9 Anti-inflammatory Foods Proven by Research

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9 Anti-inflammatory Foods Proven by Research

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9 Anti-inflammatory Foods Proven by Research

Inflammation is a natural defense system used by our bodies to fight infections. During infections, our bodies produce pro-inflammatory molecules which are crucial for mounting an immunological response.

Prolonged inflammation, however, is harmful to human health. It leads to an oxidative stress environment. That’s why inflammation and oxidative stress are closely related (1).

Prolonged/chronic inflammation is involved in the development of major diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease (2,3).

Certain types of foods are considered anti-inflammatory. And consuming them helps in reducing prolonged inflammation. 

Another way to maximize the effect of anti-inflammatory foods is to avoid inflammatory foods. 

It is easy to identify inflammatory foods. The more processed the food is, the more inflammation-inducing it becomes. Therefore, most inflammatory foods are highly processed foods. 

For example, bakery products such as pastries and sugary drinks.

Other known examples of inflammatory foods are refined flour with gluten, milk and cheese, trans and saturated fatty acids, and red meat (4,5,6,7,8). 

In this article, we describe foods that are proven by research to have anti-inflammatory properties. Making a regular part of your diet will help with reducing body inflammation and improve overall health. 

1) Fish (Salmon, Tuna, Herring, Mackerel)

omega-3 sea food Salmon

Fish is considered a healthy protein source. However, fish are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids. 

Fish, especially fatty fish, is anti-inflammatory. Salmon, Herring, Mackerel, and Tuna have omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA type omega-3’s are shown to be anti-inflammatory (9).

Moreover, Astaxanthin is a pigment carotenoid present in Salmon and Trout. Astaxanthin has a strong anti-inflammatory property (10).

These two major anti-inflammatory agents make fish an ideal source of healthy nutrition. 

In summary, fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid and research shows that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. therefore, regular intake of fish in your diet can provide anti-inflammatory benefits.

Read more about omega-3 fatty acids here>>

2) Berries (blueberries, strawberries, black current)

blueberries anti-inflammatory anti-oxidant

For a long time, Berries are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols are abundant natural chemicals found in many plants and fruits. The consumption of polyphenolic compounds is associated with lowering inflammation (11).

A subclass of polyphenols called flavonoids is present in high quantities in berries. Anthocyanins are the most notable flavonoids in berries which also give red and deep purple color to berries. 

Research shows that anthocyanins are associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, hypertension, and cancer. 

There are a variety of berries that contain flavonoids such as Anthocyanins. Examples include blueberries, crane berries, strawberries, black currant, black raspberries, bill berry, chokeberries, and sea buckthorn berries (12).

Since berries are a great source of anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, regular intake in your diet can reduce inflammation. 

3) Green vegetables (Spinach, kale, and broccoli)

broccoli green vegetables

Green vegetables are highly potent anti-inflammatory food sources. 

Kale, spinach, and broccoli contain several vitamins and polyphenols. 

Quercetin and Kaempferol polyphenols are known for their anti-inflammatory properties (13).

High quantities of Quercetin and Kaempferol are found in kale, spinach, and broccoli (14).

Kale is also a good source of vitamin B, E, and C. Vitamin C is known for its anti-inflammatory property. One serving of kale provides 100% recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C (15,16).

The cooking process reduces carotenoids, polyphenols, and vitamin c in kale. Therefore, kale should be used as a salad (17).

Green vegetables, kale, spinach, and broccoli are great sources of polyphenols and vitamins that fight inflammation. 

4) Oils (Virgin olive and Avocado oil)

Plenty of research has been done on virgin olive oil and polyphenol present in it. 

Olive oil intake helps in decreasing the levels of C-reactive proteins and IL-6 which are known to promote inflammation (18).

Olive oil contains polyphenol hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives that include oleuropein complex and tyrosol. 

Studies in animal and human cells show that hydroxytyrosol is potent in inhibiting pro-inflammatory markers such as TNF-α (19,20).

Animal studies with avocado oil show a reduction in inflammation measured by reduction in LDL and CRP  levels (21). Insulin resistance is also reduced by introducing avocado oil into the animal diet (22).

Recently, Avocado oil’s inflammatory role is shown to be as good as olive oil. One study reported that the use of Avocado pulp oil of Mexican Creole genotype is shown to inhibit the same pathway that olive oil or ibuprofen inhibit (23).

Current research shows that olive oil and avocado oil are healthy fat choices that also help fight inflammation due to the presence of polyphenols. 

5) Drinks (Green tea)

green tea in a cup

Green tea has become one of the most popular drinks in the world. And it does come with several health benefits. 

Green tea contains polyphenols. The most abundant type of polyphenols is catechins. (−)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is the most known catechin (24).

Green tea catechins are known to counter the proinflammatory signals. Especially the pathways that involve neutrophils. Thus by inhibiting these signals that cause inflammation, green tea exerts an anti-inflammatory response (25,26).

Green tea also reduces the other indicators of inflammation such as IL-8 (27).

A comparison of green and black tea shows that green tea is more anti-inflammatory than black tea possibly due to high polyphenol content (28).

Green tea contains high quantities of polyphenols and regular consumption can reduce the risk of developing inflammatory conditions. 

Read more about the benefits of consuming green tea here>>

6) Herbs (turmeric, ginger, ginseng)

For centuries, herbs have been used in traditional medicine to treat inflammation.   

Research has shown that curcumin in turmeric has a strong anti-inflammatory function (29). Turmeric suppresses inflammatory pathways. Curcumin can inhibit NF-κB, a proinflammatory agent (30).

Read more on the health benefits of turmeric here>>

Ginger has been used to treat cold, vomit, and nausea in traditional medicine (31).

Ginger has many active compounds. Some of the known compounds are gingerol, shogaols, zingiberene, and zingerone (32).

Ginger supplementation is effective against lowering the pro-inflammatory agents in patients suffering from Osteoarthritis (33).

Ginger supplementation is shown to improve therapy against TB by lowering inflammation agents (34).

Ginseng is another anti-inflammatory herb. Ginsenosides are the active ingredients in Ginseng. Ginsenosides were responsible for inhibiting the pro-inflammatory pathways and agents such as TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6 (35,36).

Herbs such as ginger, turmeric, and ginseng have been used to treat inflammation for centuries. Current research shows that in fact, these herbs reduce inflammation by inhibiting inflammatory pathways in our bodies. 

7) Fruits with enzymes (papaya, mango, and pineapple)

Fruits also possess anti-inflammatory properties due to the presence of enzymes. 

Papaya is used for tenderizing meat in south and east Asian households. Many studies have been done on the enzyme of papaya called Papain. Papain is the main active agent that tenderizes the meat (37,38).

Papain is also a good stain remover of teeth (39).

Animal research on papaya shows that a mixture of papaya and kale can reduce inflammation in rat colitis models (40).

Aqueous extract of papaya administration in animals with elevated oxidative stress improved immune function, which indicates the anti-inflammatory function (41).

Pineapple is another fruit with anti-inflammatory properties. Pineapple contains large quantities of bromelain. For a long time, bromelain is known to possess anti-inflammatory properties in addition to several other health benefits (42). Thus, ingesting pineapple can be a source of bromelain. 

Mango is rich in polyphenols. The known polyphenols of Mangoes are mangiferin, gallic acid, β-glucogallin, gallotannins, quercetin, and ellagic acid (43,44).

In addition to carotenoids and fiber, mangoes also contain vitamin E which has a strong anti-inflammatory function (45).

Mango extract is shown to have anti-inflammatory activity against ulcerative colitis in animals. Mango extract also inhibits inflammatory indicators such as NF-kB (46).

Intake of fruits such as papaya, pineapple, and mango can be beneficial for inflammation because they contain enzymes and vitamins that fight inflammation. 

8) Cocoa products (dark chocolate)

Cocoa or cacao fruit grows on a Cocoa tree. Cacao products are consumed worldwide. Chocolate is by far the most known product. Dark chocolate contains a high percentage of cacao liquor and also contains minerals such as copper, magnesium, potassium, and calcium (47).

Copper deficiency is particularly associated with inflammation (48).

Dark chocolate has anti-inflammatory properties. This is due to fact that dark chocolate has the highest amount of flavanols per 100g among flavanol-rich foods (49).

Research shows that dark chocolate is beneficial in reducing inflammatory indicators in diabetes patients (50). 

Consuming a small quantity of dark chocolate(up to 20g) regularly is associated with reduced levels of C reactive proteins (CRP). these proteins are known for inflammation (51).

Flavanols of cacao exert an anti-inflammatory response by affecting the inflammatory indicators (52).

Cacao products especially dark chocolate are known to fight inflammation by inhibiting the pathways that promote inflammation. 

9) Nuts (peanuts)

almond and nuts

Nuts are a great source of plant-based unsaturated fatty acids. They are also a good source of minerals and vitamins and phenolic compounds (53,54).  Increasing evidence shows that nuts have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Regular consumption of nuts has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (55).

The Mediterranean diet recommends the consumption of nuts. Among those who consumed high amounts of nuts had lower levels of IL-6, fibrinogen, and CRP (56,57).

Good nut choices are peanuts, almonds, and walnuts. 

Nuts are not only a great source of good fatty acids but are also rich in compounds that are shown to reduce inflammation. Thus, regular intake of nuts can be beneficial for fighting inflammation.

The Gist

Inflammation is a normal function to protect us from infection however, prolonged inflammation is a leading contributor to major disease. Foods can help reduce inflammation thus, prevent prolonged inflammation. These foods are least processed, high in phytochemicals, polyphenols, and vitamins. Regular consumption can be beneficial in reducing oxidative stress as well as inflammation.