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The Ultimate Underrated Anti-inflammatory Diet Foods List You Need to Know

Who benefits from an anti-inflammatory diet?

The short answer is everyone.

Inflammation is at the root cause of virtually every chronic disease including arthritis, colitis, Chron’s, asthma, and even heart disease and cancer. However, following an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is not just about preventing some future disease, it is about feeling your best now.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet does not have to be overly complicated or break the bank. You do not need to purchase a long list of supplements, or specialty foods.

In this post, we’ll cover what inflammation is, and share a complete anti-inflammatory diet foods list you may already have at home.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the first sign of healing.

It is a natural response of the body when some form of repair is required. Signs of inflammation include:  pain, swelling, redness and heat. Inflammation is not necessarily bad.

If you catch a cold or flu, you may get a fever, your sinuses may swell causing nasal congestion and your throat may hurt. These are all signs that your body is fighting the virus. Once the virus is gone, these symptoms pass. Similarly, if you get a sprained ankle, there is pain, swelling and redness, which subside with an ice pack and rest.

However, many are faced with chronic inflammation. Meaning pain, swelling, bloating that have no apparent cause and do not go away.

Chronic inflammation may present itself as migraines, post-nasal drip, joint pain or digestive disturbances and bloating. It is essentially a healing switch that has not been shut off.

What is an Anti-inflammatory Diet?

There are many possible causes of chronic inflammation, including environmental factors and stress. However, a major contributor to chronic inflammation is food.

Certain foods contribute to inflammation, while others help to prevent it.

An anti-inflammatory diet is simple. There is no need to restrict portions, fast, or count macronutrients. It is all about eating more of the foods that nourish and fight inflammation and avoiding the foods that cause it. It is not a diet, but a lifestyle.

Top 15 Underrated Anti-inflammatory Diet Foods List

1. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: BROCCOLI

Since kale came on the scene, broccoli has been cast aside. However, broccoli also deserves recognition for its amazing health benefits. Broccoli contains anti-inflammatory compounds known as glucosinolates, such as indole-3 carbinol and Sulforaphane. Both of these chemicals have been shown in studies to help fight cancer and increase the bodies detoxification process.

Broccoli is also rich in lutein, an antioxidant which may help to prevent age-related eyesight deterioration. It is also an excellent source of vitamin C; 100g of broccoli (about ¼ of a head) contains 89mg of vitamin C. In comparison, an orange only contains 53mg of vitamin C per 100g.

However, as vitamin C is easily damaged by heat, you will want to eat raw broccoli in order to obtain the benefits. Broccoli sprouts are also a great way to easily incorporate more broccoli in the diet. In fact, broccoli sprouts contain 30-50% more anti-inflammatory chemicals than full grown broccoli.

If you want to eat cooked broccoli, you will lose most of the vitamin C, but you will still achieve some anti-inflammatory benefits.

Here some ideas for incorporating broccoli and broccoli sprouts in your diet:

  • Broccoli slaw: finely chopped broccoli florets (peel and chop stem as well) tossed with chopped apples, walnuts, and your favorite dressing.
  • Ginger and broccoli stir fry with toasted sesame seeds over brown rice
  • Broccoli sprouts to top a salad, soup, or sandwich
  • Broccoli tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted in the oven or the air fryer (one of my kid’s favourite vegetable sides)
2. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: CAULIFLOWER

How many times have we been told, white foods are “bad?” While it is true that, in general, white bread and white rice contain little nutrients; unfortunately, cauliflower has been lumped in with the bunch.

Cauliflower, like broccoli, is a member of the cruciferous family and shares a lot of the same anti-inflammatory benefits including glucosinates. While cauliflower may not have as many nutrients as broccoli, it is still a vegetable we should incorporate more into our diet. The main appeal of cauliflower is its versatility.

So, if you or your kids are not a fan of vegetables, cauliflower is a great place to start. Its white colour means you can seamlessly add it to many dishes.

Here are some of my families’ favourite uses for cauliflower:

  • Raw frozen cauliflower in a smoothie or smoothie bowl
  • Cauliflower Mash: cauliflower cooked in a small amount of broth with olive oil and salt, then pureed
  • Cauliflower “rice”: simply pulse cauliflower in the food processor and sauté in a pan with a bit of olive oil.
  • Breaded cauliflower bites (Gluten free and vegan)
3. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: APPLES

An apple a day keeps the doctor away?  Studies have shown there is some truth to this. Apples contain anti-inflammatory compounds called flavonoids, which have been shown to prevent heart disease, cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes. The flavonoid quercetin is particularly helpful in heart disease prevention. Quercetin also can help with chronic allergies and upper respiratory illness.

Apples are also rich in a non-soluble fiber called pectin, which is particularly beneficial for digestive health. The best and easiest way to consume apples is simply pick one up (wash) and take a bite. Most of the apple’s nutrients are in the skin, so it is best to leave the apples unpeeled.

Here are some other ways to use apples:

  • Homemade apple sauce (using unpeeled apples) blended in a high-speed blender
  • Baked apples in the oven with cinnamon, maple syrup, walnuts, and currants. This will also make your whole house smell delicious.
  • Apples/apple sauce as a replacement for sweetener in smoothies and baked goods
  • Chopped apples in homemade oatmeal.
4. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: GINGER

When it comes to fighting inflammation, it is ginger’s colourful cousin turmeric that takes the spotlight. While turmeric has some amazing anti-inflammatory properties, sometimes it is easier to incorporate ginger into meals.

Ginger contains a highly potent anti-inflammatory, conveniently named gingerols. Gingerols have been shown to inhibit inflammatory cytokines. Inflammatory cytokines are messengers in the body that signal this “inflammation switch” to be turned on. Studies have found ginger to be particularly helpful for those suffering from osteoarthritis.

Here are some exciting ways to add more ginger in your diet:

  • Ginger tea: simply chop about an inch of ginger and let steep in hot water.  You can add cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, fennel, black pepper and even turmeric for a spiced chai. Add coconut milk and honey if desired. I use a French press.
  • Orange-Sesame Ginger dressing: add grated ginger to sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, fresh orange juice and coconut aminos
  • Pineapple-ginger juice: juice pineapple, apples, ginger, and turmeric together for a refreshing anti-inflammatory drink.
  • Add a knob of fresh ginger with cinnamon and nutmeg to the water when making oatmeal.
  • Use freshly grated ginger, instead of dried, in gingerbread or other baked goods.
5. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: GARLIC

An anti-inflammatory super-star, garlic has been shown to prevent almost every inflammatory disease on the planet including heart disease, diabetes, cancers, asthma and gastrointestinal issues.

This potent food helps to reduce candida yeast in the digestive tract, which is a common cause of gut inflammation. It is also particularly effective against high blood pressure. Garlic is utilized in almost every cuisine from French, Italian, Indian, Chinese etc. It gives food flavour.

Here are some tips for using more garlic:

  • Roast whole bulbs by chopping off the top and baking in the oven at 350 degrees. Then store cloves either in the fridge (for up to one week) or freezer and add roasted garlic to hummus, sauces, and homemade Cesar dressing.
  • The easiest way to peel garlic is to break the skin with side of the knife and then peel with your fingers.
  • When cooking garlic, try slicing instead of mincing as it will be less likely to burn
  • When cooking garlic in olive oil for a sauce, make sure your oil is hot enough then turn off the heat completely right before you add the garlic. Again, this will prevent burning.
  • If you are concerned about “garlic breath”, make sure your meal contains lots of parsley or cilantro, as these chlorophyll-rich foods will help to neutralize the garlic smell.
6. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: PINEAPPLE

The anti-inflammatory compound in pineapple is a proteolytic enzyme called Bromelain. When taken on an empty stomach, proteolytic enzymes work to “gobble up” inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.

This has been shown to aid in digestion, reduce the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome and help break up mucous in the respiratory system. As with most enzymes, bromelain in pineapple can become damaged by heat, so it is best eaten raw.

Here are some ways to utilize pineapple:

  • Fresh pineapple and ginger juice if you are suffering from a cough or cold
  • Fresh pineapple juice mixed with coconut water as a post-workout beverage to reduce muscle pain and prevent injury
  • Pina-Kale-Lotta Smoothie: Pineapple, Kale, coconut milk and hemp seeds as a morning smoothie. Add turmeric and ginger for extra anti-inflammatory benefits. Add half of banana or 1 tbsp maple syrup for more sweetness.
7. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: PAPAYA

Similar to pineapple, papaya also contains an anti-inflammatory proteolytic enzyme called papain. Papain provides the same benefits as bromelain, when consumed raw and on an empty stomach. Papaya is also rich in carotenoids, flavonoids and vitamin C, which also help to reduce inflammation.

Here are some ways to use papaya:

  • Mix with strawberries in a blender for a beautiful smoothie or smoothie bowl
  • Make fruit salad papaya boats
  • Chop up mango, papaya and pineapple then drizzle with lime juice for a tropical fruit salad
8. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: HEMP SEEDS

An anti-inflammatory diet must contain lots of omega three fatty acids. The omega three fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, is an important pre-cursor to an anti-inflammatory prostaglandin (hormone like substance) in the body. Hemp seeds, chia and flax seeds are very rich in alpha linolenic acid (omega 3s) as well as other healthy fats.

While flax seeds often get more recognition for their health benefits, I have found hulled hemp hearts easier to incorporate in the diet:Add to a smoothie in place of protein powder. 3 tbsp of hemp seeds is 10g of plant protein

  • Grind with nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt as a vegan parmesan
  • Sprinkle on salads for a bit of crunch
  • Add to raw bliss balls as a nut-free protein rich school snack
  • Added note: it is best to keep hemp hearts in the fridge!
9. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: BLUEBERRIES

Blueberries are rich in flavonoids, an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant which helps to prevent age- related deterioration of the eyes and brain. A study in animals demonstrated that blueberries may reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s. Other research has suggested that blueberries may reduce vascular inflammation and improve varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

In addition to these anti-inflammatory compounds, blueberries are also an excellent source of vitamin C, and both soluble and insoluble fiber including pectin.

Here are some ways to get more blueberries:

  • Blueberries spruce up any breakfast from pancakes to oatmeal to smoothies
  • Coconut yoghurt, hemp seeds, topped with blueberries makes a great snack
  • Blueberries are also delicious in desserts. Most store-bought blueberry muffins and baked good do not contain real blueberries, so you will have to bake your own.
10. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: ANCHOVIES

While there are many sources of omega three fatty acids from plant foods, it is much easier to absorb this anti-inflammatory nutrient from animal sources. Fatty fish contain DHA and EPA, which are the direct pre-cursor to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (hormone like substance) in the body. We can remember these fatty fish from the acronym SMASH – Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Herring and Sardines.

While wild-caught salmon is one of my favorite foods, here is why anchovies are underrated:

  • It is a small fish. The smaller the fish, the lower the levels of heavy metals.
  • It is easier to incorporate into the diet. Anchovy paste can be used in place of fish sauce in stir fry’s, dressings, and sauces and across many different types of cuisines. Just be cautious with the amount, as it is quite flavourful.
11. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: CELERY

Many are put off by celery because it has been deemed as “diet food.” Its light color and watery texture may lead to the belief that it does not contain very many nutrients. On the contrary, celery contains many anti-inflammatory benefits. It contains phytochemical compounds called coumarins, which have been shown to increase the activity of certain white blood cells, tone the vascular system, lower blood pressure, and reduce migraines.

A study demonstrated positive results in the use of celery extract to reduce systems related to rheumatism, which is inflammation in the joints and muscles.

Here is how to get more celery in your diet: Celery, onions, and carrots make a great base to any sauce or soup

  • Celery sticks and hummus are a delicious snack
  • “Fire Ants on a Log” – celery, cashew butter and goji berries (or other dried fruit) as an after-school snack for kids
  • Celery juice as a post-work out electrolyte replacer (add pineapple juice for extra anti-inflammatory benefits).
12. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: TOMATOES

Tomatoes are a staple in many diets and used across the world. They are often associated with some of our favorite comfort foods such as pizza, lasagna, or ketchup. Due to this, we do not always think of tomatoes as healthy. However, they are an anti-inflammatory food mainly due to their lycopene content.

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant which has been shown to be protective against many different forms of cancers, particularly prostate cancer. It can also lower the risk of heart disease and cataracts. Fully ripened cooked tomatoes have the highest lycopene content. Although consuming tomatoes raw (particularly when they are in season) will provide you with the added benefit of vitamin C and B vitamins.

Here are some ideas for getting more tomatoes in your diet:

  • Homemade tomato sauce – it is well worth the time and effort. Once you try it, you will never want to go back to jarred sauce again.
  • Organic cherry tomatoes in a salad or as a snack
  • Roasted cherry tomatoes, with basil and garlic as a quick and easy pasta sauce
  • Fresh salsa – chopped tomato, onion, and cilantro with a bit of lime juice and a dash of cumin and salt.
13. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: CINNAMON

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known, once even considered more precious than gold. It has been used throughout ancient history as medicine, particularly in Egypt and China. Modern scientific studies have shown that cinnamon can reduce fasting glucose in patients with diabetes. It aids in digestion and contains antibiotic properties.

We all enjoy some cinnamon sprinkled on oatmeal in the morning, but here are some ways to use cinnamon that you may not have considered:

  • Add a pinch of cinnamon when preparing curries or Mexican cuisine
  • Add a cinnamon stick or bark to the water when cooking basmati rice
  • A dash of cinnamon is a great addition to almost any hot beverage
  • Cinnamon tea with ginger when you feel a cold coming on
  • Apple slices with almond butter and cinnamon for a delicious snack
14. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: CHERRIES

Like many of our other anti-inflammatory fruits. cherries are rich in flavonoids. The flavonoids in cherries help to inhibit the body’s inflammatory response by blocking certain enzymes. Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs work in a similar way. Cherries and cherry juice have also shown to be quite effective against gout (a type of arthritis.)  It can even prevent a gout attack in some cases.

As the cherry season is quite brief, it is a good idea to buy in larger quantities and freeze for up to a year. Organic cherry juice or organic dried cherries will also do in a pinch.

Here are some fun ways to use cherries:

  • Homemade cherry sauce over a vegan cashew cheesecake – check out our E-book for recipe
  • Dried cherries in granola
  • Cherries with a sprinkle of coconut sugar and a dash of cinnamon as a quick dessert or snack
  • Fresh or cooked cherries with melted dark chocolate over banana ice cream for a healthier version of a sundae. Check out our E-book for banana ice cream recipe.
  • Extra tip: Invest in a cherry pitter especially if you have young kids who love cherries.
15. Anti-inflammatory Diet Food: SWEET POTATO

A sweet potato is neither a potato nor a yam. It is actually its own vegetable, belonging to the Convolvulaceae family, with over four hundred different varieties. They come in a variety of shapes and colours including white, orange and even purple. Regardless of its appearance, sweet potatoes contain powerful antioxidants.

Unlike other starchy vegetables, sweet potatoes help to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels. Keeping blood sugars even is a key part of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

Here is how to get more sweet potato in your diet:

  • Sweet potato brownies
  • Sweet potato fries, with olive and salt baked in the oven or air fryer
  • Replace white potato with the more nutritious sweet potato in recipes such as shepherd’s pie
  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Bringing it All Together (and Honorable Mentions)

You may think that salmon, avocadoes, kale, turmeric, and flax seeds are missing from this and while they are important anti-inflammatory foods, they are more well-known.

While we should continue to enjoy these foods, we also want to ensure variety. This sometimes means going back to basics. An anti-inflammatory diet food regime is not a fad or a temporary fix.

In fact, it is not new at all, but rather a return to the old ways, which is eating food in its whole and natural form.

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Certified Nutritionist Kirsten Colella is always creating healthy meals full of anti-oxidants and omega 3s for her family. She shares her delicious recipes, colourful food pics and health-promoting food ideas on our Instagram page @essentialbalanceholistic

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