Inflammation gets a bad rap, but it isn’t always bad. As a necessary bodily function for preventing illnesses, treating injuries, and healing wounds, inflammation (at least some degree of it) keeps us strong and healthy.
It’s when the immune system starts overacting and begins attacking healthy body tissue that inflammation can lead to a whole host of problems — from weight gain to autoimmune disease, dementia, and even cancer.
High stress levels, food allergies, smoking, and environmental factors can all increase inflammation, but a poor diet is likely the biggest offender. Luckily, a healthy diet that is free of common digestive triggers can counteract the damage, reduce free-radical damage, flush toxins, and speed healing.
Here are 10 anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet as often as possible:
1. Leafy green vegetables
Dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, bok choy, and Swiss chard are rich in flavonoids (powerful, plant-based antioxidants) that restore cellular health, which is essential to stopping inflammation.
In addition, they provide vitamins A, C, and K, which protect your brain against the oxidative stress caused by free-radical damage — the same process that causes aging and disease development.
2. Probiotic foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, kefir)
A very large portion of your immune system actually lives within your gut and is run by bacterial organisms — what you can think of as “your gut’s bugs.”
Microbial imbalances (when the bad bacteria outnumber the good) have been associated with heightened inflammation and increased risk of various diseases, but probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kimchi can help rebalance and heal your gut.
Probiotics are also linked to improvements in immune, cognitive, digestive, and endocrine system functions, and taking probiotics can even cheer you up!
3. Bone broth
Bone broth — the rich liquid that results from boiling the bones of organic, grass-fed beef or poultry for hours — comes packed with a number of nutrients, including collagen. Collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine work in unison to heal the lining of an inflamed gut, which quickly stops your immune system from acting on overdrive and attacking the body’s healthy tissues, from the skin to the brain.
Bone broth is also a great natural source of chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine — the same compounds sold as expensive over-the-counter supplements used to limit arthritis and joint pain caused by inflammation.
As a great source of omega-3s and trace minerals, walnuts are known for being a “brain food” because they supply special phytonutrients that help protect against cognitive decline.
An imbalance between oxidants (bad) and antioxidants (good) can eventually lead to oxidative stress, but walnuts help to calm an overactive immune system and reduce widespread inflammation.
5. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is a special kind of saturated fat that has built-in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. Benefits of this miracle oil include being both easy to digest and helpful in restoring gut health, thanks to its ability to cause a thermic, warming response in the body.
Because coconut oil contains essential fatty acids that can fight bacteria, yeast, and infections within the digestive tract — where most illness and disease begins — it’s beneficial for both preventing and treating inflammation.
As their deep pigment suggests, beets contain the antioxidant betalain, which works to repair cellular damage caused by inflammation. Beets can also help improve blood flow and supply high levels of inflammation-fighting potassium and magnesium, two important nutrients many people are deficient in.
7. Broccoli (and other cruciferous veggies)
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are packed with antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and key vitamins like vitamin C. These nutrients work together to lower oxidative stress in the body and help battle chronic inflammation and reduce the risk of developing cancer.
The stars of the fruit world, berries stand out because of their high content of both fiber and antioxidants like quercetin, a flavonoid compound that supports healthy bacterial growth in the gut and prevents colon damage.
Berries have also been shown to slow cognitive decline and improve memory and motor function.
Consuming the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 essential fatty acids is one of the keys to fighting inflammation. Omega-6es are “pro-inflammatory” while omega-3s are considered potent anti-inflammatory substances.
Wild-caught salmon and other oily fish (including mackerel and sardines) are the best food sources of omega-3s. They naturally lower the risk for developing many inflammatory diseases, especially heart disease, arthritis, depression, and cognitive disorders.
10. Super seeds (chia, flax and hemp)
Super seeds like chia, flax, and hemp offer both omega-3 (in the form of plant-based alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 fatty acids, which help stop our immune system from overproducing cytokines and oxidant molecules that can lead to inflammation.
They’re also full of fiber, antioxidants, protein, and numerous trace minerals that help regulate cholesterol and lower blood pressure levels before they cause further damage.
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