Inflammation is inevitable. It's the body's natural way of defending against foreign invaders and helping us heal from injury, which is good! But it's when it goes into overdrive and turns into chronic inflammation, that things can get hairy. "Chronic inflammation can interrupt and damage body cells. When body cells don't function properly due to a repeated stressor, they are unable to protect against disease or can initiate changes in the body which can contribute to the development of a disease," explains Andrea Conner, M.P.H., RDN, of Medical Nutrition Therapy in Scottsdale, Arizona. Some diseases associated with chronic inflammation include cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.
Read More: Is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Right for You?
The good news is that a healthy diet and lifestyle can help combat chronic inflammation and lower your risk of disease. "Lowering inflammation in the body means eating a plant-forward diet and avoiding highly processed foods that contain trans fats or a lot of added sugar," says Toronto-based dietitian Pamela Fergusson, RD, Ph.D. This way of eating means you'll be getting in those good-for-you nutrients that work together to quell inflammation while eliminating the foods that tend to trigger it. And while there isn't any one food in particular that will cure all your ills (research shows that the Mediterranean diet as a whole is the most effective in combating inflammation), there are certain foods that pack a powerful punch of antioxidants to help you get started. Add more of these healthy foods into your routine, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night, stay active and reduce stress where you can to fight inflammation.
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Pictured recipe: Anti-Inflammatory Cherry-Spinach Smoothie
Cherries pack a wallop of antioxidants that help temper inflammation, including anthocyanins (an antioxidant found in red and purple fruits and vegetables) and vitamin C (well-known for its immune-boosting properties). In a review of 29 studies looking at both tart and sweet cherries, 80% of the trials showed that cherry consumption decreased markers for oxidative stress and 70% showed that it lowered inflammation. In the research, people were advised to consume whole fruit, juice or powder in an amount equivalent to 45 to 270 fresh cherries per day, but you don't need to eat that much every day to reap some benefits. Incorporate more cherries into your diet with smoothies, as a yogurt or oatmeal topper, in sorbet or simply on their own for an easy, naturally sweet snack.
See More: Healthy Cherry Recipes
Pictured recipe: Salmon-Stuffed Avocados
Packed with healthy monounsaturated fatty acids that help to keep our hearts happy, avocados are also an excellent source of fiber—one half offers nearly 7 grams of the 25 and 38 grams of recommended fiber per day (for women and men, respectively). "One of the simplest things you can do to eat in an anti-inflammatory way and prevent disease is eat a diet high in fiber," says Fergusson. For one, fiber makes losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight easier, which in turn helps ward off weight-related inflammation. Additionally, fiber is what keeps our gut microbiome happy and healthy, which we now know plays a critical role in chronic disease development.
Pictured recipe: Beet Salad with Feta & Dill
Just like cherries contain anthocyanins, beets contain different phytochemicals, called betalains, that act similarly in the body to fight off inflammation. Whether you add beets to your juicer or roast them to use as a salad topper, you'll be getting a healthy dose of helpful nutrients. See all the tasty ways you can enjoy beets with these healthy recipes.
Related: Surprising Health Benefits of Beets
Pictured recipe: Simple Grilled Salmon & Vegetables
Eating wild-caught salmon or other fatty fish, like sardines and mackerel, a few times a week delivers healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to turn off pro-inflammatory genes in your body and rev cells' ability to scrub themselves of harmful components. Not feeling fish? Eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, ground flaxseed or walnuts to get plant-based omega-3 fats.
Pictured recipe: Chicken & Vegetable Penne with Parsley-Walnut Pesto
From almonds to cashews, pistachios and walnuts, you can choose your favorite (or mix it up) when designing an anti-inflammatory diet. In a study on more than 5,000 adults, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who said they ate nuts five or more times per week had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers like C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 in their blood. Add nuts into your pesto, sprinkle them over a salad or turn them into energy bites—or just enjoy them on their own.
Pictured recipe: Spinach Salad with Raspberries, Goat Cheese & Hazelnuts
A smart goal to up your nutrition game: a salad a day. Aim for dark leafy greens, like kale, spinach and collards, all of which pack nutrients, most notably lutein, folate and vitamin K, that slow the simmer of inflammation. It's for that reason that a study in the journal Neurology in 2018 found that eating just one serving per day of greens was associated with slower cognitive decline in aging adults. Research shows that every green offers unique anti-inflammatory properties, so mix things up and get a variety in your diet for the biggest range of benefits.
Pictured recipe: Crazy Herb Spice Mix
There's been a lot of talk about specifically loading up on turmeric. However, research isn't conclusive when it comes to the benefits of eating it as a spice (rather than in larger amounts in proprietary supplements). For that reason, it's best to focus on including a range of dried herbs and spices in your diet, rather than relying on the power of one to do all the work. Keep turmeric, but Conner also likes cloves, peppermint, oregano, ginger, parsley, cinnamon, pepper and garlic. "Find opportunities to add spices and get into the habit of using them daily," she says. Ways to add them into meals naturally include stirring a teaspoon of cinnamon into your oatmeal, topping cherry tomatoes with olive oil and oregano, and adding turmeric to water to cook quinoa.