Top 10 anti-inflammatory foods
Do foods offer anti-inflammatory benefits, and if so, which should top your shopping list? Registered nutritionist Kerry Torrens explains all and reveals her favourite choices.
What is inflammation?
Whether you have a sports injury, suffer with a condition like arthritis or have an infection, your body will respond with an inflammatory reaction. This is a natural immune response and helps your body defend itself. However, issues arise when this inflammation becomes low-grade and long-term – it can then go on to cause disease and poor health.
What are anti-inflammatory foods?
Studies suggest that certain foods may help manage the effects of inflammation. That’s because they contain components like plant chemicals that have antioxidant properties, or beneficial oils that help dampen the effects of inflammation. Eating a wide and varied diet, including foods that contain these beneficial components, is a sound approach for helping maintain balance.
In addition to this, an increasing amount of evidence supports a link between our diet, gut microbiome and the management of inflammation.
Are some foods pro-inflammatory?
As well as filling your plate with good-for-you, anti-inflammatory foods, it's important you limit foods that promote inflammation. These include ultra-processed foods like fast food and refined carbs, some ready-meals and processed meats. Food and drinks high in sugar and those that have been deep-fried are also linked with inflammation.
Read on to discover our top 10 anti-inflammatory foods.
1. Fatty varieties of fish
Loaded with health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids, some varieties of fish, like sardines, salmon, trout and herring, have been associated with reductions in a measure of inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP).
Famed for their heart-healthy benefits, these omega-3 fatty acids are particularly good for those at risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s because our bodies seem to break these fatty acids down into compounds that help manage inflammation. These compounds limit our inflammatory response and sweep away damaged cells.
Some of the less-popular fish varieties tend to offer better value for money – try our herrings grilled in a mustard & basil dressing, or for an easy storecupboard standby, our sardines & tomatoes on toast.
2. Dark chocolate
As well as being delicious, high-cocoa dark chocolate is rich in antioxidant plant compounds known as polyphenols and catechins. One study compared dark chocolate and cocoa powder to 'super fruits' and concluded that chocolate is richer in these protective antioxidants than blueberries.
Dark chocolate is also one of the most valuable sources of plant compounds called flavonols, making it a heart-friendly option. These flavonols also have a beneficial effect on our gut microbiota, helping promote an anti-inflammatory action.
Moderate amounts of dark chocolate may even benefit the brain, with studies suggesting flavonols offer some neuro-protective benefits that may help maintain brain function in the elderly.
With this in mind, who’d have thought our indulgent dark chocolate & pistachio porridge would be quite so good for you?
These delicious fruits, including strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, are another source of protective plant compounds. As well as being responsible for the berry’s rich colours, these compounds act as antioxidants, which means they help fight the damaging effects of oxidation – a natural process that can lead to inflammation. Berries are also rich in vitamins like vitamin C, which itself has a protective anti-inflammatory action.
Irresistibly tasty, we don’t limit berries to breakfast or dessert – but like to add strawberries or blueberries to a salad and use blackberries to make a delicious sauce for lean meats, such as pan-fried venison.
Juicy and jewel-like, pomegranates are packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. The juice boasts an antioxidant activity three times higher than red wine or green tea, and with these credentials, you can expect some pretty impressive anti-inflammatory properties, too.
In fact, numerous studies have assessed the fruit’s anti-inflammatory benefits, with one suggesting it may help fight inflammation in the gut. Another assessed its impact on breast cancer cells, and a small trial of patients with type-2 diabetes showed fewer inflammatory markers after 12 weeks of consuming pomegranate juice.
More recent studies are underway to examine the effects of pomegranate juice on the inflammatory markers of patients hospitalised with covid-19.
Pomegranate seeds make a colourful addition to sides and salads – try them in our coriander salmon with curried quinoa & pomegranate or our herb salad with pomegranate & pistachios.
5. Walnuts and walnut oil
Walnuts contain important plant chemicals, as well as high amounts of poly-unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. Both of these are known to benefit your brain and help it work more effectively. They do this by reducing the inflammatory process of oxidation and improving nerve messaging.
As well as high levels of good-for-you fats, additional nutrients found in walnuts like vitamin E, folate and the plant chemical ellagic acid all contribute to these protective and memory-enhancing properties.
Of all the tree nuts, walnuts are the richest in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. No surprise then that eating walnuts helps manage cholesterol levels and reduces the inflammatory markers connected with heart disease.
6. Olives and olive oil
One of the staples of the Mediterranean diet and rich in mono-unsaturated fats like oleic acid, olives and their oil have been associated with reducing inflammation and lowering the inflammatory marker CRP.
Famed for its heart-friendly benefits, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is believed to be especially beneficial. Rich in a plant compound called oleocanthal, studies suggest EVOO shares a similar pharmacological activity to the pain reliever ibuprofen.
With a warm, earthy flavour, this brilliant-coloured spice is a popular curry ingredient and is thought to be one of the reasons why the population of India has a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s. Containing the active compound curcumin, turmeric appears to alleviate the inflammation associated with a number of chronic conditions, as well as day-to-day injuries like exercise-induced muscle soreness.
8. Avocado and avocado oil
Adding avocado to your diet has been seen to be associated with better diet quality, lower BMI and a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome – an inflammatory condition that increases your risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and stroke.
Avocado adds creaminess to dishes – set yourself up for the day with our avocado & black bean eggs, or liven up a simple pasta dish like our linguine with avocado, tomato & lime. If you’re looking for an alternative oil to dress a salad, avocado oil is mild-tasting and a great choice for dressings.
9. Pistachio nuts
Pistachios are rich in fibre, healthy fats and protective antioxidants, so it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be a useful addition to an anti-inflammatory diet. That’s partly thanks to the plant compounds that give pistachios their attractive green and purple colour. Of all the tree nuts, pistachios are particularly high in these compounds, with only walnuts and one other nut providing more.
10. Green tea
Rich in polyphenols that are known to protect the body against disease, it’s no surprise that green tea has numerous health benefits, many of which are attributed to these plant compounds. The main bioactive constituents in green tea are called flavonoids, with the most potent being catechins and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
Don’t restrict green tea to a cuppa – try our amaranth porridge with green tea & ginger compote.
Which foods would you like to know more about? Leave a comment below.
This article was written by Kerry Torrens on 14 April 2022 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Follow Kerry on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_