Experts Say These Are the Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Add to Your Meals
When it comes to nutrition, focusing on anti-inflammatory foods is one of the best things you can do. After all, excess inflammation can pave the way for chronic conditions, from heart disease to cancer. Factors like environmental pollution and stress can increase inflammation, but consuming certain foods can help keep things in check. Not sure where to start? Ahead, find tips for eating more inflammation-busting foods as well as ideas for tasty recipes you'll look forward to eating.
What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods?
"Anti-inflammatory foods are rich in nutrients [that help] reduce inflammation," explains Paula Doebrich, R.D.N., M.P.H., registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Happea Nutrition. This primarily includes antioxidants and healthy fats. For starters, "antioxidants are substances that fight oxidative damage in our cells," shares Doebrich. This is noteworthy because oxidative damage (i.e., oxidative stress) promotes inflammation—and vice versa—according to a 2021 article in the journal Antioxidants. "Many vitamins and minerals such as selenium, vitamin E, [and] vitamin C also act as antioxidants," adds Doebrich.
Meanwhile, good fats include unsaturated fats. According to a 2021 scientific article, these fats help ease inflammation by decreasing oxidative stress, just like antioxidants. Unsaturated fats also interrupt inflammatory pathways, which are cellular reactions that cause inflammation. This is a world away from saturated fats, or "bad" fats, which are mainly found in processed foods. Saturated fats actually increase inflammation, so it's important to limit your intake whenever possible.
Choose Fatty Fish
According to the American Heart Association, fatty fish (think: sardines, salmon, and bluefin tuna) contain omega-3 fatty acids, which is a type of unsaturated fat. The AHA recommends eating fatty fish two or three times a week, which you can easily do by adding seafood to your existing rotation of dishes. Try topping avocado toast with canned sardines or salads with canned tuna. Another option is to add more seafood recipes to your meal prep lineup; our roasted salmon is a delicious option.
Reach for Olive Oil
Olive oil is another potent source of unsaturated fat. It's also deliciously versatile, so it's easy to add to meals. Olive oil works beautifully as a base for marinades, sauces, and salad dressings. It can also be used in place of butter on toast or in baked goods, like our sunny lemon-olive oil cake. For a simpler take, drizzle olive oil onto raw salads, cooked vegetables, or even sorbet. Use it to lightly fry or sauté foods, recommends Doebrich—or mix a teaspoon into a cup of soup, as suggested by Susan Greeley, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Pair It with Avocado
The almighty avocado offers good fats and antioxidants, making it one of the best anti-inflammatory foods you can eat. In the morning, enjoy smashed avocado with toast or eggs, or add it to your smoothie to make it extra creamy. Come lunchtime, add avocado to your go-to wrap, or try our avocado-and-boursin sandwiches. Garnish your dinner with a scoop of guacamole or add cubed avocado on top of pizza, like we did in these grilled pizzas with tomatoes and avocado. No matter how you slice it, the mild flavor of avocado pairs well with myriad ingredients, making it easy to find a winning combo.
Sprinkle in Spices
Adding spices to your meals is another great way to increase your intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients, says Doebrich. "Spices such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, or black pepper might be especially beneficial," she adds, as they're brimming with antioxidants. Add spices while cooking a recipe or use them as a topper on finished dishes. You can also mix ground turmeric or ginger into your favorite drinks, including smoothies, hot cocoa, or coffee.
Top with Nuts and Seeds
According to Greeley, all nuts and seeds provide unsaturated fats, making them excellent candidates for an anti-inflammatory diet. "Add chopped pecans, almonds, or walnuts to a breakfast oatmeal or yogurt parfait," recommends Greeley. Similarly, you can use seeds (like hemp seeds) as a topping for salads, soups, chili, or roasted vegetables. "Flaxseeds and chia seeds are [also] good sources of omega-3 fatty acids," notes Doebrich; both ingredients can be easily tossed into a smoothie or overnight oatmeal.
Add Dark Leafy Greens
Although all fruits and vegetables fight inflammation, dark leafy greens deserve a call-out. That's because they're some of the most potent sources of antioxidants, according to a 2017 scientific article. Try adding leafy greens to every meal, be it in a sandwich or as a side salad. Add a handful of kale or spinach into soups, stews, or sauces, then cook the greens until wilted. Toss leafy greens into smoothies or turn them into crunchy snacks, like our baked kale chips.