6 Anti-Inflammatory Vegetables You Should Be Eating, According to a Dietitian

With these powerhouses, chronic inflammation doesn't stand a chance.

Cherry Tomato Confit recipe on a baking sheet
Photo: Jennifer Causey

Broken bones, dementia, heart disease, diabetes, COVID-19 and cancer might not seem to have much in common. But they all share a common link, and that's inflammation. Inflammation is the immune system's way of trying to repair damage from an injury or illness, per the National Institutes of Health. In the short term, that's a good thing. Long-term, not so much. "When inflammation becomes chronic—from things like eating an unhealthy diet, smoking, too much alcohol consumption or being sedentary—those same defense mechanisms go into overdrive, injuring cells and tissues, causing permanent damage," says Joan Salge Blake, Ed.D., RDN, a professor of clinical nutrition at Boston University and host of SpotOn!, a nutrition and health podcast. "For example, chronic inflammation can injure the blood vessel walls, paving the way for atherosclerosis and that nasty plaque buildup that leads to heart disease."

While you may not always be able to prevent a broken ankle or a virus, there is a secret weapon that can stop chronic inflammation in its tracks, namely vegetables. Of course, all veggies do good things for your body, protecting against heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and more, per 2022 research published in Nature. But when it comes to taming inflammation, these six veggies are best.

Pictured Recipe: Cherry Tomato Confit

1. Tomatoes

Go ahead and ladle some extra marinara sauce on your pasta. "Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that has powerful anti-inflammatory properties," says Patricia Bannan, M.S., RDN, a nutritionist and author of From Burnout to Balance. "In addition to neutralizing inflammation-promoting compounds called free radicals, lycopene also blocks the overproduction of inflammatory proteins called cytokines." No wonder it may help fight cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, depression and prostate cancer, per a 2020 study in Antioxidants. While you can get a healthy dose of lycopene from all red tomatoes, for the most bang, eat yours cooked. "Studies show lycopene's absorption is higher when heated," says Bannan. "So think tomato paste, sauce, soup and juice."

2. Broccoli

This cruciferous vegetable may be best known for cancer prevention, but did you know it might also minimize post-exercise muscle soreness? Here's why. When you work out hard, your body produces inflammatory cytokines that do a number on your muscles (hello, tired, achy muscles!). Turns out, eating broccoli after a workout could nip that process in the bud. According to a 2020 review in Antioxidants, broccoli contains a powerful antioxidant called sulforaphane. As it turns out, sulforaphane activates enzymes that block inflammation-promoting troublemakers like cytokines. For even more protection, slip some broccoli sprouts into your next sandwich for 10 times more sulforaphane than broccoli.

3. Edamame

Yes, these young soybeans are veggies too! "Soy is rich in isoflavones, plant compounds that may help reduce the risk of chronic inflammation-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes," says Salge Blake. In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders, volunteers with type 2 diabetes who ate 1 cup of cooked soybeans three times weekly for eight weeks reduced their levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation. Researchers credit soy's combo of isoflavones and polyunsaturated fats. So, go ahead and snack on ½ cup of edamame. Or toss some into a salad or this Edamame & Veggie Rice Bowl. In addition to quashing inflammation, you'll score heart-healthy plant protein and fiber, says Salge Blake.

4. Mushrooms

Diabetes and inflammation tend to travel together, per a 2019 article in the European Cardiology Review. But what if there was a food that could reduce diabetes-related inflammation? According to some research, that food is mushrooms. These fungi contain ergothioneine, an antioxidant that may increase levels of an anti-inflammatory hormone that people with type 2 diabetes often don't produce enough of called adiponectin. In one small yet promising 2016 study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 37 volunteers with metabolic syndrome who ate roughly 3½ ounces of white button mushrooms daily for 16 weeks doubled their ergothioneine levels and experienced increases in adiponectin to boot. For a blood-sugar-friendly spin on risotto, try them in this low-carb Mushroom-Cauliflower Risotto.

5. Garlic

If arthritis-related pain is making you an unhappy camper, maybe you need more garlic in your life. "Garlic contains a host of anti-inflammatory nutrients and compounds," says Bannan. "In addition to antioxidants which can neutralize free radicals, garlic is packed with sulfur compounds, such as allicin, diallyl sulfide and diallyl disulfide, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects." And those effects may extend to arthritis. According to a 2021 Biointerface Research in Applied Chemistry review of five clinical trials, garlic's allicin may help relieve painful arthritis-induced inflammation. For the biggest garlic benefits, chop or crush it 10 minutes before cooking to release more allicin, one of its most potent anti-inflammatory compounds, says Bannan.

6. Carrots

Munching on carrots does more than help keep your eyes healthy. These root vegetables may also stomp out inflammation, one of the primary mechanisms behind colon cancer. A 2020 Nutrients study that tracked 57,053 volunteers for 18 years found that people who reported eating two to four raw carrots a week were 17% less likely to develop colon cancer than those who never ate raw carrots. But volunteers who ate cooked carrots didn't experience the same cancer-preventing benefits. Why the difference? Study authors credit two potent anti-inflammatory compounds in carrots, falcarinol and falcarindiol. While both are highly active at room temperature, cooking can reduce their effectiveness by 70%. So be sure to much on your carrots raw, like in this Shredded Carrot Salad with Spiced Orange Dressing.

The Bottom Line

Eating plenty of colorful veggies is one of the best ways to put the brakes on chronic inflammation. But if you'd like to take things to the next level, consider following the Mediterranean diet. In addition to its plentiful base of veggies, the Mediterranean diet leans heavily on anti-inflammatory fruits, whole grains, fatty fish, nuts and olive oil. At the same time, it's low in inflammation-promoting refined carbs, processed meats, fried foods, sugary drinks and desserts with added sugars. Did we mention it's also delicious? This meal plan can get you started.

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