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8 anti-inflammatory foods to eat daily

Discover eight of the best anti-inflammatory foods to add to a well-balanced diet and easy ways to incorporate them in daily healthy recipes.

One of the easiest ways to fight inflammation is first to look at the foods we eat. Inflammation isn’t always a bad thing in a healthy body, since it’s the normal immune response that facilitates healing when the body defends itself. It has an important role to play when the body is injured so the immune system can respond and heal effectively. However, health issues often arise when the inflammation is low grade and long term. Chronic inflammation can be detrimental to the body and is linked to many diseases including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, type-2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and some cancers.

An anti-inflammatory diet is more of a style of eating, similar to the Mediterranean diet, and favours unprocessed foods, lean proteins, fresh fruit and vegetables, fatty fish and oils, nuts, seeds and spices. Inflammatory foods include refined carbohydrates such as white bread and rice, fried food, fast food, sweetened beverages, processed meat and trans fats like shortening and margarine. These foods should be kept to a minimum whenever possible.

Blueberries

Not only are berries rich in vitamins like vitamin C, minerals and fibre, they are also rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins which have unique anti-inflammatory effects. These water-soluble vacuolar pigments usually appear in fruits and vegetables that are red, purple or blue, and help protect the body from the damaging effects of oxidative stress and inflammation by helping destroy free radicals in the body. Blueberries are also rich in quercetin, a flavonoid which is found in dark-coloured berries and which helps fight inflammation and diseases including cancer.

Berries shine as a snack, but are equally delicious in both savoury and sweet foods. Try adding them to your next salad, puréed into a jam or as a key ingredient in sweet treats like sauces, home-made muffins, olive oil cakes or a fruity crumble. Try to buy organic berries wherever possible that aren’t sprayed with pesticides, or give them a good soak before consuming.

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

The holy grail of cooking oils, EVOO is a staple of the popular Mediterranean diet and is one of the healthiest fats to cook with. It is rich in monounsaturated fats, oleocanthal and polyphenol, which help reduce inflammation in the body, as well as containing disease-fighting antioxidants. Oleocanthal is a phenolic compound which has similar anti-inflammatory characteristics to ibuprofen. Many studies have found that consuming EVOO on a regular basis can help lower the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP), as well as reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

EVOO is a very versatile ingredient to use in cooking. Try using it in a salad dressing paired with Dijon mustard and lemon juice or drizzled over roast vegetables or pasta. It’s best used in low-heat cooking since it has a lower smoke point in comparison to other refined oils. Olive oil is also a delicious ingredient in cakes and muffins to give them a lovely texture and make them moist. Look out for unprocessed EVOO rather than other refined olive oils which do not have as many anti-inflammatory benefits.

Walnuts

Similar to other nuts, walnuts are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids. These acids are renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties and role in keeping the blood vessels healthy and having a positive effect on blood lipids. The polyphenols in walnuts help fight oxidative stress and inflammation. Of all the tree nuts, walnuts are the richest in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming walnuts on a regular basis can also help lower cholesterol, relax blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.

While delicious on their own as a snack, walnuts are well suited to green leafy salads paired with goat’s cheese, in a sweet or savoury tart, in a simple stir-fry with broccoli and garlic or as an accompaniment on a cheese platter. They are also delicious in desserts like carrot cake and baklava. Since they have a high fat content, it’s best not to overindulge in walnuts — just keep it to a handful at a time.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish like sardines, salmon, mackerel and herrings are also excellent sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and have been associated with a reduction in the inflammatory marker CRP. When the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are metabolised, they are converted into compounds called resolvins and protectins, which have unique anti-inflammatory effects and limit the body’s inflammatory response. Studies have proven that these fatty acids can help with the treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory health conditions and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Depending on the type of fish, the possibilities for cooking are endless. The humble sardine is a nutritional powerhouse and is a delicious option as a toast or sandwich topper or in a fresh leafy salad or pasta, much like herrings and mackerel. Salmon can be pan-fried, grilled, oven-baked with a tray of roast vegetables or paired with capers and lemon in a creamy pasta or bake. Try to stick to wild-caught salmon rather than farmed for a richer nutritional profile.

Dark chocolate

Chocolate lovers rejoice! Dark chocolate is packed full of antioxidant plant compounds called polyphenols and catechins that help reduce inflammation. This is thanks to flavanols which help keep the endothelial cells that line your arteries healthy, making dark chocolate a very heart-healthy option. Flavanols are a specific type of flavonoid which are found in cacao and the cocoa bean. Studies have also found that chocolate may positively influence the gut microbiome, which can further enhance its anti-inflammatory effects. Just try to choose a dark chocolate with as high cocoa content possible, ideally 70 per cent or over to maximise its anti-inflammatory effects.

Try using cacao from the raw cocoa bean in a mug of hot chocolate or add some dark chocolate in a refined-sugar brownie or muffin. You can also make a Mexican-inspired mole sauce using dark chocolate for a more savoury take on chocolate. Who said anti-inflammatory foods can’t be delicious?

Turmeric

With its distinctive warm, earthy flavour and rich orange colour, turmeric contains curcumin, a natural compound which has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Since turmeric is rich in phytonutrients, it helps protect the body by neutralising free radicals. Studies have suggested that adding turmeric to the diet is especially beneficial for people who suffer from arthritis and other joint disorders.

Turmeric is commonly used in curries and stews, but can also be used in everyday dishes like soups, scrambled eggs and pancakes. It can be used as a colouring agent for mustard and an ingredient in curry powder. Turmeric teas and lattes are becoming increasingly popular; all you need to do is simmer the turmeric root or powder in water or milk for five minutes then strain. This can be drunk both warm and cold. Where possible, try to buy the turmeric root rather than the ground version in the spice section. The ground version is also more concentrated, so less will be required when cooking.

Chia seeds

Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are anti-inflammatory and nutritional powerhouses as well as being high in fibre and calcium. They have a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, and are particularly high in alpha-linolenic acid, which is beneficial for inflammation and cardiovascular health. Regular consumption of chia seeds has been found to reduce inflammatory markers in the blood.

Luckily, chia seeds are super-easy to incorporate into your diet. Try sprinkling them on your morning porridge or muesli, making a chia pudding or overnight oats or blending them into a fruity jam. For easy digestion, try to use them in a softened form by soaking them in a smoothie or pudding for a few hours or overnight.

Broccoli

Love it or hate it, broccoli is extremely nutritious, and like other cruciferous vegetables is rich in anti-inflammatory properties. The antioxidants, flavonoids and carotenoids in broccoli work together to help lower oxidative stress in the body and battle chronic inflammation. Broccoli is a particularly rich source of a flavonoid called kaempferol, which helps the body to combat allergies and inflammation. These anti-inflammatory properties can also help boost your immune system, helping you fight off viruses and other bacteria. Broccoli is also rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant that decreases inflammation by reducing your levels of cytokines, which drive inflammation in your body.
To maximise broccoli’s health benefits, it’s important to only lightly cook broccoli as it loses over 50 per cent of its nutritional value when overcooked. Try to keep it on the slightly crispy side rather than soggy. Broccoli is the perfect addition to a stir-fry, curry, salad or pasta. It can also be cooked and blended into a cream of broccoli soup or broccoli-inspired pesto, or simply pan-fried with some EVOO and crunchy nuts.

Article Featured in WellBeing 205

Lisa Holmen

Lisa Holmen

Lisa Holmen is a food and travel writer, recipe developer and photographer. Her blog, Lisa Eats World, is one of the leading food and travel blogs in Australia, featuring healthy recipes, restaurant reviews and food-inspired travel guides. Lisa divides her time between the bustle of Melbourne and her new home on the Mornington Peninsula where she loves meeting local producers, visiting wineries, soaking up the coastal lifestyle and adopting a “slower” approach to living.
An advocate of sustainable and ethical foods, Lisa is particularly passionate about healthy, organic and wholesome foods and cooking from scratch. She believes in simplicity in the kitchen and loves trying new recipes, drawing inspiration from her travel adventures and her heritage. Although she’s not a vegetarian, Lisa has an appreciation for plant-based cooking and wholefoods and tries to cook vegetarian at home wherever possible.

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