Inflammation is a key part of our natural immune system. It is a process that helps the body respond to a wide range of threats, including infections, injuries and foreign substances.
While inflammation is critical in the healing process of the body, it isn’t always beneficial.
Instead, inflammation can persist months or years and contribute to a number of conditions. For example, asthma, arthritis and tuberculosis are all connected to chronic (long-term) inflammation (1).
In fact, inflammation is now considered to be the underlying basis for a large number of different diseases (2).
Often this occurs because the immune system starts responding to the body as if it was a threat. This can cause damage to the tissues of the body, resulting in some diseases (3). The nature of inflammation also means that in many cases you may not even be aware that you are experiencing inflammation.
There is a growing interest in using healthy and smart food choices as a way of combating inflammation (4). This perspective has a lot of merits because many types of food contain natural compounds that can promote healthy outcomes and there are many anti-inflammatory foods out there.
Foods like this won’t stop your body from responding to actual threats, but they can significantly reduce the amount of chronic inflammation you experience.
As there is so much in the modern diet that promotes inflammation, it makes a lot of sense to tweak your diet to reduce inflammation wherever possible.
1. Wild Salmon
A particularly powerful choice for fighting inflammation is wild salmon.
Many people already recognize the health benefits of salmon, although they may not be aware of it as one of the anti-inflammatory foods.
Here I’m specifically referring to salmon that has been caught in the wild (often called sockeye salmon) and not the farmed salmon that is more commonly available.
Both wild and farmed salmon can be beneficial, but they have very different flavor and nutrition profiles.
A particularly important aspect of salmon, like other types of fatty fish, is that it contains significant levels of omega-3 fatty acids (5).
These compounds can play a key role in reducing inflammation in the body (6).
The price difference between wild and farmed salmon is high and many people do find that they cannot afford wild salmon. While wild salmon is the healthier of the two options, farmed salmon is still a viable alternative for decreasing inflammation – and it is certainly a better option than not having any at all (7).
You can find more about the difference between wild and farmed salmon in the comparison piece on Healthline.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You’ve probably heard about omega-3 fatty acids before. This is the fat that you find in fish (including salmon) and it is one of the key reasons why the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week (8).
There is a lot of hype behind omega-3 fatty acids, but with good reason.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that omega-3 fatty acids are only half of the story.
The other half is omega-6.
Omega-6 fatty acids actually have the opposite effect to omega-3 – they promote inflammation (11).
You do still need both in your diet, but most of us consume far too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.
Having a healthy balance between the two is critical for health because too much omega-6 can contribute to inflammation and inflammation-based diseases (12).
It is also very important to be aware of this when you are trying to increase the level of omega-3 in your diet. There are a number of different foods and different brands that advertise themselves as being high in omega-3, even though they have more omega-6 than omega-3 (vegetable oils are one example of this).
Including salmon or other fish in your diet can be a particularly effective way of increasing your levels of omega-3 and improving the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 overall.
If this isn’t an option for you, an alternative approach is to use a high-quality supplement to get omega-3 into your diet.
There are also some other anti-inflammatory foods that contain significant levels of omega-3, but it’s still important to keep an eye out for omega-6 levels.
Avocados are a particularly healthy addition to the diet for multiple reasons, especially if you are trying to lower your inflammation.
One recent study looked at the inflammatory response in participants after eating a 250g hamburger patty, either with or without also eating 68g of avocado (roughly half an avocado).
The authors found that the participants who ate avocado had significantly lower levels of inflammation compared to those that ate the meat alone (15).
Compounds in avocado create this anti-inflammatory outcome by inhibiting the gene expression of a number of genes involved in inflammation, including the widely studied COX-2 gene (16).
Other mechanisms for avocado decreasing inflammation have also been discovered.
By helping to regulate this complex, avocado is able to reduce the level of inflammatory responses (19).
A similar anti-inflammatory impact has also been found with avocado oil in animal models (20), which suggests that avocado can act as a key anti-inflammatory food.
A naturally occurring compound within tomatoes is α-Tomatine (or Alpha-Tomatine) (21), which has been linked to anti-inflammatory action, suggesting that tomatoes may play a role in treating diseases with an inflammatory component (22,23).
Compounds in tomatoes have also been linked to other health benefits, including antioxidant functions, the potential to boost the immune system and antibiotic functions (24).
Although research is still in its very early stages, there have been some indications that mushrooms may provide anti-inflammatory effects.
The anti-inflammatory effects of mushrooms do also vary considerably across mushroom types.
For example, one study found that anti-inflammatory impacts were strongest in Oyster, Shiitake and Enoki mushrooms (28).
A second research study also highlighted on the anti-inflammatory impacts of Shiitake mushrooms as well as their potential to improve immunity as a whole.
So, while mushrooms as a whole can be important, Shiitake, Oyster and Enoki mushrooms may be the most important examples of anti-inflammatory foods.
Garlic is a fantastic vegetable for cooking, and it is often associated with increased immune system function, with good reason (29). In fact, garlic is one of the most widely researched foods that can promote health (30).
However, garlic is also very significant for fighting inflammation.
This compound is a strong antioxidant and it also helps to protect the heart and improve levels of glucose in the blood (33).
The anti-inflammatory action of the compound comes from its ability to create a profile of gene expression that hinders inflammation. At the same time it alters the profile of some metabolic compounds to decrease the potential for inflammation (34).
Other compounds in garlic have also been associated with anti-inflammatory actions, including a number of sulfur-containing molecules (35), a molecule called ethyl linoleate (36) and the derivatives of allicin (37).
One catch with garlic is that most research suggests that the best health benefits come from eating garlic raw – which isn’t the most appealing idea.
A key reason for this is that allicin is a relatively unstable molecule, so processing can dramatically impact any health benefits of garlic that come from allicin (38).
For example, one study found that short-term heating of fresh garlic significantly reduced the anti-inflammatory effects of the garlic (39).
Despite this, both heated and unheated garlic did have anti-inflammatory effects.
Additionally, allicin is not the only molecule in garlic that contributes to health benefits, and even garlic-based products that lack this compound do still have many of garlic’s health benefits (40).
So, if you were to frequently include garlic in cooking, the anti-inflammatory effects are likely to be significant.
There are also a few tricks that you can use to eat raw garlic. For example, raw garlic works well as part of a salsa, in pesto or in part of a salad. Additionally, you can use raw garlic to make garlic butter, which has many different uses.
Some people also choose to chop up raw garlic and eat it like a supplement. That approach certainly isn’t for everyone, as raw garlic has a pretty intense taste. However, if you are wanting to reduce inflammation as much as possible, it is a viable approach.
Taking that approach right before bed is a good way to avoid issues of garlic breath –as long as you can deal with the taste that is.
Otherwise, breath mints are your friend.
There is also a more unusual type of garlic called aged black garlic. This has become popular as an ingredient in Korean cooking.
Basically, this type of garlic is fermented, which causes a color change in the garlic kernels.
Likewise, this type of garlic also has significant anti-inflammatory properties, similar to the anti-inflammatory action of raw garlic (43).
Black garlic is particularly interesting because it has a very different taste than normal garlic. This type of garlic tends to be chewy and sweet, with a savory undertone. The characteristic garlic taste still exists, but it isn’t nearly as strong.
This makes black garlic a particularly good choice for anyone who wants the anti-inflammatory benefits of garlic but isn’t particularly impressed by the taste. Although black garlic is still relatively obscure, you can find it at some specialty food stores, or online.
The site Steamy Kitchen even offers a scallops recipe that works perfectly with black garlic.
Like other nuts, walnuts are something that people often avoid because they are relatively high in fat. Despite this, walnuts are actually a fantastic source of nutrients and they can contribute to weight loss, rather than weight gain.
Like many other items in this list, walnuts work to decrease inflammation by interacting with the NF-κB inflammation pathway (46).
This means that a diet rich in walnuts may be one of the easiest and most effective ways of promoting improved brain function (47).
Pineapple tends to get overlooked in most discussions of anti-inflammatory foods.
This is a pity because there has actually been research into pineapple’s impact on inflammation.
Pineapple has also been used historically as a way to treat both inflammation and indigestion.
A particularly significant part of pineapple that relates to inflammation is a mixture of enzymes known as bromelain. Bromelain is found in the juice of the pineapple as well as the stem and has implications for a number of health conditions (48).
One animal study showed that long-term supplementation with either fresh or frozen (unpasteurized) pineapple juice was able to decrease the severity of inflammation (49).
Bromelain has also been found to be significant for intestinal inflammation (50).
The anti-inflammatory action of bromelain is different than many other anti-inflammatory substances and includes interactions with T cells (51). Nevertheless, the anti-inflammatory action is strong and remains present even in pineapple vinegar (52).
9. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is one of the green leafy vegetables that you really should be including in your diet, but probably aren’t.
This means that not only is Swiss chard good for combating inflammation, it is also effective at combating free radicals and their negative effects in the body.
10. Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes go by a few different names. In North America, they are often known as yams, even though they are distinct from a botanical yam. Additionally, in some parts of the world, the term yam refers to an entirely different type of crop. Because of that confusion, sweet potatoes in North America have to be labeled as such, rather than being labeled as yams.
Additionally, in New Zealand, sweet potatoes are known as kumara.
While some of the nutritional properties do decrease after baking or boiling, the cooked version of the vegetable does still retain significant benefits (62).
An experimental animal study found that supplementation with sweet potato was able to improve insulin sensitivity, potentially through a range of outcomes, including inflammation outcomes (63).
One interesting variety of sweet potato is the purple sweet potato.
This type of sweet potato tends to have a richer flavor than normal sweet potatoes and some people refer to the flavor as being ‘winy’.
The color is entirely natural and it comes from the same pigments that color other dark fruits and vegetables, like purple carrots and cherries.
This type of sweet potato can also offer significant health and anti-inflammatory benefits (64) and it can be considered a significant anti-inflammatory food.
There is a lot of emphasis on the antioxidant properties of pomegranate, but pomegranate is also a strong anti-inflammatory food.
An extensive review of pomegranate and its impacts found that supplementing with pomegranate can help to protect against ulcer development in the gut by virtue of their anti-inflammatory properties (65).
An experimental study also looked at the impact of pomegranate on inflammation.
The study involved participants receiving either a placebo beverage or pomegranate juice each day for a period of 12 weeks.
The authors found that the group receiving the pomegranate juice had significantly less inflammation than the group receiving the placebo treatment (66).
Another study also found a similar outcome (67).
Additionally, the antioxidant function of pomegranates (68) also plays a role in the anti-inflammatory role of the fruit.
The role of pomegranate in inflammation comes from its interaction with the NF-κB inflammatory pathway.
Specifically, compounds within pomegranate can inhibit the pathway from being activated. The same is also true for other inflammatory pathways (69).
The most significant thing about beets is that they have excellent antioxidant activity, which allows them to help fight the damaging effects of free radicals within the body (70).
At the same time, this antioxidant action helps to decrease the level of inflammation in the body, making it particularly relevant to health.
Spinach is often touted as a particularly healthy addition to the diet and the anti-inflammatory action of the vegetable is yet another reason why you should include it in your diet.
Eating vegetables, like spinach, with high levels of polyphenols has been significantly associated with a decrease in the development of diseases related to oxidative stress, many of which are also related to inflammation (71).
For example, one study showed that spinach extract was able to significantly decrease asthmatic inflammation (72).
Mixtures of different plant extracts, including spinach, have also been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory roles (73). This is one reason that smoothies containing fruit and greens are a particularly valuable contribution to health and a powerful anti-inflammatory approach (74).
As with other leafy greens, spinach is actually healthier cooked than raw, as the process of cooking helps to increase the antioxidants (75).
One thing to be wary of with spinach is that it is frequently grown with pesticides and may contain pesticide residues (76).
The best way to avoid this is to focus on organic spinach or to grow your own spinach.
Oranges tend to be a common part of the modern day diet, even if many of us turn to orange juice instead of oranges themselves. While oranges themselves do have strong anti-inflammatory properties, most research has focused instead on orange juice.
One study found that drinking orange juice daily can help to decrease the inflammatory response at the plasma level and in gene expression (77).
Likewise, another study indicated that drinking orange juice during a high-fat high-carbohydrate meal was able to reduce the amount of inflammation that such a meal typically causes (78).
This has also been found to be true with red orange juice, suggesting that both types of oranges have anti-inflammatory properties (79).
Another study found the role of oranges in reducing inflammation was also true in patients with peripheral arterial disease (80) – suggesting the outcome may also be relevant for other diseases.
15. Olive Oil
One of the healthiest oils that you can choose in modern society is olive oil, as the oil contains many healthy compounds and is a healthy type of fat (81), while also acting as an antioxidant (82,83).
Multiple compounds in olive oil have been found to have an anti-inflammatory effect, including the compound oleocanthal. The properties of this particular compound are similar to ibuprofen, which has considerable implications for fighting inflammation (84,85).
There are a lot of different options when it comes to choosing olive oil. But, generally speaking, olive oil comes in three main types.
Light (or extra light) olive oil tends to have the most processing, and heat is often used to get rid of any impurities. The oil may also be mixed with other types of oils. This does make it the cheapest type of olive oil, but the oil is also likely to have fewer healthy compounds.
Pure olive oil (sometimes just called olive oil) is a refined blend of olive oil. This normally contains some extra virgin olive oil but is mostly made up of pomace oil, which is made from processing the leftovers after the extra virgin olive oil is created.
This type of olive oil is less expensive than extra virgin olive oil, but the processing can mean that it loses some of its health benefits.
Finally, extra virgin olive oil is the most expensive type of olive oil, but it also has the best flavor and is the least processed.
It is obtained by cold pressing olives.
This means that chemicals and heat aren’t used as part of the processing, maximizing the potential health benefits.
The term extra virgin refers to olive oil that is obtained the first time that the olives are pressed. You can also find virgin olive oil, where the oil comes from the second pressing. The flavor of this oil tends to be less intense and some find it to be a bit more acidic.
Olive oil is an interesting example in this list of anti-inflammatory foods because you aren’t likely to eat large amounts of olive oil or take it like a supplement.
Instead, it is something that you use in cooking, but even then it is still very important for fighting inflammation. You might also use it in salad dressings or even on its own for salads. Regardless though, you certainly don’t eat large amounts of olive oil at any given time.
Kale has become the darling of the culinary world, especially for anyone trying to improve their health. There are a lot of good reasons for eating kale, and one of those is the anti-inflammatory potential of the vegetable.
Among the many nutrients in kale, two particularly important ones are kaempferol and quercetin. Both of these compounds have significant implications for the body, including both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory roles (89,90,91).
Indeed, kale itself scores highly as an antioxidant (92) and there is a strong link between antioxidant roles and anti-inflammatory roles.
When it comes to health, carrots are most commonly associated with improved eyesight.
This perspective is largely a myth (for example, carrots won’t actually help you see in the dark), but there are some compounds in carrots (including zeaxanthin and lutein) that may help to protect the eyes and promote healthy vision (93).
However, carrots are also very significant for fighting inflammation.
The importance of that pathway for promoting inflammation makes carrots particularly valuable as a way to reduce inflammation.
Plus, they are easy to include in the diet, which you can’t say for all anti-inflammatory foods.
It’s easy to overlook the anti-inflammation impact of onions, simply because they are such a commonplace ingredient in cooking.
Nevertheless, onions are a rich source of flavonoids, many of which have the potential to confer significant benefits for health (95).
One particularly interesting compound is quercetin (96). While much more research is needed on the compound (97), there are strong indications that it may have antioxidant, antibacterial (98) and anti-inflammatory effects (99,100).
While studies in humans have been limited, onions are a safe and easy food to include in the diet, making them a viable component of any anti-inflammatory diet.
Cruciferous vegetables contain many compounds that promote human health.
One particularly important compound is sulforaphane.
One study showed that it is possible to obtain enough sulforaphane to get these benefits from eating dietary amounts of broccoli (105).
While most cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane, broccoli is a particularly good choice for reducing inflammation because it contains high levels of the compound (108).
20. Dry Beans
Dry beans may be one of the key reasons that plant-based diets offer so many health benefits, although bean consumption is relatively low in North America (109).
For example, dry beans have been associated with protection against diseases including diabetes and heart disease, as well as improved blood pressure and decreased inflammation (110).
In fact, there are some recommendations for people to dramatically increase their level of dry bean consumption (113).
This indicates that almonds may play a role in reducing inflammation, as C-reactive protein is a key indicator used to determine whether inflammation is present.
Additionally, almonds are significant as antioxidants and this alone plays a considerable role in anti-inflammatory outcomes (116), making them a good choice for an anti-inflammatory food. .
22. Dark Leafy Greens
Kale, Swiss chard and spinach are all specific examples of dark leafy greens that help fight inflammation.
However, most dark green veggies fall into this category and can be considered anti-inflammatory foods in their own right.
One reason for this is that these vegetables tend to have higher concentrations of nutrients than vegetables with lighter leaves, offering the potential for better health benefits overall.
Including a significant amount of these in the diet can be critical for reducing inflammation and improving overall health (117).
This is particularly important in American culture, as much of the food commonly eaten is limited in nutrients and heavily processed, and may contribute to inflammation and the development of inflammation-related diseases (118,119).
Indeed, switching away from a plant-heavy diet to a Western diet has been associated with the development of inflammation and increased prevalence of many diseases (120).
Nuts are a powerful addition to a healthy diet, particularly if you are trying to bring down your level of inflammation.
Research has also shown many positive outcomes from diets that include regular consumption of nuts.
These outcomes include decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death from cardiovascular incidents.
Collectively, these outcomes offer significant evidence that nuts can play a role in reducing inflammation and in improving health overall (126).
The anti-inflammatory impact of turmeric comes from a specific compound called curcumin, which is a key compound in turmeric.
The anti-inflammatory impacts of ginger are most strongly associated with osteoarthritis. This is a disease that involves a significant amount of inflammation and treatment for it frequently involves the use of anti-inflammatory medication.
One study looked into the impact of ginger supplementation, using 750 mg of ginger each day for a period of 12 weeks. The study was designed so that participants were in one of three groups.
One group received the ginger and a placebo. A second group received anti-inflammatory medication and a placebo while the third group received both the ginger and the medication.
The authors found that all of the groups showed some degree of improvement, but the greatest improvement was seen in the group that got both the medication and the ginger (133).
This shows that ginger could decrease some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis, especially when used along with anti-inflammatory medication.
A second study found a similar outcome (134).
Likewise, research has also shown that ginger can decrease the pain associated with osteoarthritis (135).
The mechanisms for ginger decreasing inflammation are still being researched, but some research suggests that ginger can decrease the expression of some chemokines, and doing so can help decrease inflammation (136).
26. Dried Plums
In general, you should always be careful with dried fruit, as dried fruit tends to be very calorie dense. Additionally, it is far too easy to eat too much dried fruit, especially if you aren’t careful with portion sizing.
However, dried plums (also called prunes) have been associated with some anti-inflammatory properties. For example, one in vitro study showed that the polyphenols from dried plums could significantly decrease the production of compounds related to inflammation (137).
27. Tart Cherry Juice
There are several mechanisms behind this action.
One of these is the way that tart cherry juice can inhibit key enzymes in the inflammation pathway (141).
Fresh or frozen, raspberries are a fantastic treat – and they also offer considerable benefits as antioxidants (144) and for fighting inflammation. This isn’t surprising, as berry fruits, in general, have been associated with preventing some diseases as well as improving health overall (145), and there is a significant indication of health benefits from raspberries specifically (146).
Another study showed that fractions made from raspberry showed anti-inflammatory action, as did multiple other fruits, including blackberries and feijoa (148).
Blueberries are another fruit that offers considerable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The anti-inflammatory aspect of blueberries has been linked to two anthocyanins, which act to inhibit the inflammatory response in the body (149,150). Research indicates that this effect occurs because the compounds in blueberries act to influence the levels of cytokines that play a role in inflammation (151,152).
The level of anti-inflammatory action also varies across species of blueberry.
In particular, blueberries can be found in either the highbush or lowbush form, with the lowbush having considerably more anti-inflammatory action (153).
Typically, highbush blueberries are cultivated blueberries, so these are the ones that you find for sale at grocery stores.
In contrast, lowbush blueberries are the wild blueberries, and they are typically challenging to buy or gather because they grow in inhospitable areas (154).
So, while wild blueberries may offer more anti-inflammatory benefits, it is also much harder to obtain decent quantities of them. This makes cultivated blueberries a very viable option for fighting inflammation.
In general, a higher intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with improved health outcomes. This can include a reduced risk of many diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and diseases related to inflammation (155).
Strawberries offer a rich source of a wide range of bioactive compounds, including anthocyanins and flavonoids. Many of the compounds present can play a key role in promoting health, such as through antioxidant (156,157) and anti-inflammatory actions (158,159).
Because of this, one of the best approaches for fighting inflammation and improving overall health is to include a mix of fresh or frozen berries in your diet. This is easy to do and there are many wonderful ways to use berries. If nothing else, try using mixed berries as part of a healthy smoothie.
31. Green Tea
Green tea has its origins in China and has been significant in many different Asian cultures.
In recent times, there has been a growing interest in green tea in Western countries and in many cases, green tea is becoming almost as common as the more traditional black tea.
Many different health benefits have been associated with green tea. However, most of these still need significant scientific testing to see whether the proposed effects do exist, and if so, how strong they are.
Many of the proposed benefits of green tea come from the catechin content of the tea. This is a natural type of compound that is both a flavanol and an antioxidant.
The most common and most well-studied catechin in green tea is known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or more simply, EGCG. This compound is also present in black tea, however, there is much less of it in black tea.
EGCG is considered to be a strong anti-inflammatory compound that may have significant potential for treating inflammation (166).
The antioxidant action of green tea also plays a role in its ability to limit inflammation in the human body.
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Which of these anti-inflammatory foods do you eat on a regular basis? Were there any that I missed from the list?