Foods to Fight Inflammation

antioxidant rich food. Credit: Iain Bagwell

Inflammation is said to be the possible root cause of many chronic conditions, so what exactly is inflammation and how can we keep it to a healthy level? And what foods will help us fight it?

Inflammation is a natural part of the body's immune response - it is not always a bad thing. Inflammation signals to the body that there is an injury or an area that needs care and protection. Sometimes, however inflammation can become self-reinforcing if we don’t have the correct balance of nutrients. Dietary improvements including more anti-inflammatory foods can be a natural way to manage some symptoms of chronic inflammation.

What are some foods with potent anti-inflammatory properties?

Berries. Cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, black and blueberries are rich in antioxidants, as indicated by their dark purple and red coloring. Their color comes from anthocyanins or plant pigments that have demonstrated the potential to prevent cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders, and inflammation from arthritis and gout in lab studies.

Cherries, tart cherries, in particular are known as powerful anti-inflammatory foods. The flavonoid and carotenoid phytonutrients in cherries have strong anti-inflammatory properties. A study conducted at UC Davis found that regular consumption of cherries produced a decrease in markers of inflammation in blood. Observation included a 25 percent reduction in C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation potentially associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Researchers from Oregon Health and Science University found that tart cherries may benefit those with inflammatory osteoarthritis, helping manage pain more effectively.

Oily fish, flax and chia seeds and walnuts - all omega-3 rich foods- are powerful inflammation fighters. Omega-3 fatty acids alleviate inflammation and can even block inflammatory pathways. According to Dr. Weil, omega-3’s also suppress 40 to 55 percent of the release of cytokines, immune system molecules known to destroy joints and cause inflammation.  Other benefits of flax specifically include fiber and phytochemicals such as lignans. Diets rich in plant lignans have been associated with reductions in risk of cardiovascular disease.

Use spices liberally! Cayenne, ginger, and turmeric are powerful. Cayenne pepper contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and protects our cells in the nucleus. Cayenne is also said to be beneficial in relieving arthritis and back pain.  Ginger is also known to reduce pain. Gingerols are antioxidants and have been shown to reduce discomfort and swelling related to arthritis. Lastly turmeric, also a plant of the ginger family, contains the powerful curcurmin, and may have a positive effect on the process that cause inflammation and pain.

Other beneficial anti-inflammatory foods for your shopping list? Green tea, and dark green veggies, pomegranates and yes, dark chocolate (hold the sugar!). Choosing vibrantly colored foods is a sure way to get your antioxidants and have a healthy inflammatory response.