Studies suggest that some foods such as olive oil, berries, fish, vegetables and spices, can help decrease chronic inflammation. Here we look at the evidence and why we should incorporate more of these foods on a daily basis.
Inflammation is a necessary body process and can be both good and bad. For example, it is essential to help your body defend itself from infection and injury, however, chronic inflammation can lead to diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. Chronic inflammation, combined with stress, low activity levels, and foods that cause inflammation can make the risk to health even worse. Therefore, changing your diet to include more anti-inflammatory foods can have a significant positive affect.
Foods like fruits, vegetables, and spices contain anti-inflammatory compounds and may help reduce inflammation. The list of the most anti-inflammatory foods include:
- berries, cherries and grapes
- oily fish
- avocados and olive oil
- green tea
- peppers and tomatoes
Berries, cherries and grapes
The primary phytochemicals in berry fruits are polyphenols including flavonoids (anthocyanins, flavonols, flavones, flavanols, flavanones, and isoflavonoids), tannins, and phenolic acids. Since berries have a high concentration of polyphenols, they can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which are often the leading causes of diabetes, neurological, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
A 2018 review of research suggests that phytochemicals found in berries may help delay cancer development and progression. In another study, adults with excess weight who ate strawberries had lower levels of specific inflammatory markers associated with heart disease than those who didn’t.
Cherries are also rich in anthocyanins and catechins, which decrease inflammation. A 2019 study of older adults found that those who consumed 500ml of tart cherry juice daily for 12 weeks experienced significantly lower levels of the inflammatory marker CRP. CRP is a protein found in the blood whose levels rise in response to inflammation.
Grapes are one of the best sources of resveratrol, another antioxidant compound with many health benefits. Studies show that resveratrol can protect the heart against inflammation.
Oily fish such as mackerel, anchovies, sardines and salmon are a great source of protein and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
A systematic review of the effects of DHA on health found it was able to help reduce inflammation, which may otherwise lead to health conditions including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease and cognitive disorders such as cognitive decline and depression. The body is able to metabolize omega 3 fatty acids into compounds called maresins, resolvins and protectins, which have anti-inflammatory effects as they reduce the release of inflammatory substances.
Broccoli, along with other cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cabbage and cauliflower, is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, which is related to the anti-inflammatory effects of the antioxidants they contain. Broccoli is rich in sulforphane, 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 the body.
Avocados and olive oil
Avocados and olive oil are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats including the fatty acid alpha linoleic acid which can help to attenuate the inflammatory response in the body. They also contain carotenoids and tocopherols, which are linked to a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. In addition, chlorogenic acid in avocados may reduce inflammation in newly forming skin cells. In one study of 5over 50 adults, those who ate avocado for 12 weeks had a reduction of inflammatory markers interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β) and CRP.
Olive oil contains oleocanthal, an antioxidant that has been compared to anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. Research suggests that following a Mediterranean diet and supplementing with extra virgin olive oil can significantly decrease inflammatory markers.
Research has found that drinking green tea 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 known as EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). This substance inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in cells.
Peppers and tomatoes
Peppers and tomatoes are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants with powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Peppers also provide the antioxidant quercetin, which may reduce inflammation associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, as well as sinapic acid and ferulic acid, which may reduce inflammation and support healthier aging.
As well as vitamin C, tomatoes are also high in lycopene, an antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Lycopene reduces pro-inflammatory compounds related to several types of cancer.
Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound. Research has shown that turmeric reduces inflammation related to arthritis, and diabetes. In one study, people with metabolic syndrome consumed 1g of curcumin daily combined with piperine from black pepper. They experienced a significant decrease in the inflammatory marker CRP.
As it is hard to get enough curcumin from turmeric through cooking, supplement containing isolated curcumin may be much more effective. Curcumin supplements often include piperine, which can hugely boost curcumin absorption.
Chronic low levels of inflammation can significantly increase the risk of various diseases. By increasing your intake of foods that contain compounds with anti-inflammatory effects, you can lower inflammation in the body and reduce your risk of ill health.