In Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods Part 1, we took a look at the top six anti-inflammatory foods. As you’ve likely heard by now, chronic inflammation has become one of the biggest health concerns in the US. And sadly our American lifestyle is highly inflammatory. From our fast-paced, high-stress jobs and lives, to the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.), poor air and water quality, and chronic sleep issues to name a few…All of these contribute to chronic inflammation.
And chronic inflammation has now been directly linked to 80-90% of ALL diseases. Wow! That’s huge! From diabetes to heart disease, from cancer to dementia and Alzheimer’s, chronic inflammation is at the root. The great news is that these diseases, for the most part, are totally preventable with healthy diet and lifestyle changes. And these tasty, anti-inflammatory foods are just the ticket.
So before we take a look at the benefits of the next six most helpful, anti-inflammatory foods, let’s take a look at inflammation. What exactly is inflammation? Why is it harmful? Why is it important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet? And what exactly should we be eating? It seems like “what to eat” changes every time you turn on the news, right?! So let’s take a deeper look…
Isn’t Inflammation Natural? Why is it So Bad?
There are two types of inflammation. Acute inflammation happens when we twist our ankle or break a bone, or get an infection — it is our body’s own defense system. Acute inflammation provides helpful, on-the-spot repair, which typically goes away on its own in a few days to weeks depending on what repair it’s doing to the body.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, occurs inside the body, in places we can’t see, like our intestinal lining and our arteries, and it doesn’t easily go away. It occurs when the body knows something is wrong and is trying to repair it, but we keep piling on more stress, more environmental toxins, more artificial “foods” that the body doesn’t know what to do with, and don’t get enough sleep, exercise, or hydration.
So how can you prevent or turn around chronic inflammation if you have some (and most of us do!)? You can start by crowding out. This means the more anti-inflammatory foods you add in at each meal, the less room you’ll have to eat processed foods. You’ll feel full and satiated, and maybe, just maybe, you won’t want to reach for that donut, cinnamon roll, cookie, or candy after all. But you can still have a little dark chocolate…
If you missed reading Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods Part 1, check it out to learn all of the health benefits of these foods (and a few reasons why you may NOT want to eat some of them as well.) To recap, the top six anti-inflammatory foods are:
Top 6 Anti-inflammatory Foods
- Salmon and Cold Water Fish
- Olive Oil
More Anti-inflammatory Foods
So now that you know the top six anti-inflammatory foods and their benefits, let’s look at the next six foods in the Top 12 List of Anti-inflammatory Foods. You might even find some of your favorites here!
7. Green Tea
The first recorded use of green tea dates back to China in 2737 B.C.(1) Back then it was primarily drunk by the elite upper class, and it wasn’t until the 1300’s A.D. that green tea became a common drink for most of Asia. Green Tea made its way to Europe and then the US in the 1700s (Remember the Boston Tea Party, anyone?!)
Health Benefits of Green Tea
The health benefits of green tea have been known and utilized in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine for centuries. But green tea has only recently been embraced as an anti-inflammatory drink in the West.
According to research, the potent polyphenol antioxidant compounds found in green tea offer great potential against many diseases including liver and heart diseases, and inflammatory conditions like metabolic syndromes.(2) Green Tea has also been shown to improve memory and concentration(3), as well as increase energy. This is likely due to the caffeine found in green tea. While green tea does contain caffeine, one cup only contains about half as much as a cup of coffee.
Green Tea has also been shown to kill specific bacteria in the mouth that can cause dental infections.(4) So drinking green tea may help with your dental health too, which in turn can help prevent heart disease.
What to Be Aware of with Green Tea
Beware: Because Green Tea does contain caffeine, if your doctor has recommended you avoid caffeine, you’ll want to avoid green tea too. And if you are sensitive to caffeine, you might want to avoid drinking it after lunch, so as not to affect your sleep at night. Also, due to the high demand for green tea worldwide these days, much of it is sprayed with toxic pesticides. So be sure you’re drinking certified organic green tea from quality sources. Otherwise, the toxins you may be ingesting could outweigh the benefits of drinking green tea.
8. Dark Cherries
Cherries, and dark cherries, in particular, are a nutrient-dense food packed with important nutrients including fiber, polyphenol antioxidants, carotenoids, vitamin C, quercetin, and potassium.(5) The darker the color of cherries, the more antioxidant flavonoids they contain.
Eating Cherries Reduces Chronic Inflammatory Diseases
In fact, studies suggest that eating cherries may lead to the reduction of several chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and cancer.(6) And there is also evidence that eating tart cherries may improve sleep, cognitive function, and even aid in relieving exercise-induced pain.(7)
According to one study, “Evidence from published reports is reasonably strong to indicate that consumption of cherries decreased markers for oxidative stress, inflammation, exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength, and blood pressure acutely after ingesting cherries.”(8)(9)
What to Be Aware of with Cherries
Beware: While there are very few downsides to eating cherries, you’ll want to eat them in moderation. Because cherries are fairly high in fiber, if you eat a lot of them at one time, you can experience intestinal discomfort including gas, abdominal cramps, bloating, or diarrhea.
The health benefits of mushrooms are huge. Unfortunately for me, I’ve never cared for the taste of mushrooms. But I always keep trying again, because I know their health benefits are many. But for now, I take my mushrooms in capsule form as a supplement. I personally take a Turkey Tail + Reishi supplement every day.
Top Anti-inflammatory Mushrooms
There are so many varieties of mushrooms, but which type have the best health benefits? These six varieties are the highest in anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and anti-cancer properties.
Reishi mushrooms top the charts for their health benefits. They are revered for their strong immune-boosting properties and are antibacterial in nature, as well as antiviral, anti-fungal, and a cancer-fighting fungus too. (10)
Shataki mushrooms are a great source of Vitamin D, and contain a natural anti-tumor compound called lentinan. Shiitake mushrooms have also been shown to reduce inflammation in the body.(11)
Oyster mushrooms, the type often found in Asian dishes, have been shown to help fight against HIV and colon and breast cancers.(12)
Porcini mushrooms are fleshy and brown, similar to but smaller than portobellos, and are common in Italy. They contain the compound ergosterol which has been shown to be a top anti-inflammatory fighter.
Maitake mushrooms have been shown to have strong anticancer, antiviral, and immune-system enhancing effects. And studies have also shown them to help control high blood pressure as well as blood sugar levels.(13)
Turkey Tail mushrooms look like their name suggests, and are often found growing on trees or logs. They are highly immune-boosting and have been shown to help reduce or prevent several types of cancer, including colon and breast cancer.(14)
What to Be Aware of with Mushrooms
Beware: With the wide variety of mushrooms and all their immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory benefits, foraging for mushrooms has become very popular. But not all mushrooms you come across in the woods are safe for human consumption. So it’s extremely important that you heed caution before foraging and eating the fruits of your labor. Use a good field guide, and never eat any mushroom unless you are 100% sure it’s safe.
Also, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, mushrooms should never be eaten raw. “They have very tough cell walls and are essentially indigestible if you don’t cook them. Thoroughly heating them releases the nutrients they contain, including protein, B vitamins, and minerals, as well as a wide range of novel compounds not found in other foods. Raw mushrooms contain small amounts of toxins, including some compounds that are considered carcinogens. These are destroyed by cooking them thoroughly, broiling or grilling is best.” (15)
10. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, yogurt, and kefir are super beneficial to the gut microbiome and fighting inflammation.
Ancient and indigenous populations have been eating fermented foods before or with their meals for centuries. Historically fermentation happened due to lack of refrigeration. However, over time fermentation has been linked to many health benefits. Plus microorganisms contributing to the fermentation process have recently been associated with beneficial gut bacteria and a reduction in inflammation.(16)
Science has shown that each individual has around 150-250 types of different gut microbes. According to Kevin Whelan, professor of dietetics at King’s College London: “What we know is that people with diseases generally have a less diverse microbiome – so they tend to be the ones closer to 150 than 250 types.”(17)
In fact, there are some indications that just having foods fermenting in your home, like when you make your own sauerkraut, can increase the good gut bacteria in the air in your home, and in turn in your gut as you breathe it in!(18)
What to Be Aware of with Fermented Foods
Beware: Many store-bought pickles and sauerkraut are not actually fermented. Fermented foods will be found in the refrigerated section. If it’s on a non-refrigerated shelf and contains vinegar, it’s not actually fermented and won’t give you the health benefits you’re looking for.
Also, while Kombucha is a big fad right now, it may not be one of the best fermented foods for you. It can be high in sugar which can actually cause more inflammation than it helps prevent. And there’s potential for contamination in home-brewed batches. Plus there isn’t any scientific evidence to show the benefits of kombucha like there is for other fermented food.(19)
I’ve written a lot about turmeric in previous posts. There’s a reason that turmeric is the star of your spice drawer. It is one of the most anti-inflammatory foods on the planet. So why is it listed as #11? Well, it’s not really a grab-and-go food like some of these other foods are. You actually have to make something with it. And sadly, many people don’t care for the taste of turmeric, even though it’s one of the most beneficial foods you can eat.
When it comes to inflammation, muscle aches and pain relief, turmeric has been shown to be as beneficial, or more so, as over-the-counter NSAIDS like Ibuprofen. And without any of the nasty side effects and gut disruptions either.(20)
What to Be Aware of with Turmeric
Beware: Turmeric is a fat-soluble spice, which means that it must be eaten with fats in order to get any of its anti-inflammatory benefits. Luckily, turmeric pairs perfectly with coconut oil or coconut milk. Try this recipe for Golden Milk. One other thing about turmeric is that it stains clothing very easily. If you spill any it’s best to wipe it up with a paper towel or it will likely stain your dish towel or dishcloth.
12. Dark Chocolate
Last, but definitely not least, is my favorite, dark chocolate! If you’re a dark chocolate fan too, you’re in luck. Eating small quantities of dark chocolate (80%-100% please, we’re not talking milk chocolate or high-sugar content here) can be very anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy, and brain-boosting too.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, Cocoa is packed with phytochemical flavanols that have been shown to protect the heart. “Flavanols have been shown to support the production of nitric oxide (NO) in the endothelium (the inner cell lining of blood vessels) that helps to relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow, thereby lowering blood pressure. Flavanols in chocolate can also increase insulin sensitivity in short term studies; in the long run, this could reduce diabetes risk.”(21)
And the flavanols in cocoa have been shown to benefit the brain by increasing brain blood flow, oxygen to the brain, and concentration. Here’s an interesting factoid too, the places with the highest number of Nobel Prize recipients, also coincidentally (or not?) have the highest consumption of cocoa per capita.(22)
And in one study from 2009 of the Kuna Indians off the coast of Panama, who have traditionally eaten a diet high in cocoa, concluded the flavanols in cocoa likely contribute to the Kuna’s unusually low blood pressure, and lack of heart attacks and strokes.(23) Sadly, as more Westerners visit the remote islands off Panama where the Kuna live, they are being exposed to more processed foods, and their historically excellent health is changing for the worse.(24)
So it would seem that it’s definitely worth eating high-quality cocoa while ditching the processed foods.
What to Be Aware of with Dark Chocolate and Cocoa
Beware: Dark chocolate is one place where you absolutely must read labels. So many brands are miss-leading, calling themselves dark chocolate when they contain milk. You’ll also find lots of un-organic (read GMO!) soy-lecithin used in cocoa bars. Look for the fewest number of ingredients, no soy, and low sugar.
And here’s something I just learned. When cocoa is treated with alkali, or “Dutch-processed”, in theory, to improve the flavor and appearance, it actually causes a significant loss of flavanols. Wow! Those are the super-beneficial phytochemicals in cocoa that contain all the awesome health benefits and make it healthy to eat cocoa in the first place. So ditch the “Dutch cocoa”, and look for 100% organic natural, non-alkalized cocoa instead.
Now that you’re armed with the 12 most anti-inflammatory foods, and why they are so beneficial, it’s time to head to the grocery store and stock up! Remember to keep things like berries, nuts, and dark chocolate on hand for healthy snacks.
Please share with your friends and family so they can eat an anti-inflammatory diet too. And leave a comment to share your favorite recipe using one of these anti-inflammatory foods.