s immune system to injury or infection,” nutritionist Mary Sabat, MS, RDN, tells SheKnows. Acute inflammation actually helps to heal wounds and fight off pathogens. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, persists over a long period of time and can be harmful, potentially damaging tissue and stopping your organs from functioning properly, registered dietitian Catherine Gervacio of Living.Fit tells SheKnows. Chronic inflammation is ultimately associated with a number of health issues, like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.
The good news: certain foods can help you fight inflammation, essentially “help[ing] modulate your body’s inflammatory response and reduc[ing] the risk of developing … chronic conditions” related to inflammation, Gervacio says. Keep reading to find out our experts’ favorite anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet ASAP.
Gervacio says berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, are “on top of my list” when it comes to anti-inflammatory foods. They’re a rich source of potent antioxidants like anthocyanins and quercetin, she explains, with anthocyanins serving to “scavenge free radicals in the body” and quercetin helping to protect cells from oxidative damage that can lead to inflammation. (Note: free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, which leads to illness and aging.)
Berries also contain vitamin C, “a well-known antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals,” Gervacio says.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are “are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants like quercetin and beta-carotene, which have anti-inflammatory effects,” Sabat says. They’re also high in fiber, which helps keep your gut microbiome healthy, and “a balanced gut microbiome is associated with reduced inflammation,” Gervacio explains.
“Green tea is considered a good anti-inflammatory food due to its rich content of bioactive compounds, particularly catechins, which have been studied for their anti-inflammatory effects,” Gervacio says. She explains that the most abundant catechin in green tea, Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), works to inhibit certain enzymes and pathways that are involved in inflammation.
Nuts and Seeds
Craving an anti-inflammatory snack? Grab a handful of mixed nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds, says Sabat. They’re “excellent sources of healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants,” helping reduce inflammation and improve your health overall.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is known for being rich in monosaturated fats and containing oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound, Sabat explains. When a recipe calls for cooking oil, this is a healthy one to choose. (Extra virgin olive oil is also a staple in the super-healthy, anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet.)
Need a little spice in your life? Turmeric contains curcumin, which Sabat describes as a “potent anti-inflammatory compound.” Curcumin, she explains, “has been shown to reduce inflammation and may help alleviate symptoms of inflammatory conditions like arthritis.”
Ginger is known for having many health benefits, from easing nausea and cramps to improving digestion, so no surprise that this do-it-all food can also help ease inflammation. “Ginger has gingerol, a bioactive compound with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties,” Sabat confirms. She recommends adding it to dishes or consuming it as ginger tea to help with inflammation.
Garlic doesn’t just taste great — it can also help fight inflammation thanks to its sulfur compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, Sabat explains.
Swap your white bread for whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa and old-fashioned oats. These foods are high in fiber and antioxidants, says Sabat, which can help lower inflammation levels in your body.
How to Combat Inflammation in the Body
Maintaining a healthy diet is a key aspect of keeping your inflammation low, but your whole lifestyle plays a part in it as well, Gervacio says. She recommends exercising regularly as another way to help avoid harmful levels of inflammation.
And of course, while there’s a lot you can do on your own to avoid and lower chronic inflammation, make sure to talk to a doctor if the problem becomes persistent and doesn’t improve.
An older version of this story was published in 2012.
Before you go, check out these healthy drinks that can help you stay hydrated:
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