OK, this title is a little misleading. I don’t think we should eat these foods just for their alleged anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation, after all, is part of a healthy body’s healing process. It’s what helps us fight infection and heal wounds.
The real culprit to poor health is chronic inflammation, which has been associated with all kinds of diseases including diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, allergies, and cancer.
More often than not, chronic inflammation is caused by poor diet—diets high in calories, sugar, saturated fats, and low in nutrients.
The following foods and food groups are simply part of a nutrient-rich, well-balanced diet. And if they offer extra benefits that protect against inflammation and disease, that’s a bonus!
Anti-inflammatory foods and food groups
- Blueberries. Too much dietary sugar can lead to chronic inflammation. While many fruits are high in sugar, blueberries (and most other berries) have a low glycemic index, and they may help prevent type-2 diabetes. They are also high in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C, and have been linked to better brain health.
- Kale. All leafy greens are good for you, but I think kale is exceptionally nutrient dense, and it can be enjoyed raw or cooked. Kale not only contains fiber (colon health), vitamin C, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin (eye health), and vitamin K (blood clotting), it also has compounds that decrease inflammation, lower cholesterol, and lower cancer risk.
- Sardines. I love sardines and don’t understand why more people don’t enjoy them! You can buy them fresh, but the canned variety are inexpensive and keep in the pantry for ages. Like salmon and other oily fish, they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. And because you eat the bones, sardines are an excellent source of dietary calcium (much better than a supplement).
- Extra-virgin olive oil. EVOO is another good source of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. More interestingly, however, is a compound found in olive oil—oleocanthal. Oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen, which may explain the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
- Garlic. Organosulfur compounds in garlic are associated with reducing inflammation and possibly preventing cancer. A specific compound, allyl sulfide, may also reduce memory decline as we age. The only downside is these organosulfur compounds break down when cooked, so you need to find ways to enjoy your garlic raw!
- Popcorn. Popcorn seems like such a fluff food that I’m always surprised to remember that it’s actually a whole grain. It’s high in insoluble fiber, of course, but also inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Enjoy it with a little EVOO and sea salt.
- Oatmeal. Oatmeal is another whole grain loaded with antioxidants, specifically avenanthramides, which reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. Oatmeal is also an excellent source of soluble fiber that can lower LDLs (bad cholesterol).
All healthy foods are “super”
All of these foods are healthy, readily available, and relatively inexpensive. But none of them is a “superfood” or “miracle food.” Such foods don’t exist! So ignore marketing hype and don’t waste money on expensive novelty fruits, supplements, or other such products.
Related post: Use vitamin supplements with caution
Buy the healthiest foods that fit your budget. Focus on eating a wide range of foods, and limit how many highly-processed foods (high in salt, sugar and/or fat) you eat.
And remember: Calories in = calories out. A healthy diet alone doesn’t make us healthy…exercise!