Tips to Fight Inflammation with Food

Assortment of colorful fruit.

We live in a world full of things that can trigger inflammation, some of which we don’t always have control over, such as genetic predisposition, stress and exposure to environmental toxins.

However, one of the most important factors in preventing inflammation, and one that you can control, is your choice of foods.

“When it comes to fighting inflammation, food really is your best medicine,” says Kelly Morrow, MS, RDN, CD, a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science who also sees patients Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural bodily process that occurs in reaction to both natural and unnatural causes. In a best-case scenario, the body's inflammation response promotes healing and acts as a very necessary reaction at a site of injury or infection.

What isn’t so natural is when the body enters into a state of chronic inflammation, which increases your risk of experiencing bodily damage or serious illness.

The worst inflammatory offenders include highly processed foods with chemical additives, and other culprits are excess alcohol, trans fats/hydrogenated oils, sugar and refined grains. If eaten more than occasionally, these foods can contribute to inflammation that affects a variety of body systems including your joints, skin and digestive tract. 

Eat the Rainbow

Luckily, the foods that alleviate and prevent inflammation are delicious, nutritious and colorful!

The more colorful a fruit or vegetable is, the more powerful its nutritional benefits, including its anti-inflammatory properties. Aim for a wide variety of brightly colored fresh vegetables and fruits, such as:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Peppers
  • Winter squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Beets
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Berries and tart cherries

Most plant-based foods also contain another crucial anti-inflammatory element: fiber. “Fiber helps feed the good bacteria and keeps the gut and immune system healthy,” Morrow says. “Most whole grains, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables are naturally rich in fiber.”

Try adding "good fats" like olive oil, nuts and fatty fish, especially omega-3 fatty acids, which are the most anti-inflammatory fat and a crucial piece in counterbalancing inflammation. Morrow recommends eating omega-3s in their natural form, such as through flax, chia or hemp seeds, and eating fish at least twice per week.  

From Phytonutrients to Probiotics

Nutrient-dense whole foods such as alliums and roots offer anti-inflammatory as well as other benefits, like a high concentration of phytonutrients.

“Phytonutrients are natural compounds in plant-based foods that help turn off inflammation,” Morrow says. “They limit how many inflammatory compounds our cells make, and at the same time promote healing of tissues.” 

These include:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Ginger root
  • Turmeric
  • Green tea
  • Fresh herbs
  • Whole soy foods
  • Mushrooms
  • Seeds

One more anti-inflammatory piece to consider is fermented foods, which include yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kim chi, kombucha, kefir, miso, raw apple cider vinegar and raw pickles.

“Over 60 percent of our immune cells are in our gut,” says Morrow. “Good bacteria help make sure the immune system is balanced, reduce the risk of food allergy and promote optimal digestion of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals.”  

An anti-inflammatory diet isn't really a diet; it's a lifestyle. To learn more about how to add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, make an appointment at Bastyr Center for Natural Health by calling 206-834-4100.