Inflammation is a necessary part of the immune system, and its purpose is to make an inhospitable environment for invading microbes and other irritants. The redness, pain, heat, and swelling that you experience when you have a cut are the classic signs of inflammation. Chronic inflammation that persists beyond wound healing can be a systemic problem and causes many health issues, including arthritis.
Eating the right foods can help reduce chronic inflammation and relieve the symptoms of arthritis. “Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. With that bit of good news, here are some of the best foods to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation.
Fatty fish that come from cold waters — such as salmon, mackerel, and herring — are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These fats interfere with the function of our immune cells that release the inflammatory chemicals necessary in the immune response, which reduces inflammation. Eating the whole food is thought to be more beneficial than taking supplements because you are consuming other nutrients present in the fish.
Nutritionists recommend eating a 3- to 6-ounce serving of fatty fish two to four times a week to help reduce chronic inflammation.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
EVOO is rich in mono and polyunsaturated oils, such as oleocanthal, which has anti-inflammatory properties similar to those of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). EVOO comes from the first cold-pressing of the olives, and has the highest concentration of the beneficial oils.
Heating will destroy the nutritional benefits of EVOO, so to get the most protection, nutritionists recommend using it in salad dressings or drizzled over cooked food.
Cherries, especially the tart variety, have high levels of anthocyanins, which are the pigments that give them their bright red color. Research suggests that anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory properties, and one such study showed that people who consume 16 ounces of tart cherry juice daily for six weeks had a marked decrease in inflammation markers in their blood.
Without more definitive studies, nutritionists do not have a recommendation for how much to consume to see benefits, but they suggest that a daily handful of the fruit or a glass of juice will offer protection.
Nuts of all varieties have health benefits, such as high levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, antioxidants, and minerals. Nuts also have high levels of magnesium, L-arginine, and vitamin E, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Walnuts and almonds are two nut superstars associated with lower levels of inflammation markers.
Nuts are high in calories, so nutritionists recommend an ounce of nuts a day to get the protective benefits without putting on added pounds.
A Balanced Diet Is Best
Although the foods we’ve discussed here stand out as anti-inflammatory options, nutritionists say that eating a varied diet that’s full of whole, unprocessed foods — including fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish — will go a long way toward reducing inflammation and the symptoms of arthritis.