By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases, and in most cases is increased by the way we live our lives, our behaviors, and what we eat. Foods rich in phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients) have long been touted for their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is a great way to provide potent nutrients and help to promote overall healthfulness.
3 Ways to Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
These 8 nutrients have been found to be potent in anti-inflammatory properties:
1. Omega 3 fatty acids: An essential fatty acid that is perhaps one of the most well-known nutrients when it comes to promoting anti-inflammation in the body. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential, which means they cannot be made within the body and are therefore required through food or supplementation. Research surrounding omega 3 fatty acid suggests that it plays an important role in heart health including lowering triglycerides that over time can do damage to blood vessel integrity and health, slightly reducing blood pressure and preventing or slowing plaque formation in the arteries. Research also suggests that omega 3 fatty acid may play a role in fighting inflammation related to chronic diseases including cancer and arthritis.
Aside from supplementation, omega 3 fatty acids can be consumed from either plant or animal-based sources:
Animal-based sources of omega 3’s…
Fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, sardines, lake trout, and herring are all sources of omega 3 fatty acids. When consumed from animal sources, omega 3 fatty acids are consumed in their whole source and can be directly used by the body.
Plant-based sources of omega 3’s…
Various plant-based foods contain alpha linolenic acids (ALA) that the body can convert into omega 3 fatty acids; however, unlike when consumed from animal-based sources, the plant based sources do not covert ALA’s to 100% omega 3 fatty acids. Therefore, the amount of omega 3 fatty acids obtained from food sources is generally less and therefore more of these foods need to be consumed to provide the body with more benefit. Plant-based sources of ALA’s include: walnuts and walnut oil, flaxseed (remember they need to be ground before being used) flaxseed oil, chia seeds, soybeans, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.
2. Bromelain: Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapple that causes the bright yellow color and naturally contains anti-inflammatory properties. Bromelain specifically has been found to be beneficial in reducing post-exercise inflammation and in helping to repair and resolve muscle soreness. Bromelain has also been found to be potentially beneficial in helping to ease digestive troubles and with easing arthritis pain as well.
Foods containing bromelain:
– Pineapple– use it in your juice, in your smoothie or on its own!
3. Anthocyanins: Anthocyanins are a family of nutrients that are part of the larger flavonoid family. Anthocyanins are the nutrients that contribute the rich red/purple/blue color to various fruits and vegetables and also contain a potent source of antioxidants in addition to anti-inflammatory properties. Anthocyanins have been found to be potentially beneficial in promoting heart health and preventing inflammation-based damage to the cardiovascular system; due to their rich source of antioxidants, anthocyanins have also been touted for their potential anti-cancer benefits. Anthocyanin-rich foods such as tart cherries have been found to be beneficial in reducing inflammation and pain in a way similar to over the counter aspirins and many athletes and avid exercisers may drink tart cherry juice to aid with resolving muscle soreness post-exercise.
Foods containing anthocyanins: Use these in juices, smoothies, and even in salads or dinner entrees!
– red cabbage
4. Monounsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fats have been touted for their overall health benefits in many areas including for cardiovascular health. Monounsaturated fats may play a role in moderating and improving cholesterol, which can help to protect the cardiovascular system and reduce inflammation as well. Monounsaturated fats may also act to protect the cardiovascular system by helping to promote balanced blood sugar, as elevated blood glucose over time can lead to damage of blood vessels; balanced blood sugar may also help to promote healthy weight that too can help to ward off inflammation. Additionally, many monounsaturated-fat containing foods also contain alpha-linolenic acids (see omega 3 fatty acids #1) that contain potent anti-inflammatory properties and together can provide a host of nutrients to aid with overall health.
Foods containing monounsaturated fats: Use these in smoothies, on salads or when cooking!
– olive oil
– avocado- contains both monounsaturated fats, a small source of polyunsaturated fats and alpha linolenic acids
– sesame oil
– ground flaxseed
5. Curcumin: Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that causes the bright yellow/orange color of the pigment and that has been found to contain potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Compounds in curcumin have been found to moderate the inflammatory process in the body through its action in many of the biochemical pathways related to the inflammatory process. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin has been found to be beneficial to preventing plaque buildup in blood vessels that could potentially prevent cognitive decline and heart disease, and may also help to ease joint inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
6. Gingerol: Gingerol is the active compound in ginger that contains anti-inflammatory properties. Gingerol has been found to be beneficial in promoting ease of joint and muscle pain and may also reduce swelling. Gingerol is found in the ginger root but many take it as a supplement as well. It also contains potent antioxidants that may help to prevent various cancers such as ovarian and colon, and may provide relief to chemotherapy-induced nausea.
Foods containing gingerol:
– ginger root
7. Oleocanthal: Found specifically in extra virgin olive oil (not found in other varieties of olive oil), oleocanthal has been found to contain compounds that may inhibit inflammation in a similar way to ibuprofen and other similar over the counter medications that promote anti-swelling and pain relief.
Foods containing oleocanthal:
– extra virgin olive oil
8. Carotenoids: Carotenoids are a group of nutrients found in many red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables (and some green too!), and have been found to be potentially beneficial in preventing inflammation through their potent source of antioxidants and also through their ability to help moderate inflammatory reactions in the body. Two specific nutrients, lycopene and astaxanthin, part of the carotenoid family have been shown to more specifically prevent inflammation in studies conducted on animals (though remember that more research needs to be conducted).
Foods containing carotenoids:
– bell peppers (yellow, red, orange)
– sweet potatoes
– dark leafy greens- spinach, turnip greens, kale