10 Surprising Foods That Decrease Inflammation
Did you know that inflammation is the cornerstone of chronic disease?
Chronic diseases include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and autoimmune disease. New research is even suggesting that depression may be linked to inflammation. Inflammation is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be your body’s way to help repair and heal our tissues. However, inflammation is a tightly regulated process, and if it gets out of control it can be a harmful process that causes damage to healthy tissues. This low-grade, chronic inflammatory process is something you may not necessarily feel because it is less prominent than acute inflammation, such as getting a cut. So, what can you do about it?
There are foods that decrease inflammation, so take action today by including these Top 10 natural, anti-inflammatory foods into your diet to help ward off inflammation
1) Virgin coconut oil
It has a high amount of phenols, which contribute to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.1 Phenols are found in plants and herbs and have many positive effects including anti-carcinogenic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory.2 Inflammatory substances are produced in almost every tissue of the body, and the phenols have the potential to block the pro-inflammatory pathways to help keep inflammation under control. Let’s take arthritis for example. Virgin coconut oil has been shown to have a beneficial effect on arthritis by suppressing the pro-inflammatory markers, as well as through its antioxidant effects.3
2) Cocoa powder
It contains flavonoids, which play a role in decreasing inflammation. The flavonoids in cocoa have been shown to have an aspirin-like effect (without the side effects) because they inhibit platelet activity and have a cardiovascular benefit.4
If you are going to have dark chocolate, get as high of a percentage of cocoa as you can tolerate. You can start with 70% cocoa and work your way up to 90%. Or, see below for a recipe to make your own healthier version! Trust me, your taste buds will change over time, and you will actually start to like the healthier, darker chocolate.
Contain the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has anti-inflammatory effects. The compounds in flaxseed have been shown to inhibit atherosclerosis and reduce cholesterol levels.5 Walnuts and chia seeds are also excellent sources of ALA.
Make sure you buy whole flaxseed and grind it fresh yourself. I use my coffee grinder. Pre-ground flaxseed goes rancid quickly, and this oxidative damage can turn this healthy fat it into a bad player for your health. Flaxseed is an easy addition to the diet. You can add it to oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies. Please see below for one of my favorites recipes on an anti-inflammatory, flaxseed treat.
4) Extra virgin olive oil
It contains oleocanthal, which is an anti-inflammatory phenol compound that has a similar profile and potency as the popular medication ibuprofen (without the side effects). Oleocanthal inhibits enzymes (these help carry out processes in our bodies) involved in the inflammatory pathway.6 Olive oil also contains several other phenolic compounds, which have been shown to suppress inflammation.7
Extra virgin olive oil has beneficial effects on learning and memory loss (as seen in aging and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s) due to its high polyphenol content.8 If inflammation gets out of control, the long-term, exaggerated pro-inflammatory response can damage the brain over time.
They contain the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which have been shown to suppress inflammation.9 The omega-3 fats displace arachidonic acid (an inflammatory, omega-6 fat) from the cell membranes to help reduce inflammation. A good source of the omega-3‘s DHA and EPA is cold-water fish, such as wild caught salmon. Pasture raised eggs (they are not confined indoors or in cages) and grass-fed beef are two other sources of EPA and DHA.
It inhibits the enzymes involved in the pro-inflammatory pathways, thus decreasing inflammation. Ginger has been shown to have the same pharmacological properties as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen (without the side effects).10
This Indian spice contains curcumin, a powerful natural chemical known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Turmeric helps decrease inflammation by inhibiting the enzymes of the pro-inflammatory pathways. It also has antioxidant effects and its powerful compounds have been shown to kill off cells in some types of cancer.11 Please see below for an anti-inflammatory, non-dairy, turmeric milk recipe.
8) Green tea
It contains polyphenols that reduce the activity of pro-inflammatory molecules, which helps decrease inflammation. The polyphenols also have antioxidant activity. They inhibit the damage of our DNA, reduce oxidative stress (which helps prevent disease), and prevent the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol (which helps reduce inflammation in the arteries and decreases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke).12
9) Cruciferous vegetables
These include broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. They contain compounds called isothiocyanates, which inhibit NF-kappaB, a molecule that plays a central role in inflammation.13
Berries contain anthocyanins, which are polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The anthocyanins help modulate the inflammatory pathways, thus decreasing inflammation.14
As you can see, food is more than just calories – it is information. Anti-inflammatory foods can turn off the signaling of our inflammatory pathways in a natural way making them just as effective (or even more effective) than drugs AND without the side effects. Now go out there and enjoy some of these anti-inflammatory foods! Please feel free to share your comments below.
3 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil
1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. coconut milk
Pinch of sea salt
1 Tbsp. honey
Combine all and heat until well combined. Pour mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Put in the freezer until it hardens (about 10-15 minutes).
Flaxseed-Nut Butter Treat
1 Tbsp. flaxseed, freshly ground
1/2 tsp. virgin coconut oil
1-2 Tbsp. nut butter (I use almond or sunflower butter)
1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
Touch of raw honey or 100% natural maple syrup
Mix and enjoy.
Non-dairy Turmeric Milk
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp. fresh turmeric, grated
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
Pinch or two of black pepper (this helps enhance the absorption of the turmeric)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. raw honey (or to taste)
Whisk the first four ingredients in a small pot over medium high heat. Just when the solution starts to bubble, turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain. Add the cinnamon and honey.
1, Marina AM, Che Man YB, Amin I. Virgin coconut oil: emerging functional food. Trends in Science & Technology. 2009;20:481-7.
2, Huang WY, Cai YZ, Zhang Y. Natural phenolic compounds from medicinal herbs and dietary plants: potential use for cancer prevention. Nutr Cancer. 2010;62(1):1-20.
3, Vysakh A, Ratheesh M, Rajmohanan TP, et al. Polyphenolics isolated from virgin coconut oil inhibits adjuvant induced arthritis in rats through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action. International Immunopharmacology. May 2014;20(1):124-130.
4, Rein D, Paglieroni TG, Wun T, et al. Cocoa inhibits platelet activation and function. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72:30-35.
5, Dupasquier CM, Dibrov E, Kneesh AL, et al. Dietary flaxseed inhibits atherosclerosis in the LDL receptor-part through antiproliferative and anti-inflammatory actions. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. Oct 2007;293(4):H2394-402.
6, Beauchamp GK, Keast RS, Morel D, et al. Phytochemistry: ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil. Nature. Sept 2005;437: 45-6.
7, Miles EA, Zououli P, Calder PC. Differential anti-inflammatory effects of phenolic compounds from extra virgin olive oil identified in human whole blood cultures. Nutrition. Mar 2005;21(3):389-394.
8, Farr SA, Price TO, Dominguez LJ. Extra virgin olive oil improves learning and memory in SAMP8 mice. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2012;28(1):81-92.
9, Calder PC. Immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research. 1998;31:467-490.
10, Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. Ginger–an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. Journal of Medicinal Food. July 2005;8(2):125-132.
11, Ramsewak RS, DeWitt DL, Nair MG. Cytoxicity, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of Curcumins 1-111 from Curcuma longa. Phytomedicine. July 2000;7(4):303-308.
12, Tipoe GL, Leung TM, Hung MW, Fung ML. Green tea polyphenols as an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent for cardiovascular protection. Cardiovasc Hematol Disord Drug Targets. Jun 2007;7(2):135-44.
13, Wagner AE, Terschluesen AM, Rimbach G. Health promoting effects of brassica-derived phytochemicals: from chemopreventive and anti-inflammatory activities to epigenetic regulation. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2013; Article ID 964539.
14, Joseph SV, Edirisinghe I, Burton-Freeman BM. Berries: anti-inflammatory effects in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2014;62 (18):3886-3903.