The key to reducing persistent inflammation that causes chronic diseases (Think: Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cancer) may not be hiding in the medicine cabinet but in the refrigerator! Inflammation occurs when our immune systems attack a foreign substance in the body, such as invading microbes or chemicals. This is the good kind that acts as a protector.
The bad kind of inflammation results not from invaders but from lifestyle decisions like a poor diet or smoking. Studies suggest that antioxidant-rich foods like berries, leafy greens, certain spices, nuts and seeds can help combat the inflammatory disease process and actually prevent illness. Let’s get cooking!
The potent blue pigment in the berries we all know and love is due to a class of antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which are celebrated for their anti-inflammatory powers. Studies suggest that eating blueberries not only limits oxidative stress but also boosts anti-inflammatory cytokines and immune cells whose role is to fight harmful pathogens. And — get this — freezing blueberries doesn’t decrease their antioxidant capacity. That’s good news for us smoothie addicts!
Peak season: Summer but available year-round.
Storage tip: Refrigerate berries for up to 10 days, and wash right before eating to reduce spoilage.
Dietitian’s tip: Add fresh blueberries to salads, yogurt or oatmeal. Use frozen berries for quick morning smoothies!
Low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat, avocados are nature’s near-perfect anti-inflammatory fruit. Besides being low in sugar and high in fiber, the potassium and lutein content in avocados may help lower blood pressure and control oxidative and inflammatory stress. Score!
Peak season: Available year-round.
Storage tip: Let avocados ripen at room temperature on the counter. Store in fridge for up to a week once ripe.
Dietitian’s tip: Spread avocado on toast instead of butter, or mix into tuna as a mayo substitute. Add slices to sandwiches, salads and egg dishes. The possibilities are endless!
Kale is a superfood high in vitamins A and C, known antioxidants that help mitigate the body’s inflammatory process. Plus, it’s a great source of vitamin K, which plays a key role in bone health and blood clotting. One cup of this nutritional powerhouse provides 1,180%, 98% and 71% of your daily values for vitamins K, A and C, respectively!
Peak season: Midsummer through December but available year-round.
Storage tip: Store in the crisper. It’ll last up to a week in a plastic bag in the fridge but will lose nutrients as it sits.
Dietitian’s tip: Add a handful of kale leaves (strip them from the stems) to your next smoothie for a nutrient punch. For a simple savory snack, lightly toss kale leaves with olive oil and sea salt. Roast in the oven at 350°F for about 15 minutes. Voilà: crispy kale chips!
4. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate has long been known as a great source of anti-inflammatory flavonoids. Studies suggest that regular consumption of dark chocolate is associated with reduced levels of C-reactive protein, a substance produced by the liver in response to inflammation. Cheers to enjoying some chocolate!
Dietitian’s tip: Raw chocolate contains bioflavonoids that help boost mood as well as theobromine, an active compound that may improve blood flow. Cacao is also great source of fiber, magnesium and iron. Look for dark chocolate with a cacao content of at least 70%.
Ginger root contains functional compounds known as gingerols, shogaol and paradols that reduce the formation of free radicals and prevent the formation of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This anti-inflammatory response may not only ease muscle pain after intense exercise but may also help treat diseases and conditions ranging from osteoarthritis to cancer.
Peak season: Late winter and early spring but available year-round.
Storage tip: Store whole, unpeeled ginger in the crisper in a sealed bag. It also freezes well.
Dietitian’s tip: Ginger is famous for easing nausea and indigestion. Sip on ginger tea for tummy troubles. Add fresh grated ginger to a stir-fry, veggie burgers or salad dressing.
6. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are incredibly rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also loaded with vitamin E, which aids in lubricating the joints and protecting the body from pro-inflammatory cytokines. Fun fact: Hulled hemp seeds beat out flax and chia in the protein and omega-3 departments and are also much lower in carbohydrates. Since frequent consumption leads to lower levels of inflammatory markers, eating more nuts and seeds is an excellent way to reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Storage tip: Store nuts and seeds in a cool, dry place. To extend shelf life, store in the refrigerator or freezer.
Dietitian’s tip: Add heart-healthy nuts and seeds (like pepitas, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts or almonds) to cereal, oatmeal and salad for crunch and a dose of healthy fats, protein and fiber. Next time you’re baking, try stirring together 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water for a vegan egg substitute.