Eat to Beat Chronic Inflammation

Occasional inflammation, like a swollen sprained ankle or painful cut, is healthy. It's a sign that the body's immune system is healing injuries and fighting off bacteria. While a little bothersome, the inflammation is acute and goes away in a few days. But there's another type of inflammation that's not so healthy: chronic inflammation. It's triggered by the immune system responding to irritants or foreign compounds, often in food or the environment. With no overt symptoms, chronic inflammation is a little harder to understand or even recognize. However, research has linked it with obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Here's the scoop on what to eat and what to skip.

The Top Culprits

These foods and habits fan the flames of inflammation. Try to limit or eliminate them as much as possible.

  • Excessive alcohol

  • Regularly eating more calories than your body needs

  • Trans and saturated fats

  • Fried foods

  • Refined carbs like white bread, white rice, etc.

  • Added sugars

  • Artificial sweeteners

  • High-fat meats and processed meats

Does Dairy Promote Inflammation?

Contrary to popular belief, dairy products like yogurt actually have an anti-inflammatory effect in most people. Yogurt reduces inflammation by supporting gut health. But saturated fat can promote inflammation, so choose lower-fat versions. However, if you have a dairy allergy or sensitivity, continue to avoid dairy, as it will trigger an inflammatory response.

Should I Avoid Nightshade Vegetables?

Nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes, are often blamed for arthritis inflammation due to their compound solanine. However, there's no conclusive research that they trigger inflammation. Nightshades are packed full of antinflammatory nutrients, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, so don't avoid them. However, if eating a specific one triggers pain or inflammation symptoms, it likely isn't the entire nightshade family, but rather a sensitivity to one that can be eliminated.

Ongoing inflammation is problematic because it alters normal body processes and cells, which can cause long-term damage and increase your likelihood of developing a chronic condition. Food plays a pivotal role—it can either help reduce or promote chronic inflammation. While there's still more reserach to be done, we know that filling your plate with more anti-inflammatory foods while dialing back on ones that cause inflammation may have a powerful effect on your body's ability to ward of future diseases and even slow aging.

Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

1. Cherries

Both sweet and tart varieties lower C-reactive protein, one of the key blood indicators used to test for inflammation. Cherries may even offer pain relief comparable to ibuprofen. When cherries aren't in season, try tart cherry juice in smoothies and salad dressings.

2. Salmon

The omega-3 fats DHA and EPA in salmon and other oily fish plays key roles in suppressing inflammation and boosting production of anti-inflammatory compounds. Aim to eat fish or sea vegetables like algae several times per week.

3. Broccoli

This cruciferous veggie offers healthy doses of phytochemicals that quell inflammatory compounds associated with cancer development. Try to eat at least five weekly servings of cruciferous vegetables. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, watercress, and kohlrabi.

4. Shiitake Mushrooms

Research suggests that eating shiitake mushrooms daily lowers inflammatory markers and improves immune system function. Oyster and enoki mushrooms also have anti-inflammatory powers. Make sure you eat them raw or cook at low to moderate temps for the most impact.

5. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

This pantry staple delivers the inflammation-suppressing compound oleocanthal, plus a small amount of omega-3s. Try other oils, too, such as flaxseed and canola, for a stronger dos of omega-3s.

6. Avocado

The creamy fruit works twofold thanks to monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. Avocado may even counteract eating some inflammatory foods: In one study, people who topped their hamburger with avocado had lower inflammatory markers than those who ate just the burger.

7. Turmeric

Curcumin is the powerful compound in turmeric that eases symptoms in almost all inflammation-related conditions. Research varies on how much you need, but aim to cook with turmeric several times a week (curry powder is a good source).

8. Tomatoes

Tomatoes' lycopene propels them to the next nutritional level. Studies show lycypene reduces and suppresses inflammation—which is why tomatoes help lower cancer and cardiovascular incident risks.

9. Spinach

While all leafy greens are recommended, spinach offers a mix of antioxidants that boost the immune system and suppress inflammation. It also helps that the leafy green is one of the most versatile veggies for quick meal prep.

10. Strawberries

These berries are loaded with anthocyanins and antioxidants called ellagitannins, which sweep up harmful free radicals that promote inflammation. In fact, all berries are good sources.

Articles by Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD originally published in Cooking Light on July 10/11, 2017. See link : How to Tame Inflammation and 10 Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods.