Top 15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease. If you’re one of the 1.5 million American adults with RA, you know that what you eat might affect how often or how extreme flare-ups are. Try adding some of these foods to your shopping list and make them part of your daily meals to give your diet an anti-inflammatory boost!
- Salmon – This fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to reduce stiffness and swelling in RA patients. There are two major omega-3 fatty acids: long-chain omega-3s called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and a short-chain omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Fatty fish, like salmon, is a rich source of both EPA and DHA. These powerful omega-3 fatty acids help regulate inflammation. Salmon is very versatile and easy to cook. It is delicious baked, broiled, or grilled. Try it on a wholegrain flatbread for a tasty, quick, and healthy lunch.
- Sardines – Like salmon, sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids and thus help manage inflammation. Many people can eat these right out of the tin, but try pan frying them with lemon juice and fresh mint for a flavorful dish. They can be eaten on a wholegrain cracker or bread or served over a salad.
- Ground flax meal – Contains the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. In the body, ALA acts as a precursor to the potent anti-inflammatory fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are found naturally in fish and seafood. Try sprinkling them on salad, soup, and sandwiches. Add them to baked goods like muffins and quick breads. Mix them into your yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies. Try adding them to breadcrumbs and coating chicken with them for a healthy main course.
- Shitake mushrooms – This traditional Asian staple food is known for its immunity-promoting potential and to lower cholesterol levels. Shitakes are also a good source of vitamin D, and when put in sunlight prior to harvest, mushrooms can increase their own vitamin D levels!1 Certain brands will be labeled with good source of vitamin D. Mushrooms also have powerful bioactive components that reduce inflammation. Try a stir-fried mushroom dish, and include other mushroom varieties such as maitake, enoki, and oyster mushrooms. Add shitakes to your pastas, soups, and omelets. Sautee them with garlic and onions and serve over chicken or lean beef.
- Green tea – Contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids called catechins, which help reduce inflammation. Drink 2-3 cups per day to get the greatest anti-inflammatory benefit or infuse green tea into some of your other dishes. Steep a bag of green tea into your oatmeal, soups, and smoothies. Add it to salad dressings and marinades to add a new healthy twist to your dishes. Try putting green tea in the pot before you steam your vegetables! Submerge pears or apples in green tea and let them simmer. Add honey and brown sugar for a tasty new dessert.
- Kelp and seaweed – Contain an anti-inflammatory complex carbohydrate called fucoidan. Research has demonstrated health benefits of brown algae consumption, including anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer properties. Stay clear of kelp or seaweed supplements, as they are not regulated and may contain large amounts of iodine and sodium.2 Remember the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements. Try a fresh seaweed salad, which is delicious with cucumbers and Asian style dressings. Use it in soups, stews, or noodle dishes. Try adding it in your eggs and omelets. Also, agar is a gelatinous substance made from seaweed that is vegan. Try incorporating gelatin into dishes or as a thickener. Also many markets sell seaweed “chips” that are delicious and make a great addition to your packed lunch.
- Blueberries – Packed with antioxidants and phenolics that help modulate inflammation. These tasty little berries are very versatile so get creative with them. Try tossing blueberries on top of your oatmeal with some slivered almonds or mixing them into your yogurt. They are wonderful to bake with. Try them in muffins, scones, pancakes, waffles, and even in zucchini and banana bread. Blend them up in smoothies, add them to salads, or pop them in your mouth fresh as a healthy snack! Choose organic blueberries if possible, as they tend to contain less pesticide residue.
- Extra virgin olive oil – The healthy monounsaturated fats in olive oil are known to fight inflammation. As an added bonus, olive oil has a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels. Use it in salad dressings, for sautéing veggies, and when you’re slow roasting meats or vegetables. When cooking at high temperatures (above 350°F) use canola oil, as olive oil has a low smoke point. Use it as a spread for bread and on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. Make pesto with it or use it in place of sauces and gravies!
- Sweet potatoes – The vitamins in sweet potatoes promote immunity and reduce inflammation throughout the body. Try a baked sweet potato instead of a regular potato in a variety of ways: baked, mashed, grilled, or roasted! Make sweet potato “chips” or “fries” by roasting thin slices or sticks of sweet potatoes with a little bit of oil, salt, and pepper. Try making sweet potato pancakes or potato salad. Add them to your salads and sandwiches to provide a twist of flavors. They also make a great dessert; just roast and drizzle with maple syrup for a delicious and healthy sweet treat!
- Garlic – The potent sulfur compound in garlic, allicin, is responsible for the anti-inflammatory activity of this plant. You can increase the activity of allicin by letting garlic sit for about 10 minutes after crushing or chopping it before adding ingredients or heat. Garlic adds aroma and taste along with nutrition to your meals. Add garlic towards the end of cooking to retain nutrients. Try sautéing with onion to add flavor to any dish. Add it to pasta, rice dishes, soups, stews, stir-fries, eggs, and meat dishes. Use it raw by mincing and adding into salad dressings, butter spreads, dips, and salsas.
- Kale – Cruciferous vegetables should be consumed at least five times a week because they are rich in sulforaphane, which helps eliminate harmful toxic compounds in the body that might otherwise promote inflammation. Kale stands out among this stellar group, because it is one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet. Try kale in salads, smoothies, frittatas, soups, and stews. Simply sauté it with a little olive oil and nuts as a tasty side dish. Mix it into pasta dishes or even into ground turkey to make a kale turkey burger. Use the kale leaf as a lettuce wrap or burrito shell. Bake them in the oven to make kale chips. Also try to incorporate other cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts into your diet.
- Hemp seeds – Have a healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. When the ratio is distorted, it can promote disease while a healthy ratio can suppress disease.3 The seeds also contain gamma linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that is a precursor to anti-inflammatory hormones. Hemp seeds can be sprinkled on salads or yogurt, added to smoothies, mixed into oatmeal, or even pureed with beans and vegetables for soups. Try adding them to pasta and rice dishes, or to salad dressings and sandwich spreads to add crunch. Add a nutty flavor by adding them to any vegetable dish, homemade granola, or snack mix.
- Squash – Both winter and summer varieties of squash are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals and vitamins, and their seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. There are so many species of squash, with different flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes – the possibilities are endless! Squash is delicious roasted, grilled, or added to your favorite soup or stew recipe. Add them to pasta dishes, salads, and stir-fry! Try them in baking quick breads, muffins, or even pie. Try stuffing them with quinoa and baking them or steaming cubes and incorporating them into potato salad.
- Grapes – Grapes have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits. These antioxidants are largely concentrated in the skin. Anti-inflammatory properties of grape skin have been demonstrated. Grapes have also shown to have anti-microbial, anti-cancer, and anti-allergic activity. Grapes make an excellent snack on their own (remember to cut in half for young children to reduce the risk of choking). Freeze them and use them in place of ice cubes. Top frozen or Greek yogurt with them. Use them as a sweet topping on your green salad or add them into your chicken salad. Cook them into pasta sauce for sweet bursts of flavor. Add them to your favorite grain dishes like quinoa, or pair them with fennel as a compliment to grilled salmon.
- Low-fat yogurt – The probiotics in yogurt have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers in individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions, like RA. Select yogurt without any added sugars (read those labels!), and eat it as a snack on its own, or add oats, nuts, or seeds and fresh fruit for a balanced breakfast. Less sweet yogurts, like greek, make excellent dips and sauces, and work in place of sour cream and mayonnaise. Mix it into smoothies and baked goods for extra moisture. Use in place of cream for creamy soups, sauces, and creamy salads like coleslaw. Mix in fruit and freeze for a healthy a deliciously sweet frozen treat.
- Stamets, P. Place mushrooms in sunlight to get your vitamin D. Fungi Perfecti. 2012. Available at: http://www.fungi.com/blog/items/place-mushrooms-in-sunlight-to-get-your-vitamin-d.html.Accessed 9/10/14
- American Cancer Society, Diet and Nutrition. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/dietandnutrition/sea-vegetables.
- Simopoulos AP. (Oct, 2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother, 56(8):365-79.