Not going to lie—we didn’t see this one coming.
Three out of five people throughout the world die as a result of chronic inflammatory diseases. This includes everything from stroke and heart disorders to cancer and obesity, but the impact inflammation has on our health is undeniable. The good news is that inflammation can often be avoided, if not tamed, and a significant factor in reducing inflammation is diet.
Registered dietitians agree the key to combating inflammation is eating a variety of nutritious foods, but there’s one outstanding food you can eat if you’re trying to reduce inflammation in your body. So, what is it?
What Causes Inflammation in the Body?
Inflammation refers to a defensive response the immune system dispatches when threatening pathogens enter the body. White blood cells are sent to the affected site, causing redness, swelling and, if internal, a few other symptoms as well.
In addition to harmful pathogens as a cause, external injuries, chemicals or radiation, and other medical conditions like cystitis, bronchitis, otitis media and dermatitis may also cause inflammation in the body.
Related: What Are Nightshade Vegetables and Why Do Some People Avoid Them?
But aside from bacteria, viruses and even fungi, there’s a distinct correlation between other factors like an uptick in cortisol (stress) and, of course, diet.
Parade consulted Lifesum advisor Christina Jax, RDN, LDN, CLY, RYT, for more information on what causes inflammation in the body.
“Some research suggests that stress and nutrition may play a role in the effects of chronic inflammation on overall health,” Jax explains. “Stress can also influence the food choices we make as well as affect the body’s metabolic responses to food. When we are in a chronic state of stress, the hormone cortisol is continuously released by the body and can contribute to increased cravings of less healthy food options.”
Related: Seriously, What’s the Deal With Ezekiel Bread and Is It Even Good for You?
But just as there is a connection between stress and inflammation, there is also a way to “undo” or at least manage inflammation and its subsequent symptoms.
“Eating less nutritious foods all the time can further contribute to chronic inflammation, and therefore may have a long-term negative impact on one’s health,” Jax adds. “Due to this connection between stress, nutrition and inflammation, some research suggests that certain foods can both contribute to, and help fight against, chronic inflammation.”
Signs of Inflammation
Symptoms induced by inflammation run the gamut, especially because there are two different types: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation.
According to Cleveland Clinic, signs of acute inflammation include:
Cleveland Clinic also suggests that signs of internal, chronic inflammation may be trickier to spot but can include:
If you are curious about the difference between the main two types of inflammation, acute inflammation is essentially physical damage or injury to the body. It’s acute because it can be, in some ways, external and more obvious. Think: getting a cut and then needing those cells to heal.
Chronic inflammation can be more difficult to assess because it often happens inside the body. It can be caused by almost anything—tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, general joint issues, HIV infection, psoriasis, systemic lupus and/or Alzheimer’s.
What’s the Best Food To Reduce Inflammation?
The overwhelming majority of dieticians will agree that inflammation is best managed with a variety of whole foods and polyphenol foods, which means they are high in richly pigmented antioxidants.
“Foods that help lower inflammation are always whole foods,” Meg Gerber, RD, LD, IFNCP, CGN, and bestselling author of How to Glow Gluten-Free, explains. “Shoot for foods that aren’t in a package and are as close to the source as possible. Think: farmers market local produce, well-sourced animal proteins, nourishing fats like avocado and coconut, fresh (vs. old) spices, and even frozen organic fruits and veggies count!”
Related: 7 Simple Tips to Supercharge Your Immune System
Still, if reducing the inflammation in your body is the overall goal, there is a kind of super meal that combines several foods—all with anti-inflammatory properties—that proves extremely beneficial.
“An ideal anti-inflammatory meal is a spicy green curry,” Gerber explains. “It’s served with local veggies, rich spices and organic coconut milk and can be made with your favorite wild seafood like salmon or shrimp. All of these are the perfect ingredients to help reduce inflammation, [and make] a delicious and healthy meal too!”
Other Foods With Anti-Inflammatory Properties
While spicy green curry may have all the ingredients necessary to fight inflammation, there are plenty of other foods with anti-inflammatory properties too.
What you want to be looking for is richly pigmented antioxidants—also known as foods high in polyphenols.
“An anti-inflammatory diet high in polyphenol foods like cranberries, blueberries, raw cacao, turmeric, ginger and fresh spices, in general, can help reduce bodily inflammation,” Gerber explains.
Related: Dietitians Agree That This Is the Worst Snack for Inflammation
Cleveland Clinic also recommends the following foods for combating inflammation:
Leafy greens (spinach and kale)
Oily fish, like mackerel, salmon and/or sardines
Which Foods Make Inflammation Worse?
Undoubtedly, one of the worst foods you can have, in terms of exacerbating inflammation, is sugar. If you are trying to reduce inflammation in the body, it’s best to avoid or limit your sugar intake as much as possible.
Other foods to avoid include processed meats, which are high in saturated fat. That saturated fat increases the risk of inflammation in fat tissue. Plus, processed meats can also be high in added sugar too.
To add insult to injury, processed meats don’t just increase the risk of an inflammatory response from your body; they also have been linked to several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.
Next up, the ultimate anti-inflammatory cheat sheet.