The 7 Best Fruits for Fighting Inflammation
You're not alone if you've questioned the role of fruit in a healthy diet. The popularity of low-carb and keto diets, along with consumers becoming more sugar-aware, has left many to feel that it may be best to limit (or worse, avoid) fruit intake altogether. But fruit can—and should—be part of a healthy diet, since it offers anti-inflammatory benefits you really don't want to miss out on.
Related: Healthy Anti-Inflammatory Recipes
While fruits do contain sugar, it's a natural form of sugar (not added sugar, which is linked to obesity and chronic health issues), and it boasts good-for-you fiber, antioxidants and bioactive compounds. Sure, you can go overboard (even with natural sugar), but if you're sticking to two or three servings of fruit a day you're fine. And if you want the biggest bang for your buck, choose some of these top anti-inflammatory fruits when possible.
Recipe pictured above: Anti-Inflammatory Cherry-Spinach Smoothie
Research suggests that both sweet and tart cherry varieties lower inflammatory blood proteins to offer pain relief effects comparable to ibuprofen. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation suggests eating cherries as a way to ease joint issues related to arthritis and gout.
Anthocyanins and other polyphenolic compounds in cherries appear to reduce inflammation by stopping potential free radicals from damaging cells, but they may also help one get more restful sleep—a lifestyle factor that's key in preventing and easing inflammation. Cherries appear to do this by increasing melatonin levels and stopping inflammatory cytokines that disrupt sleep.
When it comes to vitamin C, oranges tend to get all the credit, yet the reality is that one cup of strawberries provides 100% of daily vitamin C—more than a medium orange! While the vitamin provides a host of benefits, getting adequate vitamin C is particularly important for proper immune functioning since inflammation occurs when the immune system becomes stressed and overworked. The antioxidant vitamin also offers additional anti-inflammatory benefits by stopping free radicals from damaging cells to trigger new inflammation.
Recipe pictured above: Watermelon, Orange & Cucumber Salad with Castelvetrano Olive Vinaigrette
A refreshing treat in hot summer months, watermelon is known for being sweet and juicy, but the melon's nutritional perks are rarely mentioned. However, watermelon is one of the few food sources of lycopene, a powerful compound that's responsible for the melon's pink-red hue and protects the body free radicals damage. Research suggests that lycopene offers an antioxidant-like protection that may prevent cell mutations, halt cancer growth, and reduce risks of Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and diabetes risk.
Apples don't have as near as many of the antioxidant-like compounds that berries do, but they can reduce inflammation in another way by strengthening your gut microbiome. Apples contain around 3 grams of fiber, a large portion of which is a soluble, fermentable type called pectin which good bacteria strains in the gut need to thrive and grow. Often referred to as prebiotics, these fibers can improve the composition of microbes in the gut. Doing this creates a stronger intestinal lining that fewer inflammatory compounds can cross to get into the body.
Recipe pictured above: Grilled Pork Chops with Chile & Pineapple
Pineapples contain bromelain, a unique enzyme that has anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting and anti-cancer effects. Bromelain shows the greatest potential in preventing cancer growth by suppressing inflammatory factors that promote cell mutation and metastasis, and therapeutic supplements of bromelain may even provide some pain relief for certain forms of arthritis. Research also suggests that the enzyme may speed up muscle recovery after strenuous workouts by decreasing inflammation.
It's easy to forget that avocados are a fruit, and their nutritional profile looks quite different. But this means avocados offer some anti-inflammatory benefits that you can't get from other fruit. The creamy fruit is full of monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber and carotenoids which collectively work together to soothe inflammation in the body. Even more impressive, though, is that these nutrients appear to counteract some inflammation triggered by less-healthy foods eaten around the same time.
Recipe pictured above: Yogurt with Blueberries & Honey
Polyphenolic compounds give blueberries their vibrant purple-blue color, and these compounds also act as antioxidants to ease existing inflammation and prevent free radicals from triggering new inflammation. In fact, studies suggest that regularly eating blueberries appears to exert anti-inflammatory effects that have the potential to decrease blood pressure, improve blood flow and protect brain cells from neuroinflammation. And because most are flash-frozen right after being picked, frozen blueberries are ideal to keep on hand to toss in a smoothie for a daily dose of antioxidants and anthocyanins.
Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100 Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for 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.