The 10 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Weight Loss
Read More: What Exactly Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
Gaining weight, or the inability to shed excess pounds, is often a red flag that there is underlying low-grade inflammation in the body. And on the flip side, even the most disciplined eating and exercise habits are often ineffective when inflammation is present. While the dynamic between weight and inflammation is complex, research points toward reducing inflammation as being as integral to weight loss as diet and activity. So what are the best double-duty foods, the ones that reduce inflammation while also supporting weight loss? Here the 10 top anti-inflammatory foods for weight loss.
Recipe pictured above: Watermelon, Orange & Cucumber Salad with Castelvetrano Olive Vinaigrette
Cauliflower or broccoli "rice"
Recipe pictured above: Cauliflower Chicken Fried "Rice"
While whole grains like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta have plenty of benefits when it comes to weight loss (namely lots of good-for-you fiber), swapping out carb-rich foods like pasta and rice for riced cauliflower or broccoli can help cut calories and carbs and to also help soothe inflammation. When finely chopped, these two low-carb veggies provide a grain-like base for creamy or saucy dishes, or can be sautéed with other veggies to great a low-carb stir-fry. And because cauliflower and broccoli are part of the cruciferous vegetable family, they contain various plant compounds that may have powerful anti-inflammatory effects when eaten regularly.
Berries like strawberries and blueberries are some of the best fruit picks when trying to lose weight, since they're low in calories and high in filling fiber. In fact, 1 cup of sliced strawberries has just 55 calories and contains 3 grams of fiber. This fiber helps provide a feeling of fullness, and it also means berries tend to have a lower glycemic response compared to many other fruits, which is good for blood sugar management, cravings and inflammation. Another perk is their hefty dose of antioxidants and anthocyanins, which help tamp down existing and future inflammation.
Eating a combination of fiber, protein and healthy fat at meals and snacks is a game-changer when dieting because of the satiety this combo provides. And tree nuts like walnuts, almonds and pistachios have an ideal balance of all three nutrients, including some anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. While the fat and calories in nuts can add up quickly, research suggests that individuals who eat around 1 ounce of nuts (about 1/4 cup) on most days are more likely to be at healthy body weights and less likely to gain weight, meaning nuts can be a great snack, especially if you're trying to lose weight. The trick is staying on top of portion size.
Recipe pictured above: Ricotta & Yogurt Parfait
Good bacteria play a role in the digestion of fiber and fatty acids. Because of this, research suggests that one's gut health may impact how efficient a body is at shedding excess weight. In addition, having a diverse supply of good microbes is also helpful when it comes to reducing inflammatory compounds that can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain. This means strengthening the gut's microbe barrier is key for overall health and body weight. One of the best ways to do this is to consume yogurt with live bacteria cultures on a regular basis. Choose Greek yogurt for higher levels of protein (and opt for plain instead of flavored to avoid added sugars). Then add fresh fruit or nuts for a little sweetness and crunch.
Read More: Can Probiotics Help You Lose Weight?
High-fiber beans and legumes like black beans, navy beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils are good sources of both protein and slow-digesting carbohydrates. This combination offers short-term benefits by leaving the stomach full and preventing sudden glucose spikes, and also appears to have long-term weight loss benefits. A 2016 study found that individuals who ate beans and legumes most days lost weight at a slightly higher rate than dieters who didn't consume beans regularly. And from an anti-inflammatory standpoint, beans and legumes are ideal sources of complex carbs, especially when eaten in place of refined grains and processed starches.
See More: Healthy Recipes Made with Beans
Dieting shouldn't leave you feeling empty, and loading up on non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens is a good way to add more food to your plate without adding many calories or carbs. Aim to get in the habit of adding a handful or two of leafy greens like baby spinach, kale, arugula, lettuces and other greens to your plate at most meals, whether it's in the form of a salad or mixed in with other ingredients. A 2-cup serving of a green like baby spinach has just 27 calories and provides 3 grams of fiber, 3 mg of iron and almost half of your daily needs for vitamins A and C. And in terms of long-term health, leafy greens show some of the strongest research-backed health potential when it comes to reducing inflammation.
Recipe pictured above: Salmon-Stuffed Avocados
Fat is an integral nutrient needed in the diet, but figuring out how to incorporate oils and healthy fats when dieting can be a little daunting. If you're in this boat, consider the avocado. Not only is this creamy fruit full of monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber and carotenoids which collectively work together to soothe inflammation in the body, but research suggests that people who eat avocado daily tend to have lower body weights and lower BMIs. These statistically significant results were in comparison to those who rarely ate avocado or had much less frequent consumption.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Piggy-backing on the avocado, another good choice for getting those healthy fats in is to choose extra-virgin olive oil. All fats and oils have approximately the same calories and fat per tablespoon but olive oil is a good source of those healthier unsaturated fats and contains a unique compound called oleocanthal which has anti-inflammatory effects in the body. All olive oils contain oleocanthal, but less-refined types like extra-virgin have higher levels, so make that your go-to for salad dressings and when cooking at lower heats.
Related: 10 Ways to Reduce Inflammation
Garlic and spices
It's easy to stick with healthy eating when you love the food you're eating, so don't be afraid to pump up flavor, as well as try new flavors. By incorporating garlic and spices like turmeric, rosemary, cinnamon, cumin and ginger you'll prevent meal fatigue, as well as calm inflammation. While fragrant spices and pungent garlic may seem like they have the potential to aggravate inflammation, research suggests they actually do the opposite. In fact, their fragrant compounds have been used medically in other cultures for years for anti-inflammatory effects.
Recipe pictured above: Caramelized Oranges with Cardamom Syrup
Juicy citrus fruit like oranges, tangerines and grapefruit are packed with soluble fiber, making them a good choice when dieting for satiety and their low glycemic impact. Choosing fiber-rich foods like citrus may also offer some additional weight-loss perks when it comes to sleep. Research suggests that eating a low-fiber diet is associated with decreased sleep quality. This is important because inadequate sleep triggers changes that can decrease insulin sensitivity and increase appetite and risk of weight gain. So getting a serving of citrus each day is a low-calorie way to get more fiber, as well as load up on the vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that prevents inflammation.
Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., R.D., is author of the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for her ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award. You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.