Inflammation-Fighting Foods, Ranked From Worst to Best
Check out this list to see where your favorite foods rank in terms of helping or hurting your inflammatory response.
Inflammation is a natural part of our body's immune system. It helps us heal from injury and fight foreign bacteria. But too much inflammation can be harmful to our bodies; it can prevent us from losing weight and even lead to chronic diseases if left unchecked. A recent study from The Journal of Nutrition found certain foods can help fight inflammation, or worsen it.
In the study, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham created a scoring tool for a food's potential inflammation risk. It's based on a number of factors, including the food itself along with lifestyle factors relating to the participants, such as smoking status, physical activity, alcohol intake and body mass index. Researchers examined each food's biological makeup, its weight and micronutrient levels before calculating the inflammation score. Based on their study, foods with a higher score indicate more proinflammatory properties while a negative score indicates a lower inflammatory risk.
One of the best things you can do to help fight inflammation is eat a Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and plant-proteins. It also limits lots of added sugar and refined grains. In addition to that, here are some of the best and worst foods to eat for inflammation.
The Worst Foods for Inflammation
1. Refined Grains
Refined grains (including processed potato products like potato chips) came in as the worst food group for inflammation with a score of 0.72. According to the study, these foods may contain emulsifiers that aren't easily processed by your gut, which can lead to inflammation. Refined grains also don't have the fiber that whole grains have, which means you digest them more quickly.
Try swapping refined grains like white bread, pasta and cereal for healthier, whole-grain versions. Sadly, chips and fries also weren't great for inflammation— but you can still indulge in healthier versions of your favorite potato dishes with our Baked Parmesan Zucchini Curly Fries or Brussels Sprout Chips.
Related: 4 Whole Grains You Should Be Eating
2. Processed Meats
Processed meats scored a 0.68 and have omega-6 fatty acids and nitrates, which can lead to inflammation in the body. Cold cuts like salami and bologna have other negative health benefits and could even increase your risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease. That doesn't mean you can't ever have a hot dog again, but try not to eat processed meats every day.
3. Added Sugars
Sugar-sweetened beverages and foods that contain a lot of added sugar, like candy, are low in nutrients and were associated with increased inflammation in the body. Added sugar scored a 0.56 on the scale. Natural sugars, found in fruit and dairy, also come packed with other nutrients and aren't the same (learn how to identify natural sugars and added sugars on nutrition labels).
Related: 10 Ways to Reduce Inflammation
This is a tricky category, but researchers grouped mayonnaise and margarine together with other fats like butter and vegetable oil and gave them a score of 0.31. Their hypothesis is that these fats are high in omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fats. Saturated fats can raise LDL or "bad" cholesterol, lead to heart disease and trigger inflammation in the body. You shouldn't be eating a fat-free diet though. Instead, choose healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil and fatty fish, like salmon.
The Best Inflammation-Fighting Foods
Tomatoes top the list as the best food for fighting inflammation with a score of -0.78. Tomatoes contain vitamin C and powerful antioxidants, like lycopene, which has been shown to reduce inflammation. Check out these tomato-packed recipes for inspiration on how to incorporate more of this red fruit (or is it a vegetable?) into your diet.
2. Apples and Berries
Apples and berries—including strawberries, blueberries and raspberries—are great for fighting inflammation and got a score of -0.65. They contain flavonoids, a type of powerful antioxidant that helps suppress inflammation in the body.
Related: Best Antioxidant-Rich Foods
3. Yellow or Orange Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables like peaches, cantaloupes, carrots and yellow squash are packed with vitamin A and given a score of -0.57. These fruits and vegetables are also rich in carotenoids (that's where they get their beautiful color), which are antioxidants that help reduce inflammation in the body.
Coming in with a score of -0.45 are chicken and turkey, both with and without skin. They're low in saturated fats and also contain L-arginine, which can improve blood flow and heart health.Try these healthy and delicious turkey and chicken recipes.
Nuts got a score of -0.44. They're full of healthy fats (as well as fiber and protein). Nuts also deliver vitamins and minerals, like vitamin E and magnesium. Learn more about why nuts are so good for you.