Inflammation works a little like sports fans at their team’s championship game. One minute they’re cheering along in the stands, but once the final buzzer goes off to signify their victory, they’re flooding the court in an unstoppable wave—then setting cars ablaze while rioting in the streets.
And just like a harmless movement can balloon into one with disastrous and dangerous outcomes, inflammation’s healing intentions can also get out of hand and ultimately translate into the menacing consequence of sickness and weight gain.
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response. It alerts your body to a wound or injury, like when your ankle will start to throb and swell after a sprain, so your immune system can fix it. It’s not just external injuries that cause inflammation, however. Things like a lack of sleep, excessive stress, genetics, and—what might be worst of all—the wrong diet can all contribute to inflammation.
By “wrong diet,” we’re talking about the typical American diet which is full of inflammation-inducing foods. Think: fried foods, refined flours and sugars, hormone- and antibiotic-laden animal products, synthetic sweeteners, and artificial food additives. So if you’re constantly noshing on these items, your body will begin to transition into a state of chronic inflammation.
This inflammatory, high-energy diet builds belly fat, reduces levels of gut-healthy probiotics, induces weight gain, causes joint pain, bloating, and fatigue, and has been connected with a host of diseases, from diabetes and obesity to heart disease and cancer. And it gets worse: Once you get belly fat, just like an active volcano, it can start spewing out dangerous substances through a condition called “leaky gut.” These biochemicals, collectively known as adipokines, include many pro-inflammatory chemicals that will continue to worsen inflammation, sending you into a waist-widening downward spiral.
So, if you’ve been struggling to lose weight, and you’ve continued to eat the same foods (yes, even if you are eating less of them), it’s time for a change. And science has an answer for you.
Researchers are proving time and time again that fitting in certain foods into your diet may be all that’s needed to counteract the effects of inflammation-perpetuated weight gain. These healing foods attack inflammation by increasing the concentration of beneficial bacteria in your gut, turning off inflammatory genes, and decreasing levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers—many of which will torch fat in the process.
Fit these anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, and you’ll be on your way to a leaner, happier you. And if you need a more rigid plan with quick and easy recipes, pick up your copy of The 14-Day Anti-Inflammatory Diet to heal your gut, prevent disease, and slow aging—one bite at a time.
A study in the journal Antioxidants showed that eating berries could significantly reduce inflammation. Why is this exactly? Well, berries contain a class of antioxidants called flavonoids, but it’s the anthocyanins, specifically, that contribute their anti-inflammatory effects by effectively turning off inflammatory and immune genes. And when it comes to anthocyanins, blueberries are king. On top of that, blueberries are rich in vitamin C and another polyphenol, resveratrol, which have both been found to promote anti-inflammatory responses through decreasing inflammatory free radicals.
2. Raw Oats
Throw together a jar of overnight oats packed with dark chocolate, berries, nuts, and a dash of cinnamon, and you’ll be fighting inflammation and drastically reducing belly fat. The raw oats are a resistant starch, a type of carb that passes through your gut undigested. Instead of feeding you, it feeds your healthy gut bacteria, which in turn produce a fatty acid that encourages more efficient fat oxidation known as butyrate. Higher levels of butyrate reduce inflammation in your body and help reduce insulin resistance as well. Less inflammation means less bloating and a slimmer you.
Researchers attribute ginger’s health benefits to gingerols, compounds that are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-disease. According to numerous studies, these compounds block several genes and enzymes in the body that promote inflammation. When University of Arizona researchers gave rats with experimental rheumatoid arthritis a crude ginger extract, which included the essential oils and other compounds found only in the root itself, it was able to inhibit joint swelling and inflammation. Fresh ginger is richest in gingerol, so grate up the root, throw it in a mesh bag, steep, and sip on ginger tea.
4. Green Tea
Say hello to your secret weight-loss tool. Green tea—a humble drink that’s been cherished as a health miracle for centuries and is even the cornerstone of the bestselling The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. These benefits stem from catechins, the group of antioxidants concentrated in the leaves of tea plants. And the most powerful of all catechins, a compound called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, is found almost exclusively in green tea. These anti-inflammatory properties have also been implicated in preventing the development and growth of skin tumors.
5. Dark Chocolate
Great news for all you chocoholics! An American Chemical Society study found that antioxidants in cocoa prevented laboratory mice from gaining excess weight and actually lowered their blood sugar levels. And another study at Louisiana State University found that gut microbes in our stomach ferment chocolate into heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory compounds that shut down genes linked to insulin resistance and inflammation. To enhance the effects, try pairing your chocolate with some apple slices: The fruit speeds up the probiotic fermentation process, leading to an even greater reduction in inflammation and weight. Psst, make sure you’re choosing the right kind! Look for cacao content of 70 percent or above because these contain the highest amounts of antioxidants.
6. Wild Salmon
When it comes to fats, there’s one variety you definitely don’t want to eat less of: omega-3s! These healthy fats are famous for their anti-inflammatory properties. And fatty fish are one of the best sources of this class of polyunsaturated fats. Wild salmon provides you with both EPA and DHA. And unlike plant omega-3s, these two fatty acids are already in an active form, meaning they’ll more efficiently attack excess inflammation through the increase in adiponectin—a hormone that enhances your muscles’ ability to use carbs for energy, boosts metabolism, and burns fat—which ultimately decrease inflammation markers.
7. Red Peppers
Peppers are an anti-inflammatory superfood—but go red to reap the most benefits. Out of the three colors of bell pepper, red have the highest amount of inflammatory-biomarker-reducing vitamin C along with the bioflavonoids beta-carotene, quercetin, and luteolin, according to research in the Journal of Food Science. Luteolin has been found to neutralize free radicals and reduce inflammation. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid, fat-soluble compounds that are associated with a reduction in a wide range of cancers, as well as reduced risk and severity of inflammatory conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. And allergy research has shown that quercetin acts as a mast-cell stabilizer, which decreases the number of cells reacting to an allergen. Mast cells are responsible for releasing histamine during inflammatory and allergic reactions.
You can thank curcumin for turmeric’s beautifully bright, yellowy-orange color—but that’s not all it’s good for. This active compound has been found to contain potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A study in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology shows curcumin directly inhibits the activation of inflammatory pathways through shutting off production of two pro-inflammatory enzymes, COX-2, and 5-LOX. For this reason, curcumin has been implicated in a range of beneficial health effects, from preventing cognitive decline, liver damage, and heart disease, while easing joint inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
Besides being a source of many phytochemicals, including ascorbic acid, carotenoids, and flavonoids, beets are a unique source of betalain pigments, which have been found to display potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive activity. One of these pigments, betaine, is a nutrient that not only fights inflammation, but also is known to rev your metabolism, positively influences the mechanism for insulin resistance, boost your mood, and shut down genes that encourage fat to hang around. A study in the Journal of Human Hypertension has associated eating beets and beetroot juice with lower levels of inflammatory markers—including CRP as well as interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor, which are released by harmful belly fat—as well as a decrease in risk of plaque buildup, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
This anti-inflammatory benefit could be linked to the sprouts’ glucosinolate content. These compounds help prevent unwanted inflammation when they’re converted to I3C—a compound that research has found to decrease the production of pro-inflammatory mediators on a genetic level. It’s also high in vitamin K, a vitamin found in many cruciferous and leafy green veggies, which can help regulate inflammatory responses in the body. Just don’t nosh on it raw if you have a pollen allergy!
11. Black Beans
Similar to raw oats, black beans and most other pulses pack a strong resistant-starch punch, providing the source of fuel for you healthy gut bugs to ferment into the inflammation-reducing fatty acid butyrate. A half-cup of black beans not only packs 3.1 grams of resistant starch, it also carries nearly 20 grams of protein and 14 grams of filling fiber, making black beans a delicious fat-fighting triple threat. Not only that but black beans are high in anthocyanins, antioxidants which have also been associated with lowering inflammation. According to a recent study in the journal Nutrients, when patients with metabolic syndrome consumed a meal with black beans, their levels of postprandial insulin (i.e. those measured right after a meal) were lower and antioxidant concentration higher than subjects who ate a meal with a similar amount of fiber or a similar amount of antioxidants. High levels of postprandial glucose and insulin have been implicated in increases in inflammation and oxidative stress—making black beans a potent Western-diet inflammation-fighter.
12. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Add fighting inflammation to the list of Mediterranean diet benefits—right next to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and dialing up weight loss. While researchers initially believed many benefits were conferred by the presence of healthy monounsaturated fats, they also found that other oils with MUFAs, particularly oleic acid, did not exhibit the same health benefits. Now, researchers have found the key component is oleocanthal. This compound, found only in extra virgin olive oils (as these are unrefined and contain more phenolic compounds), has a significant impact on inflammation and helps reduce joint cartilage damage, working similarly to ibuprofen in that it prevents the production of pro-inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes.
Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects your brain and fights depression-causing inflammation. Because lycopene lives in tomato skins, you’ll get more of the stuff if you throw a handful of cherry tomatoes into your next salad instead of slicing up one full-size tomato. And if you’re not a fan of the tart, raw tomatoes, don’t sweat it; Research has proven that processed tomatoes have an even higher amount of lycopene than the fresh ones. Whatever your choice, enjoy them with a little olive oil, which has been shown to increase fat-soluble lycopene absorption.
14. Chia Seeds
With 9 grams of healthy fats (including inflammation-quelling ALA omega-3s) alongside a whopping 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per ounce, chia seeds can stabilize blood sugar, boost weight loss, suppress appetite, and even help keep your body hydrated throughout the day. Put them all together, and you have an inflammation-fighting superfood. Plus, the Harvard School of Public Health suggests chia seeds can decrease spikes in blood sugar in a dose-dependent manner. Post-eating blood sugar spikes have been implicated in causing increases in inflammation due to the overproduction of inflammatory free radicals called reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Pineapple contains bromelain, the enzyme which acts as a meat tenderizer as well as a powerful anti-inflammatory. What researchers have noted is that many anti-inflammatory foods act not necessarily by reducing inflammation directly, but by alleviating symptoms that can eventually cause inflammation. Bromelain has been found to be beneficial in reducing asthmatic symptoms through decreasing the spread of proinflammatory metabolites and relieving post-exercise inflammation by helping to repair and resolve muscle soreness through its significant levels of potassium. While all parts of the pineapple contain this magical compound, most of the bromelain in pineapple is in the stem. Because the stem is a little on the tough side, you can blend or juice the core with the sweeter flesh to reap the bloat-beating benefits.
Spinach attacks inflammation from all sides. It’s rich in carotenoids, and vitamins C, E, and K—all of which have been found to protect the body from pro-inflammatory cytokines. A form of vitamin E called alpha-tocopherol was found to decrease inflammation in patients with coronary artery disease in a The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study. And in a separate study in the Canadian Journal of Surgery, vitamin E administration was found to reverse levels of the same inflammatory adipokine compounds released by belly fat: tumor necrosis factor-a and interleukin-6.
17. Whole Grains
Brown rice, quinoa, millet, and amaranth all are packed with fiber that helps produce butyrate, a fatty acid that turns off genes related to inflammation and insulin resistance. The high B vitamin content of whole grains (which is nearly entirely lost during the refinement process) also helps reduce the inflammatory hormone homocysteine in the body. Not only that but high fiber foods also suppress appetite. According to a team of international researchers, a molecule called acetate is naturally released when fiber is digested. Acetate then travels to the brain, where it signals us to stop eating. And if you eat less, you’re less likely to be taking in more pro-inflammatory foods.
Besides keeping brittle bones at bay, Vitamin D also fends off depression and colds, reduces the risk of certain cancers, and perhaps most importantly, diminishes inflammation. Previous research has found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and increased levels of pro-inflammatory markers. While your body produces D whenever your skin is directly exposed to sunlight, if you’ve been finding that you’re glued to your desk more often than you’d like, it might be best to get some vitamin D into your diet as well, and whole eggs are a great solution. The yolk contains a host of fat-blasting and health-boosting nutrients from vitamin D to fat-blasting choline.
There’s now science to back-up the smelly, cold-busting benefits of garlic. Researchers hypothesize garlic’s cold-fighting power comes from the compound allicin, which blocks enzymes that play a role in bacterial and viral infections. According to a 2015 study, garlic’s organosulfur compounds boasted cardioprotective, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory benefits. Taking an aged-garlic supplement provides the highest concentration of bioavailable compounds, but studies have also shown that fresh garlic can provide subtle benefits. Just be sure to crush the garlic first to kickstart production of the bioactive allicin compound—it’s just one of our ways to boost the nutrient content of your food.
Willow Jarosh, RD, tells us, “Healthy nutrients like copper help maintain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant responses in the body.” That’s because this essential mineral acts as a critical cofactor in the body’s anti-inflammatory responses. The enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) plays an important antioxidant role in deactivating cell-damaging, free-radicals. And in order to function properly, it utilizes the support of three minerals: copper, zinc, manganese. And guess what? Oysters are full of all three. Oh, not to mention, they’re also a great source of inflammation-quelling omega-3s.
There’s a new superfood in town, and its name is kamut—or Khorasan wheat. This ancient grain boasts more protein gram-for-gram than quinoa, it’s loaded with energy-boosting, muscle-protecting minerals like magnesium, potassium, and iron, and comes complete with an amazing 7 grams of hunger-busting fiber per cup. Subbing out meat for plant-based vegan foods is great for reducing inflammation because animal protein is one of the top sources of inflammatory saturated fats. Plus, a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating kamut reduces levels of cytokines: compounds which cause inflammation throughout the body.
Cultivating a proper gut garden is essential for good health, particularly when it comes to fighting inflammation. That’s because your good gut bugs break down foods into anti-inflammatory fatty acids which not only decrease inflammation but may also help shut off your fat genes. And when they aren’t healthy, they can’t do this. Adding cultured, fermented foods—known as probiotics—into your diet can recolonize your gut with beneficial microbes, which can then assist with fending off inflammation. Low sugar yogurt (with live active cultures) is one of the most accessible sources of probiotics, but you can also eat kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and cheese.
In order for your probiotic efforts to succeed, you also have to incorporate foods known as prebiotics into your diet. This groups of high fiber foods provide your gut bugs with the fuel they use to function and ferment. Apple peels are full of pectin, a natural fruit fiber that a study published in the journal Anaerobefound to be powerful enough to support the growth of the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. Not to mention, apple peels also provide an average of 10 mg of quercetin—an endurance-boosting, anti-inflammatory antioxidant.
Although not as strong as animal-based omega-3s, DHA and EPA, nuts (particularly, walnuts) are a great source of a plant-based, anti-inflammatory omega-3 known as ALA. Almonds are one of the best sources of antioxidant vitamin E, which helps protect cells from oxidative damage (a byproduct of inflammation), and hazelnuts contain the highest amount of immuno-protective oleic acid.
25. Canned Light White Tuna
According to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the most effective omega-3 when it comes to reducing specific markers of inflammation is DHA over EPA. So how do you get more of the powerful fat into your diet? It’s easy (and cheap)—just grab a can of light skipjack tuna (we prefer this brand), which is one of the best sources of the bioactive fatty acid.
It’s not just a staple when you’re marinating your lemon chicken; this flavorful herb is also a powerful anti-inflammatory thanks to its high concentration of antioxidant compounds. (In fact, you’ll often see “rosemary extract” listed on your natural processed goods as an antioxidant preservative.) Scientists believe the anti-inflammatory activity comes from the presence of carnosic acid and carnosol, two polyphenolic compounds in rosemary which a study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine discovered could effectively inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
27. Bone Broth
Don’t dismiss bone broth as just another health fad—there’s solid evidence to back up its rightful place in your diet. To make it, bones are left to simmer in water for an extended period of time, extracting and breaking down their collagen and other nutrients. Some of that broken down material from the cartilage and tendons is glucosamine (which you may have seen sold as a supplement for arthritis and joint pain). According to a study published in the journal PLoS One, when overweight, middle-aged adults took a glucosamine supplement, they were able to decrease serum CRP (inflammation biomarker) levels by 23 percent more than those who didn’t take a supplement. The stock is also full of anti-inflammatory amino acids (glycine and proline), and the ample levels of gelatin will help rebuild your gut lining to further assist with your anti-inflammatory gut microbes.
28. Coconut Oil
One of the lesser-known benefits of coconut oil is that it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory food. The fats found in cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil are teeming with anti-inflammatory properties. A study published in Medical Principles and Practice proposes that coconut oil is likely only effective in treating acute inflammation, such as at the site of an infection or injury, rather than the chronic inflammation associated with weight gain and other diseases.
29. Raw Honey
If you’ve ever suffered from indigestion after eating, you’re familiar with the importance of digestion enzymes. But there’s another group of enzymes that’s also important to your health: proteolytic enzymes. These enzymes are essential when it comes to modulating the inflammatory response. They do so by helping to break down proteins and cellular debris and clears them out to reduce your body’s immune and inflammatory response. Raw honey is one of the best sources of these enzymes because—brace yourself—honey is made by bees’ enzyme-rich saliva. Multiple animal studies have found honey to be effective in alleviating symptoms of inflammatory diseases, such as IBS. Bonus: the sweetener is also full of anti-inflammatory polyphenols, carotenoids, antioxidants, and vitamins.
Miso packs an anti-inflammatory one-two punch. Not only is it a fermented food, which means it’s rich in probiotic compounds that ferment fibers into anti-inflammatory compounds, but it’s also made from soy. What’s so special about soy? Several studies have suggested that soy’s isoflavones—estrogen-mimicking compounds—may be powerful anti-inflammatories. In fact, a review of isoflavones published in a 2016 issue of the journal Nutrients concluded that isoflavones reduce inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory enzyme and cytokine activities.