The Best 8 Foods to Reduce Inflammation, Say Experts
Inflammation is part of your immune system’s natural response to an injury or infection. While this response can help your body heal and repair itself, chronic inflammation — which sticks around far after the threat or foreign invader is gone — can lead to a range of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Registered dietitians agree your best defense against chronic inflammation is a healthy, balanced diet. While some foods are known to cause inflammation, others contain specific nutrients that can help reduce inflammation.
According to Nichole Dandrea, MS, RDN, author of The Fiber Effect and founder of Purely Planted, processed foods high in sugar, salt, saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates have been shown to trigger inflammation through changes in the gut microbiota. Not only that, but processed foods also tend to be high on the glycemic index, meaning they quickly spike your blood sugar — which can also lead to inflammation, according to Paulina Lee, MSHS, RD, LD, founder of Savvy Stummy.
On the other hand, Dandrea says many plant-based foods are packed with fiber and phytonutrients, which reduce inflammation by fostering a healthy gut and scavenging harmful free radicals throughout the body.
With that in mind — if you’re looking to keep inflammation at bay, here are a handful of foods you’ll want to add to your grocery list stat.
Looking for an anti-inflammatory snack? Reach for walnuts. A 2020 review found that eating walnuts significantly reduced signs of inflammation, including high LDL cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties, says Stephanie Wells, MS, RD, and walnuts are one of the best sources. In fact, a 1-ounce serving contains 2.5 grams of alpha-linolenic acid, which Wells notes is over 100% of the daily recommended value.
Plus, walnuts are also packed with a number of antioxidants, including ellagic acid, catechin, and phytic acid. Antioxidants help to prevent inflammation by protecting tissues from free radical damage.
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries contain special antioxidants called anthocyanins, according to Bianca Tamburello, RDN, a nutrition specialist at FRESH Communications. Anthocyanins — which give these fruits their red, purple, and blue pigments — have been shown to help to fight inflammation.
“Strawberries and blueberries are also high in vitamin C, which can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation,” adds Wells.
3. Leafy greens
Whether you prefer kale, spinach, or collards, don’t be shy about loading the leafy greens onto your plate for some major anti-inflammatory perks.
“These vegetables contain cancer-fighting compounds, like carotenoids, that guard cells from free radical damage,” explains Johna Burdeos, RD.
Dandrea notes that leafy greens are also high in fiber, which helps to ward off inflammation by supporting a healthy gut.
4. Oily fish
“Far and away, the best food sources of inflammation-fighting omega-3s are fatty fish — like salmon, cod, sablefish, and sardines,” says Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD, founder of Street Smart Nutrition. “I recommend aiming to eat two 3 to 4-ounce servings a week to fight inflammation.”
According to Juliana Tamayo, MS, RD, from FitnessClone.com, oily fish is especially high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — two types of omega-3 fatty acids that the body can’t make on its own, which is why it’s crucial to get enough of them in your diet.
“Some studies have even found that these fatty acids help to lower high levels of c-reactive protein, which is a marker for chronic and acute inflammation,” adds Tamayo.
Pro tip: Tambarello recommends seeking out salmon from Chile, since it’s particularly high in these inflammation-reducing fatty acids and also low in mercury.
Mushrooms are a verifiable superfood; in part, because they’re rich in a wide range of anti-inflammatory compounds like carotenoids, fatty acids, polysaccharides, vitamins, and biometals.
“Mushrooms contain polyphenols, selenium, and vitamin E, all of which are powerful antioxidants that help reduce the risk of inflammation and cell damage,” says Tamayo. “The beta-glucans, a complex oligosaccharide, also boasts some powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the risk for illness and markers for disease.”
Fun fact: A 2018 review found that mushrooms in the Basidiomycota group — which includes chaga, shiitake, and lion’s mane mushrooms — have especially powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
“But the benefits of olives for inflammation don’t end there,” says Lord. “They are also a good source of vitamin E, which is a potent antioxidant, and a phenolic compound called hydroxytyrosol, which has anti-inflammatory properties.”
According to Wells, that’s likely because beans are a rich source of gut-friendly fiber, protective antioxidants, and other beneficial phytonutrients.
“Try using beans to replace meat for a few meals per week,” says Wells. “Or, snack on roasted chickpeas, edamame, or bean-based dips like hummus.”
8. Chia seeds
The anti-inflammatory powers of chia seeds are three-fold, according to Dandrea:
- They’re loaded with fiber, with 10 grams per ounce, for a healthy gut
- They’re high in omega-3 fatty acids
- They’re packed with polyphenols, a group of phytonutrients that act like antioxidants
“This triple threat combination makes chia seeds a powerful ingredient to add to oatmeal, make into pudding, or stir into smoothie bowls to help fight inflammation,” she explains.
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