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A guide to anti-inflammatory foods

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defence mechanism, which gets triggered if something harmful or foreign is detected in the body. Once the immune system is activated, it sends out inflammatory cells and cytokines (a substance that stimulates the inflammatory cells) which trap and sometimes kill the foreign object. This keeps your body protected against infection and injury.

What is chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation – which is when your body continues to release inflammatory cells despite there being no threat – can significantly damage your health. Long-term inflammation has been linked to various diseases and conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s. So, it’s important to prevent additional inflammation wherever possible. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods is one way to do this, alongside reducing stress levels wherever possible, and exercising regularly. To find out more about how much exercise you should do to maintain a healthy lifestyle, have a read of our past blog post.

What foods cause inflammation?

Foods that may increase inflammation include: 

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white pasta. Learn more about carbohydrates and how to incorporate them into a balanced diet by reading our article. 
  • Fried foods, such as chicken nuggets and French fries 
  • Fizzy drinks and other sugary beverages 
  • Processed meats, such as sausages, bacon and ham 
  • Margarine and lard has been found to increase inflammatory markers in rats
  • Omega-6s (fatty acids) which can be found in walnuts, safflower oil, tofu, hemp and sunflower seeds, peanut butter, avocado, eggs and almonds. These fatty acids support the body’s growth and development, and contribute to the type of inflammation that is good for you. However, research suggests that consuming too much omega-6, and not enough omega-3 (fats that can be found in salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts, for example) can promote chronic inflammation. Consuming a healthy balance of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 is key to leading a healthier lifestyle.

Foods such as refined carbs, processed meats and fried foods could cause inflammation.

Foods that may help reduce inflammation

A diet with plenty of anti-inflammatory foods may help to reduce inflammation in the body. This may include the following foods: 

  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and other types of cold water fish. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which helps to reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6, both of which are proteins that cause inflammation in the body. 
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussel sprouts. For example, one study found that adults who ate a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables had reduced levels of interleukin-6, which is known to cause inflammation in the body. However, it didn’t affect other markers of inflammation.
  • Nuts and seeds – Eating roughly a handful of nuts or seeds each day can massively benefit your health. They’re high in alpha linoleic acid (ALA), being an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid, and they’re also packed with magnesium, l-arginine and vitamin E, which also decreases inflammation.
  • Whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Whole grains contain plenty of nutrients, dietary fibre, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which may help to lower the risk of chronic inflammation. 
  • Berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain large quantities of bioactive compounds, which have been found to prevent inflammation. Certain studies also indicate that berries, such as blackberries, can also improve metabolic health, such as increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing adiposity. 
  • Beans and legumes – These foods are rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, alongside being high in protein and fibre. Black beans are believed to be especially beneficial, as they contain selenium – a mineral that may prevent inflammation.
  • Cold pressed olive oil – Cold pressed olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and compounds such as oleocanthal, suggesting that it might help to reduce inflammation.
  • Tomatoes – As well as being high in potassium and vitamin C, tomatoes contain high quantities of lycopene – an anti-inflammatory antioxidant that may provide protection against certain types of cancer. 
  • Cherries – Both sweet and sour cherries are high in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins and catechins, and polyphenols, which may decrease inflammation and lower the risk of cancer. 
  • Grapes – This fruit contains anthocyanins (which are anti-inflammatory), and resveratrol, an antioxidant that carries several health benefits – such as improved cardiovascular health.
  • MushroomsThese vegetables are filled with plenty of anti-inflammatory compounds, including mycosteroids, fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamins, biometals, polysaccharides, phenolic, and indolic compounds. Not only this, they carry antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties.

Incorporating certain foods into your diet - such as nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables - may help reduce inflammation.

By incorporating the above foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet, it is possible that you may lower your risk of developing chronic diseases – all whilst reaping the various additional health benefits they offer. Consuming a healthy diet should also be combined with keeping physically active, and reducing stress as much as possible – both of which can lower inflammation. 

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Reviewed by:

Anna Keeble – Head of Content

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Picture of Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA

Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA

Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA is Clinical Director at Evergreen Life, and a Medical Expert with more than 42 years’ experience as a GP. Brian supports people in staying as fit and well as possible by having more control over their health and healthcare.