Inflammation, among many other wellness-y terms, is one of those words that’s been floating around the common lexicon for the past few years. Hyped up by influencers, celebrities, and health marketers alike, it’s a concept we’re all curious about (seriously—on average, there are 10k-100k Google searches for “what is inflammation” each month). But when was the last time you came across someone who could easily, succinctly, and comprehensively define inflammation? Mhm, it mostly remains a mystery to the average wellness-curious among us. What’s more, if you tried to list the top anti-inflammatory foods, well, you’d probably be at loss.
Featured image by Belathée Photography.
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That’s where this article comes in. While I love a good workout, eat all the energizing meals, and have my meditation practice on lock, when push comes to shove, I have no idea where to start when it comes to incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into my diet. Enter: Edie Horstman. You probably know her as the writer behind so many of our info-filled health and wellness articles. Not only does she, without fail, provide a wealth of knowledge when it comes to unpacking and demystifying the health and nutrition trends of late, but she’s also an expert at distilling complex info into easily digestible and applicable tips and tricks.
I tapped Edie to drop the deets on all things anti-inflammatory foods. From the specifics of what actually makes an ingredient anti-inflammatory to why we need to be eating these foods in the first place—plus her list of the top nutrient-packed contenders—consider all your inflammation-fighting questions answered. Okay, I’ve kept you from the transformative tips to come long enough—let’s dive deep into the world of anti-inflammatory foods.
What is inflammation?
There’s really no better place to start. Dr. Will Cole, a leading functional medicine practitioner, shared with us previously that inflammation “when triggered by factors like stress and toxic exposures, can spin out of control. When inflammation is allowed to run wild, it can damage the body by creating too many pro-inflammatory cells and molecules.” What’s more, according to Dr. Cole, an excess of these pro-inflammatory substances can cause damage to the body, leading to an increased risk for inflammation-related health issues and conditions.
What makes an ingredient anti-inflammatory?
Edie adds to Dr. Cole’s point, sharing that “beyond food, an unhealthy lifestyle—like a constant lack of sleep, too little exercise, smoking, and allergies can all cause chronic inflammation.” She emphasizes that while it’s not just food that can cause inflammation, ultra-processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and omega-6 oils (like canola) are associated with inflammation.
“These foods can create an abundance of pro-inflammation cells,” says the double-certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Nutrition Consultant. “On the flip side, anti-inflammatory foods are those with high levels of antioxidants and other compounds that boost the immune system. These compounds can help fight inflammation in the body.”
The powerhouse ingredients listed below, according to Edie, “lower your chance of being chronically inflamed. They can also help with acute (short-term) inflammation—like healing from a surgery, getting over a cold, etc.”
Why do we need to include anti-inflammatory ingredients in our diet?
According to Edie—so many reasons! Anti-inflammatory ingredients are an effective way to prevent health issues like leaky gut, autoimmune disease, and diabetes.
What are the most effective inflammation-fighting ingredients?
Edie shares her definitive list.
- blueberries (berries in general!)
- greens (kale, collards, spinach, etc.)
- wild-caught salmon
- bell peppers
- red grapes
10 Anti-inflammatory Foods To Add to Your Meals
Why We Love It: If you want all the anti-inflammatory benefits packaged up into one grab-and-go breakfast, here’s your answer. These muffins double up on the inflammation-fighting ingredients, boasting both turmeric and berries. Not only do the antioxidants abound, but each bite is super deliciously moist.
Hero Ingredient: Turmeric is included in all of the superfood round-ups for good reason. The spice promotes gut health, eases joint pain, and can support a strong immune system. I’m all for enjoying a mug of golden milk alongside one of these muffins—it can’t hurt to double down on the turmeric.
Why We Love It: Calling your green smoothie recipe the best is quite the claim, but it’s hard to beat this blend. Not only is it incredibly creamy thanks to the banana and avocado, but it’s also super simple to make. Because when it comes to my morning weekday meal, I can’t be bothered with anything complex.
Hero Ingredient: Two cups of spinach not only make it easy to get your dark leafy greens first thing, but the nutrient-dense veggie gives this smoothie its gorgeous glow. Bonus—you can’t taste the spinach at all, so the other ingredients have space to shine.
Why We Love It: There’s no other recipe quite as ubiquitous as the forever-on-trend avocado toast. And while we’re always on board with a simple avo-sourdough combo, it can be fun to get a little creative and step up your avocado toast game. Case in point, this pesto-topped take.
Hero Ingredient: The radish’s crunchy, slightly spicy texture play is totally unexpected—and totally welcome.
Why We Love It: I love a good bowl because it’s so easy to cover all your nutritional bases in one colorful and ingredient-diverse meal. And don’t get me wrong, a good veggie-forward dish is sometimes exactly what I need. But when my appetite could use a little something extra to feel satisfied? Protein-packed fish, salmon specifically, is exactly what my stomach and taste buds need.
Hero Ingredient: The Turmeric-Citrus Vinaigrette ties together all the flavor and all the anti-inflammatory benefits into one golden-hued topper.
Why We Love It: I’ve made this recipe too many times to count—it’s that good. While assembling cauliflower, grapes, and lentils into one salad may seem odd at first, trust me on this one. Not only is the array of ingredients inspiring to the eye, but the fruity and spicy flavors balance out every beautiful bite.
Hero Ingredient: The Green Curry Tahini Dressing is the perfect way to tie everything together.
Why We Love It: Meet the pasta that’ll make your super-packed weeknights feel like an indulgent Saturday evening out. I’m all about low-maintenance, high-reward recipes that are far more impressive than the instructions make them seem. Thick strands of fettuccine are the perfect base for mushrooms, sausage, and yes, even greens. One pot, one bowl, one incredibly easy meal.
Hero Ingredient: The meaty mushrooms let you add a smaller amount of sausage while making the dish still taste incredibly indulgent.
Why We Love It: Don’t @ me, but I’m always a little suspicious of kale salads. First off, kale just isn’t my favorite green. Yes, it’s nutritious beyond belief, but if a recipe forgoes the all-important instruction to massage your kale, then it’s basically inedible. Good news? This salad has all of its kale-massaging bases covered. Add peanuts, dried cranberries, and tofu to the mix, and you’ll never question whether or not a salad can be a meal again.
Hero Ingredient: The citrus-ginger dressing’s ingredient list may seem long, but the lightly-sweetened kick and zest mean you should make a double batch.
Why We Love It: This is the recipe that launched a thousand “I need to make this!” comments when it first dropped on the site. While I’ll happily devour a plateful of roasted broccoli any day (and for any meal), this brilliant recipe coats the perfectly-crisp broccoli spears with a sweet and spicy drizzle of the chili-lime miso sauce. Remember hating the boiled-to-death broccoli as a kid? Let me introduce you to your new favorite vegetable.
Hero Ingredient: Miso packs the perfect punch of salty, tangy, and savory flavor.
Why We Love It: I know I’ve come across a special, must-make recipe when a quick read-through of the ingredients list merits an audible “yum.” This cauliflower fried rice? A perfect example. It’s just what you want on a busy weeknight when you’re in need of something simple and delicious. This recipe brings warming spices and crunchy veggies to the forefront for a colorful, crave-worthy dish.
Hero Ingredient: The Cardamom Yogurt Sauce can’t be missed. If you have any left over (unlikely), be sure to put it on everything.
Why We Love It: My stomach might protest, but I could eat deep-fried, delicious samosas for every single meal. And while I’m not one to seek out health short-cuts for my favorite indulgent meals (I’ll happily eat a salad when I’m craving something light), I do appreciate this easy weeknight dinner that takes all the samosa flavor and packs it into the antioxidant powerhouse known as bell peppers. Be sure to bookmark this recipe—and try out its *genius* time-saving hack.
Hero Ingredient: Ginger’s heat is so wonderfully complex and pervades every bite of your samosa-stuffed pepper.
This post was originally published on April 4, 2022, and has since been updated.
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