Foods that are anti-inflammatory tend to be the same foods that can help keep you healthy in other ways, too. So eating with inflammation in mind doesn't have to be complicated or restrictive.
To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet. If you're looking for an eating plan that closely follows the tenets of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils.
In addition to lowering inflammation, a more natural, less processed diet can have noticeable effects on your physical and emotional health. A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving mood and overall quality of life.
13 of the Most Anti-Inflammatory Foods You Can Eat
Inflammation can be both good and bad.
On one hand, it helps your body defend itself from infection and injury. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can lead to disease.
Stress, low activity levels, and foods that cause inflammation can make this risk even greater.
However, studies suggest that some foods can help decrease chronic inflammation. Here are 13 anti-inflammatory foods.
Berries are small fruits that are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Dozens of varieties exist. Some of the most common ones include:
Berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. These compounds have anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce your risk of disease.
In one study including 25 adults, those who consumed blueberry powder every day produced significantly more natural killer cells (NK cells) than those who did not consume the powder. These findings were similar to those of an older study.
Your body naturally produces NK cells, and they help keep your immune system functioning properly.
In another study, adults with excess weight who ate strawberries had lower levels of certain inflammatory markers associated with heart disease than those who didn’t eat strawberries.
2. Fatty fish
Fatty fish are a great source of protein and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Although all types of fish contain some omega-3 fatty acids, these fatty fish are among the best sources:
EPA and DHA help reduce inflammation, which may otherwise lead to metabolic syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.
Your body metabolizes these fatty acids into compounds called resolvins and protectins, which have anti-inflammatory effects.
Studies have found that people consuming salmon or EPA and DHA supplements experienced reductions in the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP).
However, in one study, people with an irregular heartbeat who took EPA and DHA daily experienced no difference in inflammatory markers compared with those who received a placebo.
Broccoli is extremely nutritious.
It’s a cruciferous vegetable, along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
Research has shown that eating a lot of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer.
This may be related to the anti-inflammatory effects of the antioxidants they contain.
Broccoli is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant that decreases inflammation by reducing your levels of cytokines and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), which are molecules that drive inflammation in your body.
Avocados are packed with potassium, magnesium, fibre, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
They also contain carotenoids and tocopherols, which are linked to a reduced risk of cancer.
In addition, one compound in avocados may reduce inflammation in newly forming skin cells.
5. Green tea
You’ve probably heard that green tea is one of the healthiest beverages you can drink.
Research has found that drinking it is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and other conditions.
Many of its benefits are due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially a substance called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
EGCG inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in your cells.
Bell peppers and chili peppers are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Bell peppers also provide the antioxidant quercetin, which may reduce inflammation associated with chronic diseases, like diabetes.
Chili peppers contain sinapic acid and ferulic acid, which may reduce inflammation and support healthier aging.
While thousands of varieties of mushrooms exist worldwide, only a few are edible and grown commercially.
These include truffles, portobello mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms.
Mushrooms are very low in calories and rich in selenium, copper, and all of the B vitamins.
They also contain phenols and other antioxidants that provide anti-inflammatory protection.
A special type of mushroom called lion’s mane may potentially reduce low grade inflammation related to obesity.
However, one study found that cooking mushrooms lowered their anti-inflammatory compounds significantly. Thus, it may be best to eat them raw or lightly cooked.
Grapes contain anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation.
In addition, they may decrease the risk of several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and eye disorders.
Grapes are also one of the best sources of resveratrol, another antioxidant compound that has many health benefits.
Studies show that resveratrol can protect the heart against inflammation.
In one study including 60 people with heart failure, those who consumed two 50-mg capsules of resveratrol daily for 3 months experienced a decrease in inflammatory gene markers, including interleukin 6 (IL-6).
An older study from 2012 found that adults who ate grape extract daily experienced increased levels of adiponectin. Low levels of this hormone are associated with weight gain and an increased risk of cancer.
Turmeric is a spice with a warm, earthy flavor that’s often used in curries and other Indian dishes.
It has received a lot of attention because it contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound.
Research has shown that turmeric reduces inflammation related to arthritis, diabetes, and other diseases.
In one study, people with metabolic syndrome consumed 1 gram of curcumin daily combined with piperine from black pepper. They experienced a significant decrease in the inflammatory marker CRP.
It may be hard to get enough curcumin from turmeric alone to experience a noticeable effect. Taking supplements containing isolated curcumin may be much more effective.
Curcumin supplements are often combined with piperine, which can boost curcumin absorption by 2,000%.
More research is needed to understand how the dosage of turmeric affects inflammatory markers.
10. Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat.
It’s rich in monounsaturated fats and a staple in the Mediterranean diet, which provides numerous health benefits.
Studies link extra virgin olive oil to a reduced risk of heart disease, brain cancer, and other serious health conditions.
In one study on the Mediterranean diet, CRP and several other inflammatory markers significantly decreased in those who consumed 1.7 ounces (50 mL) of olive oil every day for 12 months.
The effect of oleocanthal, an antioxidant found in olive oil, has been compared to anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. Keep in mind that extra virgin olive oil has greater anti-inflammatory benefits than refined olive oils do.
11. Dark chocolate and cocoa
Dark chocolate is delicious, rich, and satisfying.
It’s also packed with antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. These may reduce your risk of disease and lead to healthier aging.
Flavanols are responsible for chocolate’s anti-inflammatory effects and help keep the endothelial cells that line your arteries healthy.
In one small study, people who consumed 350 mg of cocoa flavanols twice daily experienced improved vascular function after 2 weeks.
However, more high quality studies on chocolate and its components are needed.
In the meantime, it can’t hurt to choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa — a greater percentage is even better — to reap these anti-inflammatory benefits.
The tomato is a nutritional powerhouse.
Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, an antioxidant with impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
Lycopene may be particularly beneficial for reducing pro-inflammatory compounds related to several types of cancer.
Note that cooking tomatoes in olive oil can help you absorb more of their lycopene content.
That’s because lycopene is a carotenoid, a nutrient that’s better absorbed with a source of fat.
Cherries are delicious and rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins and catechins, which decrease inflammation.
Although the health-promoting properties of tart cherries have been studied more than other varieties, sweet cherries also provide benefits.
One study including 37 older adults found that those who consumed 16 ounces (480 mL) of tart cherry juice daily for 12 weeks experienced significantly lower levels of the inflammatory marker CRP.
However, another study found tart cherry juice had no effect on inflammation in healthy younger adults after they took it daily for 30 days.
More research is needed to understand how cherries might help reduce inflammation.