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Six in 10 U.S. adults have at least one chronic disease, according to the CDC, and many of the most common conditions have been linked in some way to inflammation. And while that makes it seem like inflammation is a pretty massive concern, relief could be as close as your kitchen. Research suggests that upping your intake of certain anti-inflammation foods may help reduce a variety of symptoms.
“Inflammation is the root cause of most diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and dementia,” asserts Dr. Steven Gundry, M.D., best-selling author of The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain. “If you have any of these preexisting diseases — or high blood pressure, fatigue, tiredness, acne, rashes, or joint pain — then you have inflammation.”
So what exactly is inflammation? “Inflammation, by definition, is your body’s response to a foreign substance to protect you from harm,” says Dr. Mahmud Kara, M.D., an internal medicine specialist who treated patients at The Cleveland Clinic for over 30 years. “Some symptoms of inflammation include aches and pains, skin issues, memory impairment, low-grade fever, and digestive discomfort. Along with this, objective signs of inflammation include elevated labs like CRP levels, cholesterol, homocysteine, and some more specific cardiac markers, like oxidized LDL.”
Eating more of certain anti-inflammation foods like turmeric and pineapple could reduce those signs but, the scientists say, what you don’t eat is just as important as what you do. “The most important foods to avoid are grains, beans and nightshades — unless they are pressure-cooked or, in the case of nightshades, like tomatoes and peppers, peeled and deseeded,” says Dr. Gundry. “The lectins in these foods are a major cause of leaky gut.”
Dr. Kara adds a few more culprits to this list, namely Western-diet staples. “High-fructose corn syrup, trans-fat, excessive saturated fats, and junk food in general can cause inflammation and lead to the uncomfortable symptoms associated with it,” he says. “The best way to decrease inflammation is to prevent it in the first place.”
Try Adding More of these Anti-Inflammation Foods to Your Diet
Turmeric This ancient spice contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin. “Turmeric is most studied for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anticancer properties,” says Dr. Kara. “It’s easy to add into your daily routine, by adding to your smoothie, salad dressing, hummus, or roasted veggies.”
Extra virgin olive oil “Incorporating extra virgin olive oil into your diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other serious health conditions,” says Dr. Kara. Various studies evaluating EVOO’s anti-inflammatory role have shown that regular consumption is associated with a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. And it couldn’t be simpler to sneak into your diet: ditch your other oils and use EVOO when cooking vegetables, omelets, or use some as salad dressing.
Pistachios Surprise: Pistachios have the highest amount of melatonin of any food — and melatonin affects more than just your sleep. “Melatonin is the critical antioxidant in mitochondria themselves,” says Dr. Gundry. “Damaged mitochondria are a major stimulus of inflammation and activation of our immune system.” A handful a day just might keep the inflammation away.
Pineapple This tropical fruit is high in bromelain, which has anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti-cancer and antimicrobial effects, says nurse practitioner Erin Mewshaw, NP, of New York Center for Innovative Medicine. Since heat destroys bromelain, pineapple is best eaten raw a few times a week.
Alliums This family of vegetables — including garlic, scallions, onions and leeks — contains functional components that reduce inflammation and prevent chronic disease. “They also contain a variety of organic sulfur compounds that provide health benefits as well as a range of flavonoids,” says Abbie Gellman, registered dietitian and chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. Strive for three to five servings a week, and while they can be eaten raw, alliums tend to be more palatable when cooked.
Ginger Ginger can do it all: decrease inflammation, reduce pain, fight free radicals, prevent cancer, and lower blood glucose, says Mewshaw. Enjoy ginger raw, cooked or boiled into a tea a couple times a week.
Green Tea “Fighting inflammation is one of the most notable health benefits of green tea,” says Gellman. “Green tea contains many polyphenolic compounds, which can interfere with inflammatory pathways to lower inflammation.” One cup each morning is a great way to start your day — plus, you’ll get a nice caffeine boost without the jitters coffee can cause.
Crucifers Cruciferous vegetables (think: broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower) include compounds called “glucosinolates,” which Gellman says have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. “They also improve the body’s ability to detoxify,” she says. Make sure to get your daily dose in a stir-fry, bowl or salad.