Inflammation is defined as a response by body tissues to injury or irritation. It may be characterized by pain, swelling and/or redness. Inflammation underlies many conditions and diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and arthritis. Dietary patterns and even specific foods may be linked to the inflammatory process. Consuming certain plant foods as well as healthy fats, herbs and spices is associated with a decrease in inflammation.
Fruits and Vegetables
Phytochemicals are compounds found in plant foods that offer disease-fighting, antioxidant benefits. Two groups of phytochemicals play a role in modulating the inflammatory process. They are the carotenoids and flavonoids. These phytochemicals are found in abundance in colorful fruits and vegetables and should be consumed liberally to help reduce inflammation. Carotenoid-rich foods include carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, apricots, pumpkin and cantaloupe. Flavonoid-rich foods include berries, citrus fruits, purple grapes, dark leafy-green vegetables, soybeans, beets, tea and red wine. One specific flavonoid, quercetin, may be particularly helpful for reducing inflammation. Foods that offer quercetin include apples and onions. Pineapple is unique in that it contains a protein-digesting enzyme called bromelain, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
Omega-3 Fats, Olive Oil and Nuts
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. That is because this class of nutrients is a precursor for anti-inflammtory compounds in the body. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include: fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna and other cold-water fish; nuts; and seeds, especially flax seeds, walnuts and soybeans. Extra virgin olive oil is another food that offers a different type of healthy fatty acid (monounsaturated fats). Extra virgin olive oil is rich in two very unique antioxidant nutrients, called oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, which may reduce inflammation. In addition to being an excellent source of omega-3 fats, walnuts increase the amount of an anti-inflammatory chemical in the body known as adiponectin. Adiponectin is particularly beneficial for reducing inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease.
Curcumin is the orange-yellow component of turmeric and is a spice frequently found in curry powder. According to a study published in January 2007 by the "Journal of Clinical Immunology," curcumin has been proven in the last 20 years to be a potent immune system promoter. It also reduces the expression of many pro-inflammatory compounds in the body. Cloves contain two anti-inflammatory flavonoid phytochemicals called kaempferol and rhamnetin. Ginger also contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds known as gingerols. They are particularly beneficial for decreasing inflammation in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.