10 Best Anti Inflammatory Foods
Why Anti Inflammatory Diet?
Inflammation is a tool your body uses to tell you, “Hey! Something isn’t quite right here.” Acute inflammation, like swelling around a cut on your finger, helps to fight more pathogens from entering the wound. So, a little inflammation is a good thing. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is long term and has been linked to many things, from acne to neurological disorders to athletic injuries. Many factors can cause inflammation, including sugar, stress, and saturated fats, among others . One of the easiest and most natural ways to fight inflammation is through your diet. By including the foods listed below as regular components of your diet, you can help ward off inflammation in some very yummy ways.
Which foods reduce inflammation?
10 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods
1. Fatty Fish
One 3-ounce serving of salmon has 175 calories, 10 grams of fat, 0 carbs, 0 sugar, and 19 grams of protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Fish is one of those foods you either love or hate. If you enjoy fish like salmon and tuna, you can easily reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of their fatty acids by making these a regular part of your diet. If you aren’t so sure you like fish, experiment with a few different varieties and see if any tickle your taste buds. Another option is to take fish oil supplements, as only 1/5 of a tsp. of fish oil is needed to reap the benefits.
Seafood of any variety, including fatty fish, can be a bit pricey. Try buying fish when it is on sale or at a bulk retailer like Costco or Sam’s Club.
- High omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content
- Lean protein
- Some people may not like fish
- Can be expensive
2. Berries and Cherries
One cup of fresh strawberries has 49 calories, 0 fat, 12 grams of carbs, 7 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Berries are known for their sweetness and can be eaten plain, with your favorite yogurt, or even in a salad. Their versatility is endless. Cherries come in different varieties, and some are tarter than others.
Berries like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are regulars in the produce department. Buy them in season to save a little money. Cherries can be a little harder to come by and are usually a little more expensive.
- Easy to find
- Common berries are affordable
- Cherries can be more expensive
A 3.5 ounce serving of avocado has 120 calories, 10 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbs, 2 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Avocados are found in the majority of grocery stores, are growing in popularity, and are a highly versatile fruit. They can be eaten plain, as a spread, on a salad, or even as a base for desserts, like pudding. They can take a little while to ripen if you purchase them while they are rock hard.
Avocados are a fairly inexpensive fruit, especially since a little avocado goes a long way
- Easy to find
- Can take time to ripen
4. Hemp Seeds
A ½ ounce serving of hemp seeds has 87 calories, 7 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbs, 0 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Hemp seeds can be found in your grocer’s health food section or at a health foods specialty store. They can be sprinkled onto your favorite yogurt or salad, mixed into a granola bar or cookie recipe, or can be ground into a versatile flour. They give your foods a little crunch (if eaten whole) and have a taste similar to a sunflower seed.
Hemp seeds are more expensive than sunflower seeds, but are not un-affordable.
- Easy to use
- Contain all 20 amino acids
- May be difficult to find
One cup of raw broccoli has 31 calories, 0 fat, 6 grams of carbs, 2 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Broccoli is commonly found in your local grocer’s produce department and can easily be grown at home. It can be eaten raw or cooked, with most people pairing it with hummus, cheese, or another topping of the like.
Broccoli is inexpensive and its versatility really gives it a bang for your buck.
- Commonly found
- Can be dry when eaten raw
6. Olive Oil
One tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories, 14 grams of fat, and zero carbs, sugar, or protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Olive oil is found everywhere and in quite a few varieties. It can be used for cooking, as a base for salad dressing or sauces, and is a great replacement for butter or other oils with higher amounts of saturated fats because it has a light taste.
The cost of olive oil depends on the kind you buy. If this is a product you use frequently, consider buying it in bulk quantities to save money and make life more convenient.
- Commonly found
- Light taste
- Some varieties are pricey
One cup of chopped, raw kale has 33 calories, 0 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Kale is a close relative to arugula, broccoli, and brussel sprouts, so the taste is similar but with a little bitterness thrown in the mix. Kale is great as a base for salads, served as a side dish, or blended into a smoothie, and is readily available at your grocery store.
Kale costs about what other leafy greens costs.
- Can have a bitter taste
One ounce of chopped walnuts has 173 calories, 17 grams of fat, 3 grams of carbs, 0 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Walnuts are a hearty, meaty nut that is available at grocery stores and farmers markets alike. Their flavor is mellow, and make a great addition to yogurt, baked goods, as a salad topping, or as a protein boost in side dishes like wild rice.
Like other nuts, they can be a little pricey, and the costs can fluctuate depending on the season.
- Hearty and filling
- Potential allergen for some folks
- Can be expensive at times
9. Sweet potatoes
One 4.5 ounce raw sweet potato has 114 calories, 0 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Sweet potatoes are, well, sweet! Readily available at your local grocer, sweet potatoes can be a meal on their own, served as a side, or used to add a pop of flavor and color to a salad or main dish. Remember that they are potatoes, and sometimes can take a while to prepare.
Sweet potatoes are fairly inexpensive, like other potatoes.
- Preparation can take some time
Eight ounces of brewed black tea has 2 calories, and zero fat, carbs, sugars, or protein.
Taste and Practicality:
Everyone has their own tea preference, so sip on your favorite and reap the anti-inflammatory benefits. You can get tea anywhere, whether you make it at home or grab it on-the-go. Try making a smoothie with tea, or replacing one of the (many) cups of coffee your drink in the morning with a cup of tea.
The cost of tea will vary depending on the brand or café from which you purchase it.
- Widely available
- Many different varieties
- Cost varies
Criteria We Used to Find The Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Inflammation is not always a bad thing. It can be a physical sign that lets us know something in our bodies is off and needs attention, or what we or doing or exposing ourselves to needs to be adjusted. Especially for us runners, acute inflammation will help our blisters, scrapes, and other “battle wounds” heal while keeping them free of harmful infections. It is when these inflammations become prolonged that we should start to be concerned. The easiest way for you to make sure chronic inflammation isn’t in your future is simply by incorporating more of the foods on this list into your regular diet. Below are the metrics we used to measure which foods made the cut.
1. Nutritional Content
As athletes, we care about our overall health and wellness, and many of us pay special attention to how our diets can effect (both positively and negatively) our training. These days, a lot of runners are experimenting with a variety of diet approaches, to see what gives them the most energy, aids in recovery, and just overall works best for them. This is true especially for athletes who are combatting acute inflammation in some form. Luckily, the foods on this list can be incorporated easily into a many types of nutritional plans, so reducing inflammation can be something even runners and athletes with very particular diets can do.
Athletes also need sufficient calorie intake to sustain their workouts and everyday lives, but they also have to be mindful of our portions and intake. After all, “you can’t outrun a bad diet!” Therefore, the foods on this list are nutritionally versatile and provide a lot of different macro nutrients and micro nutrients, but are not so calorically dense that couldn’t be easily fit into your everyday lifestyle, or that they would have to be saved for a “cheat meal.” (In fact, nothing on this list is over 300 calories for the standard, suggested serving size!)
Nutritionally versatile foods are those foods that are not only a good source of one singular micro or macro nutrient, but have multiple nutritional benefits. The foods on this list are nutritionally versatile, in that they not only aid in decreasing inflammation, but might be a good source of carbohydrates, fats, and/or proteins, and chock full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Take walnuts for an example- they, like many other types of tree nuts, are excellent sources of “good fats” like omega 3’s, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats. However, they also provide a hefty amount of protein and contain fiber, and lots of B and E vitamins. While nutritionally versatile, walnuts do err on the side of being calorie dense, as 30 grams (1 ounce) have 190 calories. But that’s okay! Like we said before, and is true with any food: just be mindful of your portions and serving sizes.
While nutrition is important, you certainly don’t want to sacrifice taste for health. As athletes, we put ourselves through a lot. We face physical challenges and push our limits all the time. We are used to being uncomfortable, we know pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones leads to being better athletes. So just about the last thing we want after a seriously intense workout is a bad-tasting recovery meal! While some of the foods on this list may be considered more of an “acquired taste,” (i.e. not everyone is a fan of fish, and sometimes it just takes some time to develop an affinity and the tastebuds for certain foods) none of them are foods that really get a “bad rap” across the greater population (except for maybe kale, which many complain about being too bitter). Consider your personal preferences and if you tend to be a picky eater. (Likewise, if you plan to serve others these foods, you should consider their personal taste preferences, especially those of kids). Even if you ARE a picky eater and don’t have a very developed palette, a lot of the foods on our list can be manipulated with different preparation and cooking methods, and with the addition of various seasonings, oils, and butters, you can easily change the taste to better fit your preferences. Broccoli and sweet potatoes are a great example of this. Broccoli served alone, cold, and raw might not be the most appetizing food. But drizzled with olive oil, (also on this list!) sprinkled with a bit of salt, pepper, and some Parmesan cheese, and then roasted in the oven, your bland broccoli becomes a side dish that everyone can enjoy! The same goes for sweet potatoes – just think about that delicious sweet potato casserole your grandmas serves every Christmas. Even if it’s not the holiday season, a little cinnamon, brown sugar, and a pat of butter goes a long way to doctor up a plain baked sweet potato!
Whether you’re single, married, or raising a family, saving money and sticking to a budget is important. Groceries are one place that are definitely essential, but it’s always nice to stretch your dollar as far as it will go. That’s why we took into account price and overall value when we compiled this list. The first component of value is obviously price – how expensive or inexpensive is the food relative to competing foods that are similar? The foods on our list are relatively low to moderately priced, especially when set against the broader landscape of like-foods. For example, buying salmon on a weekly basis might not be an economical choice for some folks, especially if they’re purchasing wild-caught Alaskan salmon from the fishmonger at their local specialty foods store. However, when compared to other types of fish and seafood, salmon is actually one of the more inexpensive options, and is even more-so when you buy it in bulk. In fact, buying in bulk is another factor to consider when you consider a food’s value. If you have enough freezer/refrigerator and storage space to stow extra food, opt to buy foods that are sold in bulk to have a cheaper cost per serving. (Nuts and seeds are great to buy in bulk because they are commonly found sold in bulk bins and they have a longer shelf life than other foods, and can be stored in your freezer for up to two years.)
Another component when evaluating prices is the consider where you live. Fruits and vegetable prices can fluctuate significantly during non-peak season times, so if you live in a colder area, you might be paying way more than you normally would to get avocados and strawberries in January. When you can, buy foods that are in-season to save money. Also consider how much use you will get out of a serving. For instance, olive oil (as well as other types of cooking oils) can be expensive, especially when bought at specialty stores. However, a little goes a long way! Just a tablespoon can be enough to coat your entire family’s Wednesday night brussel sprout side dish. Foods that “go further” are a better purchase than ones that don’t.
Finding foods that fit practically into your daily routine and lifestyle are huge. Our list of best anti inflammatory foods consist of foods that are a practical solution for a weeknight meal or midday snack when you are juggling meetings, paperwork, class assignments, your kids’ soccer practices, and carpool duties, all on top of a rigorous marathon-training schedule. We have found foods that are easy to prepare, easy to cook, (even for those of us who definitely aren’t the next Wolfgang Puck) and easy to transport from your home to the gym to the office. Most of these foods can be assembled and prepped during your weekly meal prep, for added convenience and to speed up your morning routine. Throw a serving of nuts and fruits into individual baggies for a quick and immediate snack during the week, cut and roast a pan of broccoli and sweet potatoes and store in the fridge for an already-made side dish, and even brew a big pitcher of tea to keep in the fridge for a delicious, antioxidant rich anti-inflammatory drink.
Versatility is another factor to consider when thinking about foods that are a practical option for you and your family. This mean versatility in the ways and methods you prepare it, the variety of different recipes it can be used in, and if it can be served at multiple meals throughout the week. Salmon cooks super quick, and you can have a hearty dinner on the table in under twenty minutes. But if you wan’t to slow things down and enjoy a more gourmet-style Saturday night date at home, it’s also the perfect protein to top off a decadent plate of creamy pasta (and pairs great with a dry Pinot Noir!)
It’s also important to think about practicality in terms of what is (and isn’t) sold at your nearby grocery store. Going back to what we mentioned in the value section, you should consider if you live in a climate that is going to be able to sell these items fresh on a regular, or even seasonal basis. Even more practical than finding it at the super market though, is growing or cultivating it on your own! While most people aren’t going to be able to harvest and sustainable catch their own salmon, if you have the space, environment, and time to grow your own berries, fruits, nuts, and veggies then go for it! Not only does this help make your daily or weekly grocery- or market-run routine easier and more convenient, but you’ll also cut way down on cost.
Other Important Things to Pay Attention To
Is your inflammation acute or chronic?
Inflammation is your body’s defense mechanism against toxins and infections. It is your immune system’s way of responding to a harmful invader and helping you to heal quickly. So when you have an ingrown toenail, for instance, you might experience some swelling and redness (aka inflammation) as a way to stop the spread of an infection. Relief can come in the form of an antibacterial/antibiotic to kill the infection, and then the foods on this list will help to calm the symptoms of inflammation. This acute inflammation is the body’s initial reaction to pathogens and invaders. However, chronic inflammation, or inflammation that has been prolonged, means that your body has been on “high alert” for a longer amount of time than it’s used to. When this occurs, the body is in “overdrive” and producing an excessive amount of inflammatory cells, which can lead to plaque build up in the arteries and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Chronic inflammation also alerts you to a more serious issue at hand, and play a role in most every major disease. You should be aware of what type of inflammation you are experiencing, and be able to pinpoint what is causing it.
Do you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies?
If you are trying to stick to a certain diet (paleo, Whole30, keto, etc.) or have any sort of health related food aversions or allergies, then you should be mindful of which foods on the list fit your needs and health goals. The majority of these anti inflammatory foods are plant-based products, and so will fit easily into a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle (with the one exception obviously being salmon). Be aware of any allergies you have before trying new foods. Those with nut allergies will obviously want to stay away from walnuts and those individuals suffering from Phenylketonuria, or PKU, should avoid the foods on this list that are high in protein (fish, nuts, legumes, etc.) and eat other lower sources of protein in very moderate amounts (i.e. broccoli). If you’ve recently taken up a new diet approach such as the Paleo diet or a low FODMAP diet, always consult the “approved list of foods” for your diet (but also always talk to a doctor before you start any sort of diet plan!). If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you’ll also have different nutritional and dietary considerations to take into account. Anti inflammatory foods have been known to help lower the risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy; just be sure to avoid foods in their raw form, and opt to steam, bake, or roast most of your foods, including your veggies.
Are you menopausal?
Sorry if this seems uncomfortably close-and-personal, but inflammation is largely controlled naturally by the body by sex hormones: in women, primarily progesterone and oestrogen. During menopause, the amount of these hormones in the body declines significantly and as a result, inflammatory markers can increase. Especially common in post-menopausal women is inflammation around joints and bones, which can lead to arthritis and arthritic symptoms. If you are menopausal or post-menopausal, consider trying to right any hormonal imbalances you are experiencing in addition to a diet rich in anti inflammatory foods.
Who else are you feeding?
If you are cooking for roommates, a significant other, or a family, you have to be mindful of others’ taste preferences and general pickiness around food. It is always best to know of any allergies or food aversions that your guests may have, and be careful about which teas you brew as they may contain more caffeine than some people need or want (like small children). Kids can be especially difficult to please and might be wary to try a new meal that has unfamiliar ingredients. Consider slowly incorporating these anti inflammatory foods into your routine little by little, and experiment with serving them up in unique and different ways (i.e. adding ground hemp seeds into a delicious No-Bake Protein Oatmeal Energy Ball like the one found here can be a fun way to disguise healthy and nutritious as a yummy treat).
Where do you live?
Know your grocery store. It might sound like a mundane chore to add to your already never-ending to-do list, but it’s a worthwhile investment of your time to spend a few hours just carefully roaming your grocery store(s) to know what kinds and brands of foods are sold. You might live in a rural area that doesn’t sell some of the foods on this list, especially if you don’t have a conveniently located specialty health foods store close by. (For example, hemp seeds might be difficult to find at a typical grocery store, and so can fresh salmon.) You should also consider where you live in terms of weather, seasons, and climate. If you want to buy the freshest produce, it is advised to stick to fruits and vegetables that are currently in-season. For some, that fortunately means fresh berries, ripe avocados, and bountiful kale bunches are plentiful and readily available most months of the year. For most though, these foods are really only at their peak 3-6 months of the year. Luckily, there are plenty of foods on this list that are practically available year round (walnuts, oils, and teas) to help you out when fresh produce is harder to come by. (You might also consider stocking up while things are in-season and then freezing them for later use.)
Q. What exactly is inflammation?
Inflammation is the response your body tissue produces when harmful stimuli are present, such as irritants, damaged cells, or pathogens. It’s actually a GOOD thing, as it is a protective response of the immune system and involves immune cells, red blood cells, and molecular mediators that work together to trap outside invaders and keep them maintained and from spreading. Essentially, inflammation is your body’s way of trying to protect and repair itself. Inflammation becomes a problem though when it is prolonged for an extended period of time (i.e. too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing). Autoimmune diseases cause such problems because they trigger anti inflammatory markers to be produced when there actually isn’t any sort of virus, bacteria, or invader and so these anti inflammatory markers start to attack vital bodily tissues.
Q. What causes inflammation?
Several causes for inflammation exist. Some of them may be simply what we are eating (for more information on that, see below). Other causes can be environmental, as well as psychological. When we live or work in environments that expose us to harmful chemicals, pollutions, or allergens, we are at increased risk of developing inflammation (as our body’s defense mechanism against these harmful products). It’s also important to know the quality of the water your drink and shower with, as that can contribute to inflammation. Psychologically, an increase in our body’s levels of cortisol may lead to inflammation. While inflammation helps our flight-or-fight response and reaction times in potentially dangerous or harmful situations, it also produces a high level of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol helps regulate our immune systems , but when we become overly stressed, our immune systems can only hold on for so long before we crash.
Biologically speaking, inflammation occurs when something harmful tries to enter the body (such as a virus, bacteria, or disease.) Inflammation is our body’s biological defense response, and a form of self-protection to remove the harmful invader. In short, our white blood cells are released and sent to the affected area to increase blood flow and healing/repair time. It is initially a beneficial response, but is also self perpetuating, so it becomes problematic when more inflammation is created because of the already-existing inflammation in our bodies.
Q. Where does inflammation occur?
Q. How does inflammation affect the body?
Like we’ve mentioned, inflammation can be both good and bad biological responses. On the positive side, inflammation helps fight infection, provides you with a signal that something is wrong with your body, and is responsible for the “fight or flight” mentality that gets us through traumatic or dangerous situations. However, inflammation also has a negative side. If your body is producing anti inflammatory markers to help fight an infection that actually can’t be treated with increased white blood cell counts and blood flow, (i.e. cancers, arthritis, Alzheimers, etc) then your body will just continue to produce anti inflammatory markers at a surplus (aka chronic inflammation). This can be detrimental as more and more plaque start to build up within your arteries. Subsequently, then, you may be at a higher risk for heart attack or stroke.
Q. What do anti inflammatory foods do?
Anti inflammatory foods are packed with nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, that help your body fight inflammation from the inside out. Additionally, anti inflammatory diets are generally composed of fresh, unprocessed foods that balance healthy fats, carbohydrates, and protein. The result is a well-balanced, more holistic diet.
Q. What foods cause inflammation?
For the most part, it’s easy to identify the foods that cause inflammation because they are comprised largely of what have recently been deemed “bad foods:” foods high in hydrogenated oils and trans fats, sugar, and salt (or are prepared using any of these ingredients, like deep fried foods). Studies also show that certain animal products like red meat and some dairy may contribute to inflammation, as well as gluten products and alcohol.
It is important to note that, as we age, we may become more and more susceptible to inflammation caused by foods. Foods that use to not bother us at all when we were younger may trigger such symptoms as indigestion or put our immune systems on guard as we age. This is particularly true for foods containing dairy and wheat, and helps explain the recent rise in gluten intolerance among many individuals.
Check out a few of the sources we used during our research:
- Does Inflammation Harm Your Health, WebMD Women's Health Information, ,
- 11 Incredible Benefits of Walnuts, Organic Foods Health Article, ,
- Why You Should Pay Attention to Chronic Inflammation, Cleveland Clinic Health Article, Oct 14, 2014 ,
- Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Pregnancy, Blog Post, Dec 23, 2013 ,
- Menopause, Inflammation, and Joint Pain, The Australian Menopause Centre Health Article, Apr 12, 2017 ,
- All About Inflammation, WebMD Informational Health Article, ,
- Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments, Medical News Today Health Article, Sep 16, 2015 ,
- Causes of Inflammation, Women to Women Informational Health Article, ,