Inflammation is the body's natural response to infection and injury. It is an important defense mechanism that helps our body to heal by bringing nutrients and immune cells to the affected area.
Whole-body inflammation, on the other hand, is damaging rather than helpful. This chronic form of inflammation is associated with a host of problems such as the painful swelling associated with arthritis, heart disease, and some kinds of cancer. Eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help to keep pain at bay.
Below are some top choices for anti-inflammatory foods:
1. Foods high in omega-3s. One cause of inflammation throughout the body is an imbalance in the consumption of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The average western diet includes up to 10 times more omega-6 fatty acids—found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils—than omega-3s, so it's a good idea to get more of the anti-inflammatory omega-3s into the diet on a daily basis. Some great sources include salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, trout, flaxseeds, and walnuts. You may also consider taking a fish oil supplement, but make sure you choose one that contains omega-3s, and not omega-6s, and comes from a reputable brand.
2. Extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil contains a natural anti-inflammatory agent and may be partly responsible for the low levels of heart disease among those following a Mediterranean diet. Use it for cooking instead of butter or vegetable oil.
3. Antioxidant-rich foods. These include fruits (non-citrus) and vegetables. The more colors you eat, the better; each color represents the presence of different health-promoting phytochemicals. Some great fruits to start eating regularly are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, papaya, cantaloupe, apricots, cherries, plums, and watermelon. Some antioxidant-rich vegetables include kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, pumpkin, bell peppers, sweet potato, and turnip greens.
4. Spices. Check your pantry for ginger, garlic, cinnamon and turmeric. These seasonings appear to have anti-inflammatory properties, so they are a great choice to use when cooking. If you have a high-powered blender or juicer, start the day with a green juice by combining fresh ginger, leafy greens like kale or spinach, and any fruits you like. Apple, carrot, and ginger make for a great combination as well.
5. Green Tea. Green tea contains certain phytochemicals that appear to help fight inflammation and preserve joints longer. Studies suggest that 3 to 4 cups per day would be needed to see the benefits.
Disclosure: Mitzi Dulan is a paid spokesperson for the National Watermelon Promotion Board.
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Mitzi Dulan, RD, CSSD, is a nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert who inspires people to lose weight and get fit. Mitzi coauthored, with NFL Future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez, The All-Pro Diet, which helps people eat clean and get lean. Mitzi is team nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals and served as team nutritionist for the Kansas City Chiefs for several years. A sought-after media source for trusted nutrition and fitness advice, Mitzi has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Shape, Glamour, US Weekly, USA Today, CNN, and FOX News. Mitzi was named one of the "Top 20 Nutrition Experts to Follow on Twitter" by The Huffington Post. Follow Mitzi on Pinterest at NutritionExpert.