As someone with lactose intolerance and celiac disease, I am well-versed in the art of dealing with a sensitive stomach. But when I woke up with a pain in my back last May that wouldn’t go away, I knew it was more than my run-of-the-mill stomach problems and I went to the ER. Six hours and many tests later, the doctors told me the culprit of my pain was likely inflammation in my GI tract, and that I should change my diet and see a gastroenterologist. Let’s just say, between the months-long waiting list just to get seen and my aversion to “dieting,” the last eight months have been filled with stress, pain, and tears. Which is why I’ve decided to transform my diet and focus on eating foods that combat chronic inflammation. Spoiler: Thanks to these changes, my stomach has never felt better, and (bonus!) I’ve seen major improvement in my skin and eczema.
A brief disclosure: The right anti-inflammatory diet will vary from person to person, and this list isn’t a substitute for medical or professional advice. If you think you’re struggling with inflammation, it’s vital that you consult a healthcare professional. Likewise, we can all benefit from properly nourishing ourselves, and the foods below are jam-packed with healthy, body-loving ingredients. Keep reading to learn the top seven anti-inflammatory foods that my doctor recommended I add to my diet to combat chronic inflammation, and how I’m incorporating them into my life.
The Mediterranean Diet has long been regarded as the healthiest diet there is, and it’s also one of the best for reducing inflammation. “The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to be anti-inflammatory because of its focus on whole foods and omega-3 fatty acids,” Julia Zumpano, a registered and licensed dietitian, told the Cleveland Clinic. This claim is backed up by science: Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids dampen the reaction of macrophages, which are immune cells that live in the tissue of the organs and play a key role in triggering inflammation.
A good source of omega-3 fatty acids is fatty fish, and salmon is one of the best sources out there. I love all seafood, but as far as fish is concerned, salmon is one of my faves and go-to foods these days. It pairs well with anything: in a BLT for lunch, tossed with a pasta, on top of a salad, with rice and avocado or oven roasted potatoes, and so on. Plus, eating salmon regularly—regardless of whether or not you’re struggling with chronic inflammation—can help boost heart and eye health, aid in digestion, and support your immune system and fertility.
2. Olive oil
I’m swapping out my dairy-free and vegan buttery spreads in favor of olive oil because it is packed with anti-inflammatory properties. There’s a plethora of healthy monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, but the most notable one is oleic acid. Research has shown that oleic acid can suppress inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin (IL)-6. When these markers are triggered, they essentially tell your body to go into overdrive, and thus inflammation is created. Olive oil also contains oleocanthal, a powerful antioxidant that has been found to diminish or lessen inflammation.
Nuts are one of the healthiest snacks out there, but I’m a sweets girl through and through, which is probably why I’ve been sleeping on everyone’s favorite salty snack. Of course, that’s all about to change: I’m filling my pantry with walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, and cashews. According to The Mayo Clinic, nuts are a great source of protein and are rich in substances that promote a healthy heart and battle inflammation. These substances include monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber—another ingredient proven to help lower inflammation. So while I will occasionally miss my sweet treats, my gut and digestive system will thank me for reaching for nuts when I get that pang of hunger in between meals.
The internet’s favorite fruit can in fact also help lower inflammation. Avocados are loaded with nutrients as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds. These substances have been found to have major antioxidant, neuroprotective, and cardioprotective benefits. Additionally, an article published on Healthline speculates that regularly eating avocados may help improve the body’s natural antioxidant defenses and better combat inflammation. Whether you spread it on toast, DIY avocado pudding, or use it to enhance a meal, rest assured we can all enjoy avocados, knowing they taste good and are good for us too.
I tend to only reach for berries in the warm weather, but it’s time to break that habit and enjoy the health benefits of these fruits all year long. According to a study published on PubMed, berries are loaded with polyphenol compounds that have shown natural anti-inflammatory effects in humans. Additionally, berries that have distinctive colors of red, blue, and purple contain anthocyanins, a powerful polyphenol compound and natural antioxidant. There are tons of berries out there that can fight inflammation, but the ones I’m leaning on include strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and grapes. I’m keeping them stocked in my fridge so I can reach for them whenever I need a snack or am in the mood for a homemade smoothie.
Incorporating greens into your diet is essential, but not all greens are created equal. When it comes to reducing inflammation, dark leafy greens like spinach are the right move. Spinach is rich in beta-carotene—a powerful antioxidant known for its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to make skin glow. “Studies have linked higher amounts of beta-carotene in the blood with lower levels of a marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP),” Kim Yawitz, a registered dietician and gym owner, explained to Eat This Not That. The good news about spinach is that it pairs nicely with all kinds of food so it’s easy to incorporate into your diet. I love putting raw spinach in sandwiches or salads or sautéing it with banana peppers in olive oil and using it as a side dish for dinner or as an addition to pasta.
7. Raw garlic
Garlic is more than just a flavorful addition to your pasta dishes, it’s also a proven anti-inflammatory food. Research has shown that sulfur compounds in garlic have the ability to reduce inflammatory markers, better protect the immune system, and boost antioxidants. Furthermore, garlic also contains quercetin—a member of the flavonoid family and powerful antioxidant—that can naturally help the body battle inflammation.
I’ll admit that learning all of this was music to my Italian ears—I already put garlic in everything! But this year, I’m focusing on eating more raw garlic to get it in its most natural form and absorb all the benefits it has to offer. I’m going to add raw garlic to salads, pair it with my favorite dairy-free cheese, put it in tuna or chicken salad, and so on. Don’t sleep on raw garlic, people—it’s actually quite delicious and the perfect complement to any meal.