Inflammation is a double-edged sword. It’s one of the body’s main protective reactions to injury or exposure to anything that might cause it harm. Characterised by redness, swelling, pain and heat, it’s not exactly pretty. But in the right situations, inflammation is one of our indispensable bastions of defence.
You’ll be familiar with its effects. Recall the swelling in your throat when it’s been sore during a cold, or the redness and sensitivity that surrounds a healing cut. That’s inflammation. And at these times it’s there to protect and repair.
But unfortunately inflammation isn’t always good.
Viruses, bacterial infections, immune system disorders, stress and foods containing too much in the way of fats and sugar can all trigger inflammation unnecessarily. Over prolonged periods, chronic unwarranted inflammation can increase susceptibility to, and worsen almost every major illness you can think of – it’s been linked to heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression and cancer to name just a few.
Unfortunately, some degree of unnecessary inflammation isn’t always avoidable, but luckily the right dietary choices can help to douse its damaging effects.
So here are ten foods that when eaten regularly will to help keep unnecessary inflammation at bay:
- Leafy green veg
Spinach, kale, cabbage… anything that’s leafy, green and edible.
Leafy green vegetables contain a considerable amount vitamins and minerals that’ll benefit your health in a huge number of ways. But their flavonoids are perhaps one of their best for combating inflammation, and you’ll find them in abundance in all leafy greens.
And for a few added bonuses, flavonoids will also aid the function of your brain, the protection of your skin and the regulation of your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Carotenoids and flavonoids are broccoli’s two main antioxidants, and both do a great job of keeping inflammation under wraps. This dinnertime staple will also keep your eyes keen, your heart strong and your bones sturdy.
Broccoli can be eaten raw, but it’s much nicer cooked and the cooking process is to help preserve its antioxidant potency, but can also reduce its vitamin C content. So cook, but don’t over cook.
- Oily fish
Omega-3 can help you sleep better, provide nourishment to your skin, lower your blood pressure and boost your brain function. And it helps reduce inflammation too. You’ll find plenty of Omega-3 in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and trout.
- Dark berries
This includes cherries; blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries and any other berry with a darker hew, which essentially means the majority of them. Dark berries all contain quercetin – a powerful anti-inflammatory. Berries are also a great source of antioxidants, which counteract the harmful effects of free radicals.
It’s betalain that gives beetroot its distinctive crimson, and its also this chemical that gives beetroot its power to fight inflammation. This colourful root vegetable also provides a source of potassium and vitamin C along with a range of other healthy nutrients.
On traffic lights it means stop, on instructional signs it means don’t, but when foods are natural coloured red this can usually be taken to mean a high content of lycopene. As an anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant, lycopene offers a double serving of health boosting benefits. Tomatoes are also good for your heart, eyes and skin. And, somewhat unusually, the nutritional value of tomatoes can actually increase when they’re cooked, so enjoy them in any way you like.
Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties that features in many folk medicine traditions. This tropical fruit also contains lots of fibre, so it’s good for the gut, and also offers a healthy serving of vitamins A and C.
- Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate’s anti-inflammatory properties come courtesy of its content of flavanols. The thing to remember with dark chocolate is that the higher the cocoa percentage, the higher the content of anti-inflammatory flavanols. Chocolates also contain a high content of fat and sugar though, so avoid eating too much.
Not strictly a food in itself, turmeric will lend its flavour and anti-inflammatory properties to any meal it’s added too. Turmeric has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine practices for hundreds of years and modern science has confirmed its medicinal properties. Turmeric’s use as an anti-inflammatory stems from one of its main compounds, curcumin. And as it happens, curcumin also promotes the health of the skin, aids blood sugar regulation, boosts brain function, and is thought to support mental well being and help ward off cancer.
Drinks can be anti-inflammatory too, and the simplest shouldn’t be underestimated. Water doesn’t contain any fancy chemical anti-inflammatories, but it aids digestion by stimulating gut movement and the hydration it provides eases up joints. Both help with reducing inflammation.
Too much unnecessary inflammation can produce many problematic repercussions. But as long as you’re healthy, exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet that preferably contains a good proportion of the above foods you shouldn’t worry too much about the negative implications of inflammation.