These days we often hear about “anti-inflammatory diets” or some kind of foods that help to lower inflammation in the body.
The most popular example is probably the super-strict diet that Tom Brady apparently follows, which prohibits, among other things, mushroom and nightshades, which some people consider inflammatory. But is inflammation in the body really something to be worried about — and can the foods we eat affect it?
Well, yes and no. It’s important to note that inflammation in the body isn’t always a bad thing. Essentially, there are two different types of inflammation: there’s acute inflammation, which is your body’s normal, healthy response to a specific injury or illness; and there’s chronic inflammation, which is when your body’s inflammatory response lasts for weeks, months, or years. “Even though you might not be able to see or feel inflammation, it’s a sign that there’s trouble brewing health-wise,” says Karen Ansel
So, we know that chronic inflammation is linked to some nasty conditions (though we don’t yet know how strong that link is). Can you avoid developing chronic inflammation in the first place? And if so, does what you eat to make that big a difference?
Hu says that avoiding sugary beverages, refined carbohydrates, and processed meats may help you steer clear of chronic inflammation.
While the exact role your diet plays in chronic inflammation isn’t totally clear, many foods suspected to have some anti-inflammatory properties are also nutritious in other ways. Here are just a few of them.
“A high fiber diet has been shown to lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that your doctor can test for,” Ansel says. “The trouble is, most of us don’t get half the fiber we need, so working it in at every meal is key. With five grams of fiber per cooked cup, tossing quinoa into chili or serving it instead of lower fiber grains like brown rice can help keep inflammation at bay.” Plus, just half a cup of cooked quinoa contains 4g of protein and 3g of fiber, so it’s a nutritional win-win.
Research shows that berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which may reduce inflammation. Hu recommends blueberries because they also contain potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and manganese. Snack on whole blueberries or throw some frozen ones into your morning smoothie.
Almonds and other tree nuts
Some studies suggest that tree nuts — a group that includes almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, and Brazil nuts — can fight inflammation. Plus, “research reveals that pecans may protect against inflammation in your arteries potentially due to potent antioxidants are known as polyphenols,” Ansel says. Add nuts to your salad, sprinkle some over Greek yogurt, or eat them whole.
Sardines and salmon
“Fatty fish are loaded with omega-3 fats,” Ansel says. According to the Mayo Clinic, regularly eating omega-3s can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure.
“Sardines are a tasty alternative and ounce-per-ounce they contain more omega-3s than some varieties of salmon,” Ansel says. You can eat sardines straight from the can, or dress them up a bit by adding them to a pasta dish or serving them on toast, Danish-style.
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin that has anti-inflammatory properties. Ansel recommends turmeric for anyone who has achy or sore joints. Sprinkle turmeric over roasted veggies, add a curry powder containing turmeric to soups or try it over scrambled eggs. Plus, turmeric might help protect your memory and mood—a win all around.