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9 Anti-Inflammatory Foods To Add to Your Diet Right Now

March 23, 2024

Anyone interested in health is likely concerned about inflammation. Chronic inflammation can last for months or even years, and studies show that it may be linked to several illnesses, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and more. Thankfully, a healthy diet full of anti-inflammatory foods can help fight off chronic inflammation by boosting the immune system.

Notably, chronic inflammation is different from acute inflammation. The latter is the body’s short-term response to an injury or illness. Acute inflammation is a healthy immune response, such as redness and swelling when you stub your toe or twist your ankle. For that, you might ice the injured spot, or take an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen.

When it comes to chronic inflammation, “A food-first approach will always be better than a supplement,” says dietitian Katie Valdes, assistant director of sports nutrition at the University of Southern California. Her main advice? “Make sure your plate is colorful, and your ingredients are from a pure source,” she says. “Variety is the key.”

Add more colorful anti-inflammatory foods to your plate with these dietitian-approved nutritious eats.

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1. Leafy greens

Spinach and kale are bursting with vitamins and antioxidants, so no wonder they’re touted as top anti-inflammatory foods. Buying bunches individually is great, but there are nights when you don’t have time for measuring, washing, and drying.

Valdes recommends always reaching for a bag of pre-packaged organic Power Greens at the grocery store, one that includes kale and spinach mixed with other varieties like chard and mustard greens. It’s a smart shortcut because “you’re getting so many vitamins and minerals at once, including iron,” she says.

2. Salmon

The omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon help to reduce inflammation. While most scientific studies focus on fish oil supplements, eating salmon a few times a week as part of a healthy diet will also have positive benefits.

3. Tomatoes

The French call the tomato the pomme d’amour or love apple, and it’s easy to see why. They’re abundant, easy to grow, versatile, and an anti-inflammatory superstar, thanks to lycopene. This antioxidant is what gives red-colored fruits and vegetables their color. While many foods contain lycopene (red bell peppers and red grapes are standouts), tomatoes contain the highest level. Bonus: Cooking tomatoes increases lycopene, so feel free to spoon on the sauce.

4. Farro

Studies show that eating high-fiber foods may lower inflammation by improving gut health (and it helps with depression, too). While many grains will do the trick, Valdes recommends farro, an ancient grain found at most supermarkets. “It has a nice nutty taste and is a great source of proteins and carbs,” she says.

One cup provides 20% of the recommended daily fiber intake.

5. Tart cherry juice

Who doesn’t love munching on a bowl of ripe, plump cherries in the summertime? But weaving them into your diet year-round can be tricky. Say hello to cherry juice. A 2018 study found that any cherry – fruits, juice, or concentrate ­­– has anti-inflammatory power.

“We give our athletes tart cherry juice post-practice to reduce muscle pain and oxidative stress,” says Valdes. “There’s naturally occurring melatonin in it, so it also helps improve sleep quality. It’s a great thing to add at the end of the day.”

When shopping, check the ingredient list and buy pure cherry juice, as a blend will reduce its potency.

6. Chili peppers

Spicy chilies add complexity and depth to many dishes. Within those jalapenos and habaneros is capsaicin, the substance that gives chilies their heat and their anti-inflammatory properties. Most of the capsaicin resides in the tongue-tingling inner pith and seeds, so next time you’re cooking, embrace the heat.

7. Nuts

Walnuts are particularly high in alpha-linolenic acid, a type of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid. But all nuts are an important element of an anti-inflammatory diet, particularly if you eat them unsalted. The magnesium in nuts like peanuts and cashews helps with inflammation, too, according to Valdes. She recommends tossing them on your salads or having two to three tablespoons of nut butter a day.

8. Green tea

For centuries, green tea has been prized for its medicinal properties. It turns out that people who regularly consume green tea have lower levels of c-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body. It’s particularly helpful with certain types of chronic inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. To get the most out of your cup, drink it hot, sugar-free, and caffeinated — many of the health properties are stripped during the decaffeination process.

9. Dark chocolate

Chocolate lovers, rejoice: High-quality dark chocolate is full of antioxidants that help lower inflammation.

“Dietary nitrates help with inflammation and are found in foods like beets, arugula, and dark chocolate, too,” says Valdes.

She notes that it won’t have much effect if the dark chocolate is blended with milk chocolate or cut with additives. The chocolate should have a high cacao content of at least 80% and be low in sugar.

Read next: These 5 Supplements Can Help Reduce Inflammation, Says Science

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