Inflammation is your body’s response to injury, irritation, or infection. It’s a natural bodily response and an entirely normal part of the healing process. However, it’s also possible that low levels of unchecked, chronic inflammation could be silently wreaking havoc on your health. Chronic inflammation has been identified as a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic illnesses. (36)
Luckily, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet is a practical (and tasty) way to offset harmful inflammation.
Top 13 anti-inflammatory foods
The 13 foods included below are among the best of the best when it comes to anti-inflammatory effects.
1. Avocados Ah, avocados. How could they not make the list? Avocados come with a laundry list of health benefits, but it’s the sugars found in avocados that may make them particularly good at reducing inflammation. One study found that AV119, a patented blend of sugars found in avocado, was effective in blocking the proinflammatory response in keratinocytes, specific cells involved in the body’s innate immune response. (6)
In another study where participants ate hamburgers with or without a slice of Hass avocado on top, those who ate the burger with the added avocado topping had lower levels of inflammatory markers following the meal. (31)
2. Berries — açai, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi berries, raspberries, and blackberries I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard that berries are overall very, very good for you. Their high antioxidant levels — specifically antioxidants called anthocyanins—are what make berries particularly beneficial when it comes to targeting inflammation. In one study where overweight men and women ate strawberries for six weeks every day, the results suggested that eating strawberries can offset the intake of unhealthy foods that trigger inflammation. (7)
Although there are countless varieties of berries, some of the most studied for their anti-inflammatory properties are:
Açai berries (30)
Black currants (28)
Kiwi berries (29)
Kiwi berries are nutritional ninjas poised to be the next Açai popularity-wise. New research has shown kiwi berries have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers. (11)
Did you know? Kiwi berries contain over 20 essential nutrients and a range of vitamins. (1)
3. Tomatoes Tomatoes and tomato juice are both chock-full of several antioxidants with powerful anti-inflammatory properties, such as vitamin C, lycopene, and potassium. Tomatoes happen to be the richest source of lycopene in a traditional Western diet. Lycopene is particularly effective at reducing inflammation, as well as the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. In one study with 106 obese and overweight females, drinking 330 ml of tomato juice daily for 20 days was shown to reduce levels of inflammation. (2)(14)(22)(41)
Did you know? Cooking tomatoes in olive oil can increase your ability to absorb lycopene when you eat them, as the cooking process appears to make lycopene more available. (10)
4. Cherries Does eating 45 cherries a day keep inflammation away? Studies have shown it can! Packed full of antioxidants like catechins and anthocyanins, cherries are very effective at decreasing oxidative stress and fighting inflammation. In one study, where participants ate 280 grams of cherries daily for a month, levels of inflammatory biomarkers were significantly reduced. The best part? The levels stayed low for 28 days after they had stopped consuming cherries daily! (9)(23)(25)
Both sweet and tart cherries have been shown to contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation and combat chronic illness.
5. Turmeric Turmeric, a spice derived from the rhizome of the Curcuma longa plant, has long been recognized for its medicinal properties. The beneficial effects of turmeric include anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activity. Turmeric is composed of approximately two to five percent curcumin, its most active component, commonly found in supplement form. However, research has found that several of the health benefits of this spice occur independently of curcumin, which suggests there may be additional benefits to consuming whole turmeric. (18)
6. Mushrooms — oysters, enokis, shiitakes, honey browns, and white buttons Mushrooms are rich in selenium, B vitamins, copper, phenols, and other antioxidants that provide anti-inflammatory protection against inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (8)(13)(37)
Did you know? Mushrooms can be a great way to lower inflammation naturally — but only if you don’t overcook them! Studies have shown that overcooking mushrooms can reduce the power of its anti-inflammatory compounds drastically. To reap the anti-inflammatory effects of mushrooms, aim to eat them lightly cooked or raw. (17)
Though there are thousands of varieties of mushrooms you could forage for worldwide, only a few are edible, grown commercially, and have been studied.
7. Salmon and other fatty fish Salmon, a commonly-consumed fatty fish, is an excellent source for protein as well as long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties once your body metabolizes the acids into compounds called protectins and resolvins. (44) To reap the anti-inflammatory effects of salmon, aim to have it once a week for at least eight weeks in a row. (15) Not a salmon lover? Other cold-water fatty fish that provide high levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids include:
8. Lentils and kale If you are looking for a meal that is a one-stop-shop for all things micronutrients, then whip up something with lentils and kale! Studies have shown that the combination of lentils and kale is particularly effective and complementary when it comes to combating inflammation — being they are both jam-packed with phytonutrients, minerals, and other vitamins. (34)(36) 9. Dark chocolate and cocoa Dark chocolate and all things cocoa are not only delicious, but they are also nutritious! The cocoa found in chocolate is full of antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation in the body —and quickly. In one study, smokers who drank a cocoa drink experienced a significant improvement in endothelial function a mere two hours after ingestion. (20) Endothelial cells line the arteries and play a role in regulating inflammation throughout circulation. (32) To get the most anti-inflammatory health benefits from your chocolate, try and opt for a bar of dark chocolate that contains 70% cocoa or higher. (27) A diet high in sugar has been shown to increase inflammation, so it’s important to look for chocolate with as little sugar as you can find. (36)
Did you know? The flavonols found in dark chocolate and cocoa are what’s responsible for chocolate’s strong anti-inflammatory properties. (11)(20) 10. Broccoli Broccoli is an absolute nutritional dynamo that deserves the title of superfood. Studies have shown that eating this cruciferous vegetable regularly is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and certain cancers. It’s also one of the best natural sources for sulforaphane — a powerful antioxidant with notable anti-inflammatory properties. (16)(21)(45)
Did you know? Broccoli may be particularly good at alleviating and controlling inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease. (12)
12. Chili peppers and bell peppers Chili peppers are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, two key nutrients responsible for their significant anti-inflammatory effects. Hot chili peppers are also a great source of sinapic acid and ferulic acid, which can reduce inflammation. (3)(39) Though if you can’t handle the heat of chili peppers, know you can also opt for bell peppers. Bell peppers have been shown to contain capsaicin, which may have anti-inflammatory effects in individuals with inflammatory conditions. (38)
Did you know? Scientists are heavily studying the anti-inflammatory effects and therapeutic application of water extract from bell peppers. (19)
Peppers — spicy and mild varieties alike – are some of the best natural anti-inflammatory foods.
13. Chia seeds Chia seeds are a superb source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in certain plant foods. In the body, small amounts of ALA are converted to the bioactive fatty acids EPA and DHA. (35) The ALA present in chia seeds makes them a great choice to sprinkle on yogurt or cereal or mix into your morning smoothie. (42) Other plant-based foods that contain ALA include walnuts, flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and soybeans. (43) Easy meal ideas with the best anti-inflammatory foods We’ve come up with some simple meal ideas that incorporate the top anti-inflammatory foods from this list. Consider the following meal and snack ideas:
Breakfast: A smoothie with strawberries, avocado, kale, and apple; or a chia bowl or oatmeal with berries and little dark chocolate nibs
Lunch: lentils with brown rice and kale; or grilled salmon and broccoli
Snacks: fresh berry fruit salad; an apple and a piece of 70% chocolate; chia seed pudding; or guacamole on a whole-grain toast with black pepper Beverages: certain herbal teas (e.g., ginger, turmeric) or green tea There are lots of different and delicious anti-inflammatory food options you can try —remember to mix it up to maximize your wellbeing! The bottom line Keep in mind that low levels of inflammation can easily go unnoticed. By regularly incorporating a variety of anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, you can reduce the risk of chronic inflammation, a process associated with many chronic health conditions. To learn more about the specifics of the anti-inflammatory diet, read our post on the Fullscript blog.