Anti-inflammatory foods can help boost your body’s ability to combat inflammation and the diseases it can cause.
No matter how many marathons you run, how many dietary supplements you take daily or how often you see your chiropractor, inflammation
is unavoidable. Trauma, infections, injury and toxins trigger inflammation to defend your body’s health. While inflammation sounds like the ultimate killjoy, its job is to fight these foreign invaders so your body can heal and get healthy again, per StatPearls.
Diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s can stem from chronic inflammation
when inflammation worsens and lasts for months or even years. Aging, alcohol intake and diets high in saturated fats can amplify inflammation, per a 2022 review published in Food Research International
. The bright side? You can equip your body to combat inflammation and lessen your chances of developing chronic diseases. Even though there’s no magical cure-all food, eating a diet patterned after the Mediterranean diet
can be a first-line approach to reducing inflammation. The Med diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats from nuts, olive oil and fish.
Here are seven anti-inflammatory fats you should add to your nutrition arsenal to give your body a fighting chance to crush inflammation’s harmful effects.
Mackerel is an oily fish loaded with two omega-3 fats,
EPA and DHA. A 2021 study published in the journal Molecules
took a close look at the effects of diets rich in oily fish and their impact on inflammation in people at risk for cardiometabolic diseases. Researchers found that diets rich in oily fish effectively lowered plasma C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that can serve as a telltale sign of future cardiovascular problems. Moist, flaky and slightly salty describe mackerel’s distinct flavor and texture. According to the USDA
, just one 3-ounce piece delivers significant amounts of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A and choline. Holy mackerel! There’s no shortage of nutrition with this fatty fish. You can top your lunch salad with flaked wild-caught mackerel from a can or grill some mackerel for dinner to keep your health at the forefront.
2. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Over the years, the good news of extra-virgin olive oil’s benefits
and versatility has almost everyone drizzling it on anything from roasted root vegetables to freshly popped popcorn
. As a cornerstone of the Med diet and a key player in its inflammatory benefits, olive oil has long been studied in heart-health research. Compared to other plant oils, EVOO is the richest in
monounsaturated fats, which lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association
. Moreover, a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology
concluded that dosing yourself with more than a
half-tablespoon of olive oil daily could lessen the risk of heart disease. Olive oil contains a phenolic compound called oleocanthal which targets inflammation and other diseases, per a 2018 article published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences
. Since EVOO has far more anti-inflammatory benefits than regular olive oil,
consider keeping EVOO in your kitchen stash.
3. Dark Chocolate
While dark chocolate
is known for its unique bitter flavor, what it lacks in sweetness, it makes up for in antioxidants. Antioxidants, like the flavonols in chocolate, are known inflammatory fighters. That said, dark chocolate is also a source of anti-inflammatory fats. Oleic acid, the fatty acid in olive oil, makes up 33%
of dark chocolate. According to a 2020 review published in the Journal of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology,
oleic acid has improved inflammation in multiple body organs, including the eyes, skin, lungs, digestive tract and liver. It was shown to reduce pro-inflammatory markers and activate the immune system. If you need any further motivation to get your chocolate fix, we have you covered. Just make sure it’s at least 70% dark chocolate; the greater the percentage, the better the anti-inflammatory power. Also, keep in mind that dark chocolate can contain heavy metals
, so make sure to choose the best options and moderate your consumption.
What’s creamy, green on the inside and chock-full of nutrients
like potassium and folate? Avocados! And they have gained massive popularity over the last decade (hello, avocado toast
). Like olive oil, this superfood fruit is high in monounsaturated fats, helping to keep the heart happy and healthy. While eating high amounts of saturated fatty acids can make you prone to inflammation, monounsaturated fats show the opposite effect. According to a 2021 review published in the Journal of Molecular Science,
people who follow the Med diet, which is high in MUFAs, have lower levels of inflammation than those following a typical Western diet.
Furthermore, avocados provide vitamin E, which functions as an antioxidant and can help reduce inflammation, per a 2019 article published in IUBMB Life.
Avocados also provide another source of oleic acid, which has shown promise in helping prevent disease. A 2022 animal study published in Inflammopharmacology
reported that adding 20% avocado to the diets of rats with intestinal inflammation showed anti-inflammatory effects through antioxidant activity and better immune function.
According to the Arthritis Foundation
, you’ll get 140% of the Daily Value of brain-boosting omega-3 fats in just 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed. Flaxseed is known for its rich fiber content, as well as anti-inflammatory plant lignans (which may fight cancer). A 2020 review published in Cytokine
revealed that flaxseed supplementation improved inflammatory markers after examining 40 studies of 2,520 participants. Similar results were seen in a 2019 review published in Advances in Nutrition
, where flaxseed supplementation significantly lowered CRP. If you’re up for enhancing your immunity with anti-inflammatory flaxseeds
, make sure they’re
ground up so your body can absorb their benefits. Flaxseed oil is also an excellent choice, and the oil brims with even more significant amounts of ALA than ground flaxseed.
A staple food for many vegetarians and vegans, edamame are immature soybeans that make a tasty, filling snack with a pinch of salt. While edamame is often touted for its protein and fiber, the bright green legume also contains MUFAs, polyunsaturated fats and isoflavones—a perfect storm for warding off inflammation. One cup of edamame offers significant nutrients, including choline, folate, vitamin A, calcium, lutein and zeaxanthin, for healthy vision. A 2020 review published in Foods
found that soybean and soy products have protective benefits to gut health in rodents with inflammatory bowel disease. Try tossing edamame into your salads to add texture, protein and color, like in this Greek Salad with Edamame
Health experts and researchers agree that eating tree nuts can help thwart inflammation and preserve cholesterol levels and heart health.
As soon as you bite into a walnut, you’ll note its oily texture, which is thanks to its massive levels of good-for-you fats like omega-3s. Walnuts possess an impressive set of nutrients
like ALA and linoleic acid, fiber, plant sterols, phosphorus and amino acids. Your body relies on getting ALA through the diet, and it’s crucial for making DHA and EPA to keep your body a well-oiled disease-fighting machine, per a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Pediatrics
. Load up on omega-3s with our Walnut-Rosemary Crusted Salmon
The Bottom Line
While inflammation is inevitable, you can soften its blow by stocking up on anti-inflammatory fat sources. Adding these foods to your diet may curb your intake of pro-inflammatory foods like saturated fats (think red meat), and can help give your body what it needs to counteract chronic inflammation, the root of many diseases. These seven foods pack powerful healthy fats and disease-fighting antioxidants to quell inflammation and help keep you healthy.