Learn the truth about inflammation, what an anti-inflammatory diet looks like, and seven foods that fight inflammation in your body.
You may think inflammation is bad. Something associated with aches, pains, and stiffness. And you’d be basically right. But there’s more to the story.
In fact, inflammation is natural and necessary for healing and preventing illness. The trouble is, in today’s world, your body is faced with a multitude of stressors. And you may be living in an ongoing state of low-level inflammation.
Over time, chronic inflammation can have serious negative effects on your health, including impairing your ability to think, depleting your body of nutrients, slowing down your metabolism, and contributing to emotional imbalance.
And most health experts now agree: Chronic inflammation is linked with many, if not all, major diseases of our times.
Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, heart disease, allergies, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and joint disease, depression, some types of cancer, obesity, and other conditions may all be caused by or made worse by inflammation. And our bodies become more susceptible to the damages of inflammation as we age.
But you can impact the amount of inflammation in your body.
Learning how to eat an anti-inflammatory diet and consuming foods and beverages that fight inflammation are significant steps to take for your overall health.
Why Are So Many People Today Suffering from Chronic Inflammation?
Inflammation is the defense response that focuses your immune system’s attention toward fighting a perceived threat — often bacteria or viruses or damage from foreign invaders, like toxins. When part of your body becomes reddened, swollen, hot and often painful, this is inflammation in action.
So far so good. But when inflammation is chronically turned on, the immune system’s ability to fight off other bugs and pathogens is compromised.
Chronic inflammation is often considered to be the effect of an “overactive” immune system — as though your immune function is confused or malfunctioning. But is this really what’s happening? Or do we just live in an increasingly toxic and stressful world?
After all, most people today are overwhelmed with stress and environmental toxins, like endocrine-disrupting and cancer-causing chemicals in everything from food to water to household cleaners. And the body has every right to respond defensively. Food allergies, poor diet, toxins, and stress are the biggest culprits.
To combat inflammation, we need to help our bodies cope with this continuous attack of immune triggers. One of the best ways to help your body fight inflammation is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
What Does An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Look Like?
Designing an anti-inflammatory diet starts with common sense. First and foremost, you want to cut back on or eliminate unhealthy foods including processed foods, sugars and sugary beverages, refined carbs (such as white bread and pasta,) and red and processed meats.
Choosing organic as much as possible, and properly washing your produce, will also help by reducing your exposure to toxic pesticides.
Additionally, keeping your consumption of omega-6 fatty acids to a minimum is helpful because these types of foods are directly linked to higher levels of inflammation.
The ideal ratio between omega-6s and omega-3s is about 1:1. But the ratio of the Standard American Diet is as high as 20:1 — which is widely believed to be one of the drivers of chronic inflammation.
As you remove some of these inflammatory stressors from your regular diet, add in more of the good stuff.
As a general rule, an anti-inflammatory diet is rich in fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens), legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
But let’s dive a little deeper.
To achieve an anti-inflammatory diet, try consuming foods that have the following four properties: antioxidant activity, detoxifying activity, nutrient density, and hormone-regulating activity.
While many foods meet these criteria, here are seven that are extraordinarily powerful.
7 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Add to Your Diet
Foods high in antioxidants help reduce the damage caused by inflammation. The following are all good choices to consume regularly:
1) Raw cacao was called “the food of the gods” by the ancient Aztecs — and for good reason.
This plant contains over 300 enlivening compounds (many of which are strongly anti-inflammatory), has 20 times the antioxidant power of blueberries, and is packed with vitamins and minerals.
But this doesn’t mean that you should start gorging on Mars bars. For the optimal benefits, you’ll need to seek out unprocessed and preferably unsweetened cacao. Don’t worry, though: Raw cacao is delicious, especially when added to a smoothie (like this anti-stress smoothie).
And if you don’t want to avoid sugars, choosing organic dark chocolate that is at least 70% cacao is best. (And with chocolate, find organic or fair trade options if you don’t want to finance child slavery unintentionally.)
2) Acai berry is a low-sugar fruit that outshines the antioxidant potential of nearly every other food (except raw cacao).
It’s also been found to decrease inflammation and to speed up the body’s metabolism. If you haven’t tried this delicious, exotic berry yet, you’re in for a treat.
3) Leafy greens. You can’t go wrong with eating more greens. They’re an invaluable part of any healthy diet.
Studies have demonstrated that the healing crucifers provide the body with a bevy of nutrients that work wonders for inflammation.
If you want to get a little more adventurous with your green cuisine, consider this: Studies have shown that spirulina and chlorella reduce inflammation, protect against oxidative stress, and even lower cholesterol.
4) Maca is a South American root that’s been used for thousands of years as a vitality elixir.
This food, often consumed in a powder, is one of the most potent and inte
lligent hormone regulators around. And it’s also been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
5) Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory superstar, as evidenced by thousands of studies.
Curcumin is an active component of turmeric that exhibits profound anti-inflammatory properties (and many of the other compounds in turmeric offer health benefits, as well).
Research has demonstrated that curcumin is beneficial for the prevention and treatment of arthritis (as well as general aches and pains), diabetes, high cholesterol, depression, heart disease, and cancer, just to name a few.
But there’s one problem: Curcumin and other turmeric compounds can be difficult for the body to absorb. Some people add black pepper and take the mixture with fat (for example, ghee or coconut milk are traditionally used with turmeric in India).
While these practices will help to increase absorption, research has demonstrated that liposomal delivery is very likely the most potent way to maximize the benefits of turmeric. This process essentially encapsulates water-soluble turmeric compounds with phospholipids and protects them from being broken down.
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that liposomal delivery increased absorption by up to 185 times.
6) Ginger is another remarkable natural anti-inflammatory spice.
Researchers have shown that 6-gingerol (one of the active components in ginger) exhibits potent analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, it can provide relief to those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as migraine headaches.
Like turmeric, ginger has been found to be useful for the prevention and treatment of a staggering array of conditions, and it offers general protection against disease due to its powerful antioxidant capacity.
7) Omega-3 essential fatty acids not only heal inflammation, but they also help maintain proper brain function, regulate mood, support cardiovascular health, balance hormone production, and preserve the integrity of the cells throughout your body.
When the ratio between omega-6s and omega-3s is too high, the result is increased chronic inflammation. Many staples of the American diet — like junk foods, chips, most baked goods, processed foods, chicken and red meat — are all high in inflammatory omega-6s.
To make sure your ratio of omega-6s and omega-3s isn’t too high:
- Avoid the unhealthy foods above
- Eat plenty of nuts and seeds (especially ground flaxseeds and chia seeds)
- Eat leafy greens often
- Add either wild-caught fish (if you choose to consume fish) or an omega- 3 supplement that provides the long-chain fatty acids EPA and/or DHA to your diet
Supplementing with fish oil is also a popular option for optimizing omega-3 intake. But algal oil is emerging as a potentially safer and more sustainable source due to the potential toxicity of fish and the unsustainability of the fishing industry.
While the seven foods mentioned above are great for reducing inflammation, these aren’t the only foods with anti-inflammatory powers. Other healthy choices include tea and coffee, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, onions and garlic, avocados, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, and all berries.
How to Take Control of Inflammation in Your Body
If all this information seems overwhelming, don’t worry. Take things a step at a time and consider it a process. Focus on eliminating inflammatory, omega-6-rich junk foods and processed sugars first — and replacing them with whole foods.
And then, add anti-inflammatory foods — including raw cacao, acai berry, greens, maca, turmeric, ginger, omega-3s, and other inflammation-fighting foods — to your diet gradually. As you do, pay attention to what works best for your body.
Here’s the takeaway: Chronic inflammation poses massive risks to your health and many people in the modern world are suffering from it, but you don’t have to sit back and wait to experience the negative effects.
You have an opportunity to take action for your health. Choosing healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, exercising and moving throughout your day, finding ways to de-stress, and getting plenty of sleep can all help.
With simple, proven lifestyle changes, you can fight chronic inflammation and maximize your chances for a long and healthy life.