Chronic, systemic inflammation has been linked to a number of diseases, including obesity, insulin resistance, depression, and cardiovascular disease. This type of inflammation (as opposed to acute inflammation, like the swelling you get after a mosquito bite) is often due to long-term stress on the body caused by smoking, obesity, an unhealthy diet, or a sedentary lifestyle. Current research suggests that a diet of whole, unprocessed foods can help reduce inflammation.
Bear in mind no single food or nutrient is a “miracle food.” Healthy living is about a holistic approach involving diet and lifestyle habits. So if you’re ready to go all in on eating better, exercising more, and getting quality sleep, then read on. Below are seven foods and nutrients that can be sustainable and beneficial for long-term health.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These essential fatty acids, found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines—as well as in smaller amounts in plant sources like flaxseed, walnuts, and algae—inhibit inflammatory pathways that contribute to chronic inflammation. While omega-6 fatty acids also play a necessary role in growth and development, they are pro-in ammatory—and it is this ratio of high omega-6s to low omega- 3s that may contribute to inflammation and the high prevalence of chronic disease today.
Choose at least two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish per week. The omega-3s in fish have also been found to improve blood vessel function and lower blood triglycerides–and they may even boost cognitive health. Vegetarians and vegans can get their omega-3s from an algae-based supplement as well as seaweed, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
Vitamin E, which exists as multiple chemical structures, may help to reduce inflammation by scavenging free radicals and limiting lipid oxidation. Several studies have shown that vitamin E inhibits COX- 2, an enzyme involved in inflammatory pathways; however, more studies should investigate the relationship between dietary intake of vitamin E and chronic inflammation.
Vitamin E is found abundantly in fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds. Sprinkle sunflower seeds or almonds over your salad for an extra boost!
Flavonoids are a class of organic compounds found in plants. As micronutrients, many have been found to lower inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokine production, blocking pro-inflammatory pathways, and counteracting the formation of damaging free radicals.
There are over 4,000 different flavonoids. While many are found in fruits and vegetables, certain ones are found in tea, red wine, spices, herbs, and dark chocolate. Choose a variety of these foods to get the most bang for your buck.
Known as the “good bacteria” that naturally reside in our gut, probiotics limit pro-inflammatory cytokines and modulate communication between the immune system in the brain. Specific strains of bacteria are associated with different health benefits, which is why it’s important to get a wide variety of them.
Probiotics are naturally found in yogurt, kefir, miso, fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut, kombucha, and tempeh (among others). Choose a wide variety of these foods, as each contains a different combination of strains. If you’re looking for additional probiotic support from supplements, choose one with multiple strains that have the strongest research behind them right now, like bifidobacterium and lactobacili.