Knowing which foods cause inflammation and which foods are anti-inflammatory is one of the best ways to avoid illness and safeguard your overall health. (We know, it’s hard to have a conversation these days without the term “inflammation” coming up!)
Picture this: chronic inflammation is like smoldering embers in a fire pit. When the wrong kind of fuel—AKA inflammatory foods that act like buckets of lighter fluid—is added, everything ignites and burns out of control, causing disease. Eating anti-inflammatory foods, on the other hand, is like stocking up on buckets of water to keep things from getting out of hand.
And if ignition does happen, your body will be more equipped to fight the fire, since it’s got a supply of extinguishers—nutrients like antioxidants and organosulfur compounds—ready and waiting.
Supplements can help, too, but foods are generally more powerful since many contain several different anti-inflammatory components. (They’re the complete package!)
Here are the seven anti-inflammatory foods you should add to your diet, now.
Olive oil’s many health benefits are partially attributed to its ability to prevent inflammation. It contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat linked to reducing inflammation and is loaded with powerful antioxidants, the compounds that battle free radicals. Just be sure to reach for cold-pressed extra-virgin.
Organosulfur compounds in garlic have been found to inhibit inflammatory enzymes and to decrease production of inflammatory signaling molecules in the blood.
This cruciferous veggie contains an antioxidant called sulforaphane, which has been shown to reduce levels of inflammatory compounds. It’s also linked to reduced risk of diseases like heart disease and cancer, which may be attributable to its anti-inflammatory powers.
Trendy turmeric has a good reputation for a reason. It’s filled with curcumin, which acts as a powerful antioxidant to fight free radicals while at the same time lowering levels of enzymes that cause inflammation. It’s like the Superman of anti-inflammatory foods.
In addition to its brain health and blood pressure benefits, cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde, an antioxidant that inhibits expression of inflammatory compounds.
Strawberries are kind of a do-it-all anti-inflammatory food. They contain a trifecta of powerful antioxidants—vitamin C, anthocyanin, and glutathione. That’s likely why studies have shown eating them regularly can reduce inflammatory markers.
Apple skins contain anthocyanins (that’s where they get the red color), antioxidants that reduce inflammatory responses. Just don’t peel your apple before taking a crunchy bite.The Inflammatory Foods You Should Really Avoid
If your body were a forest, inflammatory foods would be the sparks that start small fires—which later lead to a slow, destructive burn that destroys the entire system.
Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but you get the picture.
Inflammation is a scary process that is linked to nearly every chronic disease. While you may know how important it is to fill your diet with anti-inflammatory foods like antioxidant-rich blueberries and colorful spices, it’s equally critical to avoid the foods that can promote inflammation.
These five unhealthy inflammatory foods are a great place to start.
Soup can be an incredibly nutrient-rich part of your diet, but the canned kind is often boiling over with excess salt. Too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure, and research has shown an association between sodium, high blood pressure, and inflammation. Make your own delicious soups at home, instead. Or look for low-sodium versions, some of which may be found in the freezer section.
Other foods filled with sodium? Cured meats like deli turkey (which also contain other potentially inflammatory compounds like nitrates and AGEs…more on that later) and (sorry) potato chips.
Sugar is an inflammatory nightmare. Studies have found eating sugary foods and beverages increases markers of inflammation in the blood. So, sweets that contain tons of the added white stuff are a bad idea. (You don’t have to give them up entirely, they should just be assigned to the conscious indulgence part of your diet rather than treated like a regular food group.)
RELATED: 4 Reasons You Have Sugar Cravings
And white flour in general is a bad guy, since its high glycemic index means it essentially turns to sugar in your mouth. Research shows that foods with a high glycemic index can cause a decrease in levels of antioxidants in the blood, meaning you’ll have less defenders against free radicals, the perpetrators of inflammation.
French fries are sooo good, but unfortunately when foods are deep fried, compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) form, and those are not good for your health. Studies like this one have shown diets that are lower in AGEs are associated with lower inflammation markers.
Some fried foods are also fried in partially hydrogenated oils, AKA trans fats, which are major inflammation promoters. Thankfully, many companies stopped using them when the health risks became apparent. Still, watch out for the term on food labels (or just avoid processed foods altogether, which is where they tend to lurk).
Avoid foods that contain trans fat, high amounts of sodium, added sugar, nitrates, and preservatives to help keep your body inflammation-free and prevent chronic disease. Now, who wants to sip on an Antioxidant Smoothie?
Inflammation, Explained: What It Is and How It Affects Your Health
A: Like antioxidant, inflammation is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, and when you hear it everywhere, the actual meaning gets lost.
Essentially, inflammation is the body’s reaction to stress—like an alarm bell alerting all of your cells to a problem that needs to be fixed, stat.
That stress can come from your diet, lifestyle, environment, or an infection. When you catch a cold, it’s your body’s way of fighting it off. When you cut your skin, it’s the way it heals itself. Short-term inflammation is helpful, but too much of a good thing (when that alarm gets sooo loud and won’t turn off) can turn into a bad thing—and that’s the kind that everyone is talking about.
Prolonged, chronic inflammation is linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and just about every other chronic disease that can have severe, life-threatening consequences. It’s also related to the foods that we eat, and knowing which foods cause inflammation and which foods fight it is one of the best strategies to reduce chronic inflammation and stay healthy.
Okay, let’s geek out a little.
White blood cells (leukocytes) are soldiers in the immune system’s army and are always on the lookout for invading microorganisms and foreign particles—called antigens—like chemicals, viruses, and bacterial toxins.
When they detect an invader, they launch an attack protocol. First, they produce antibodies, proteins that can directly attack and eliminate antigens, activate other proteins to help, and promote inflammation, which helps prevent the infection from spreading. Each kind of antibody is unique and specific to one type of antigen, or invader.
When this process happens on a short-term basis, it’s called acute inflammation. During acute inflammation, leukocytes and plasma proteins, such as antibodies, are sent to sites of infection or tissue injury. This process results in visible symptoms like redness, swelling, heat, and pain. Eventually, the protective response works, the invader is eliminated, the tissue returns to normal, and the symptoms go away.
However, if the invader persists or the normal process of healing doesn’t work, the acute inflammation may not resolve the problem. Instead, it turns into chronic inflammation, a prolonged condition in which inflammation, tissue injury, and attempts at repair exist altogether, with no solution in sight. It’s like there are too many cooks in the kitchen trying to fix the problem and more and more just keep coming and adding their dirty dishes to the pile in the sink. The result is pure distress.
Chronic inflammation appears to underlie most, if not all, chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
Excessive stress, poor dietary habits, environmental toxicity, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise all contribute to low levels of chronic inflammation that often go undetected and can slowly build up for many years. This buildup is what will eventually lead to the development of chronic disease.
Though there are many things you can do to prevent this from happening, eating well is a great place to start. That includes maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding foods that contain trans fat, excess sodium, added sugar, nitrates, and preservatives. On the flip side, you can fill your plate with foods that contain inflammation fighting-nutrients. Think antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene, curcumin in turmeric, and cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon, plus organosulfur compounds in garlic and onions and omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s important to remember that many foods have a number of different components that make them anti-inflammatory, not just one. This is why it’s so important to get these nutrients from whole foods first. And those same healthy whole foods will also keep you at a healthy weight, provide brainpower, and help you sleep, among other benefits.
What Is Moringa, and Is It Really Good For Me?
The plant is often referred to as “the miracle tree,” after all, but while it does have a pretty impressive nutrient profile, adding it to your smoothies won’t magically guarantee good health. Here’s what you need to know.
The moringa tree is native to South Asia and grows crazy fast in tough climate conditions. It produces “drumstick” pods, seeds that can be eaten like peas or pressed into oil, and small, round leaves can be eaten fresh or dried and powdered. Most people in the U.S. ingest the leaves as a powder added to smoothies.
Practitioners of Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of medicine, believe the plant can prevent 300 hundred diseases, which brings us to…
Western medicine definitely hasn’t close to verified that 300 number (and in fact, there are very few top-notch clinical studies on the plant), but moringa does have a lot going for it nutritionally speaking. It delivers high doses of iron, vitamin C, potassium, and calcium. Some studies have shown it may fight inflammation and it also contains lots of powerful antioxidants. Research has also shown it may reduce some risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, and it has many other promising potential medicinal uses.
Moringa is certainly good for you, but it’s no magic bullet and isn’t easy to find. If you want to buy a green powder that lists it as an ingredient and boost your smoothie with it, go for it, but if you’re eating lots of dark, leafy greens and antioxidant-rich berries you’ll also be fine without it. Remember that supplementing your diet with the most nutrient-rich foods is just one small component of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
The Surprising Truth About Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes and all other potatoes might play siblings on TV, but in real life they’re from two different families.
They are similar, however, in terms of calories, fiber, and macronutrient (carbs, fat and protein) content.
One cup of raw sweet potato contains about 114 calories, 27 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams sugar, 2 grams protein and 0 grams fat.
One cup of regular potato has 116 calories, 26 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram of sugar, 3 grams protein and 0 grams fat.
Aside from the sugar content (responsible for the sweet taste), the macronutrients are pretty similar, right? Yup.
This is why many people wonder why sweet potatoes are known for being uber healthy when they’re almost identical to an old school tater.
Well, when it comes to sweet potatoes’ goodness, it’s not all in the basic, dirty deets. Instead, it’s all about the micro and phytonutrients. Sweet potatoes are jam packed with compounds that make them worthy of being on your plate.
All potatoes (yes, even those guys that get the bad rap) are full of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, potassium, calcium and other nutrients that act as antioxidants that give them anti-cancer, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
But the reason sweet potatoes seem to have a leg up is their color, which isn’t just for show. Beta carotene is the nutrient responsible for giving sweet potatoes that characteristic pretty orange hue.
Like other orange whole foods, sweet potatoes contain a whole lotta beta carotene (1 cup provides 375% your daily value, to be exact!).
Carotenoids (beta-carotene being the most abundant in sweet potatoes) are precursors to vitamin A which acts as a powerful antioxidant helping to protect cells from sun damage and to prevent the appearance of aging. It’s also helpful in naturally exfoliating your skin.
If you’ve been reading up on and trying to eat in an antinflammatory way, then you’ll want to add sweet spuds to your grocery list and listen up.
Cyanidin is another antioxidant bonus of sweet potatoes. Found in the flesh of purple sweet potatoes specifically, this phytonutrient compound has been linked to protecting us from toxins in the digestive system. It helps the body reduce inflammation that contributes to long term chronic illness including diabetes, arthritis and asthma.
Okay so you might be thinking—so what about all of the sugar in sweet potatoes that you mentioned?
Though sweet potatoes do have more sugar, they’re actually considered “low” on the glycemic index (GI) compared to regular white potatoes which are considered “high.”
This means you break down the sugars of sweet potatoes in your blood more slowly than white potatoes, which prevents a sharp spike in your blood sugar.
Take note, the GI value will change based on your cooking method. A normal baked potato, for example, has a GI of 111, and a normal boiled potato rings in at a solid 82. Compare this to a baked sweet potato with a GI value of 86.5, or a boiled sweet potato with a GI value of 46.
So why are regular potatoes still frowned upon? French fries, tater tots, potato chips, mashed potatoes…these fat laden, high sodium forms of potatoes are most America’s most common choices when it comes to chowing down on spuds and it’s no “aha!” that they’re not great for you.
When you think of white potatoes, you’re most likely thinking of those types, which is a big reason why these tubers end up with a bad rap.
However, a baked potato of any kind is a good choice and will help you meet your nutrients needs. If you need another reason to consider regular potatoes again, they’re known to have more resistant starch (a type of fiber) than sweet potatoes which has been linked to the prevention of disease and overall gut health.
Poe-tay-toe or poe-tah-toe, they are a real, whole, nutrient dense food that play a role in your diet. Eat them as the starchy portion of your meal (I usually recommend one or two starchy servings a day), make sure to prep them right (yep, that means no fried or au gratin) and mix up the variety to reap all of the varying pros.