While you can't always see or feel it, chronic inflammation may be slowly harming your body. Left unchecked, it can even contribute to chronic diseases and premature aging.
But there are actions you can take to decrease this damage. That's why we consulted three dietitians to get the insider scoop on what they do daily to reduce inflammation and stay healthy.
1. Tend to Dental Health
Ignoring your oral hygiene can increase inflammation in the body and potentially play a part in initiating serious systemic conditions.
"Poor oral health is associated with chronic disease such as Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and heart disease," says Leslie Langevin, RD, author of The Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen Cookbook and co-owner of Whole Health Nutrition.
Brushing your teeth, flossing daily and reducing your sugar intake can help reduce systemic inflammation that started in the mouth, Langevin says.
2. Spice It Up
Sprinkling spices in your food is a simple yet effective way to keep inflammation at bay.
"Many spices contain powerful compounds that can interact with chemical pathways in the body associated with inflammation," says Susie Polgreen, RD, CD, an associate of Whole Health Nutrition. "Some of the most well-researched spices (and my personal favorites) are turmeric, ginger and cinnamon."
And a little pinch goes a long way. "Amounts as little as ¼ teaspoon can be enough to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits," Polgreen says.
"I like to add turmeric and ginger to rice dishes, cinnamon to oats and tea and make smoothies with all three for a nutrient-powerhouse treat," she says.
3. Sip Ginger Tea
"Because I have an inflammatory disorder, I have some chronic inflammation symptoms such as pain and stiffness," Langevin says.To decrease the discomfort during flare-ups, she turns to anti-inflammatory ginger tea.
"Ginger is one of my favorite inflammation reducers along with [antioxidant-rich] wild blueberries and green herbs," she says. Plus, ginger is also a great digestive aid.
4. Fill Up on Fermented Foods
"A growing amount of research has demonstrated a link between our gut microbiome (aka the trillions of microorganisms contained in our GI tract) and inflammatory responses," Polgreen says.
So, to prevent inflammation, make sure your gut is in good shape. "One of the core components of a healthy gut is live beneficial bacteria called probiotics that can naturally be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, kombucha and kefir," Polgreen says.
She aims to eat a probiotic-packed fermented food every day to help inhibit inflammation.
5. Prioritize Prebiotics
The good news: "You're likely including prebiotics in your diet already if you're focusing on high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables," Rancourt says.
For an especially powerful punch of prebiotics, pick produce like garlic, leeks, onion, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas and sweet potatoes, she adds.
6. Feast on Fatty Fish
Fatty fish are full of omega-3 fats, and "research shows that omega-3 fatty acids play a role in reducing the production of inflammatory substances called cytokines," Polgreen says.
Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and sardines are all stellar sources of omega-3s. Polgreen aims to have two servings of fatty fish per week.
But you can also opt to take a fish oil supplement. If you go this route, choose one that contains both eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, Rancourt says.
7. Sprinkle in Seeds
Even if you're not a fan of fish, you can still get your omega-3s from plant-based foods like chia and flax seeds. Polgreen tries to consume 2 tablespoons of these seeds daily.
"Both flax and chia seeds are extremely versatile and can be added to almost anything, though I personally like them in hot cereals, yogurt and smoothies," she says.
8. Favor Foods With Phytonutrients
Phytonutrients are active compounds in plant-based foods shown to reduce inflammation, Langevin says.
In addition to their anti-inflammatory properties, these nutrients also have antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-aging and neuroprotective effects, among other health-related benefits, according to a September 2014 review in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
The easiest way to get your fill of phytonutrients is to eat a variety of deeply colored fruits and veggies, Langevin says. Indeed, people who ate fruits and vegetables exhibited lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood than those who ate fewer plants, per a January 2012 study in Nutrients.
The goal is to get at least two servings of fruit and at least three servings of vegetables a day, Rancourt says. "I typically pair breakfast and an afternoon snack with a fruit, like mixed berries in yogurt or dried fruit with nuts, and balance my plate at lunch and dinner with veggies like mixed greens and grilled zucchini or summer squash," she says.
9. Schedule in Stress-Reducing Habits
Stress can be a potential prompt for inflammation in the body. That's because it triggers the immune system and endocrine pathways to increase cytokine production, which has been linked to chronic disease, Langevin says.
But adopting healthy, stress-relieving habits can help hinder this inflammatory response.
"Lifestyle can play a large role in how the body can heal itself," Langevin says. "Food can do a lot, but adding in yoga, meditation and walking is a really important way to help the body decrease stress naturally."
In fact, a June 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that regularly practicing yoga can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine levels.
10. Limit Refined Oils
"Refined oils — such as vegetable, canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower and cottonseed oil — contain high amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids," Polgreen says.
Omega-6 fats are beneficial for your body in moderation, but some research shows that they can be pro-inflammatory when you eat too much. For example, a September 2018 paper in Open Heart found that the omega-6 polyunsaturated fat linoleic acid is linked to oxidative stress, chronic low-grade inflammation and atherosclerosis.
Though more studies are needed to understand the effects of omega-6 fats, it's probably safest to limit the oils that contain them and use other healthier options.
"I cook with traditional oils such as olive, coconut or avocado oil and opt for packaged brands (like condiments and snacks) that use these oils instead," Polgreen says.
- Open Heart: “Omega-6 vegetable oils as a driver of coronary heart disease: the oxidized linoleic acid hypothesis”
- Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine: “Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents”
- Nutrients: “Combined Fruit and Vegetable Intake Is Correlated with Improved Inflammatory and Oxidant Status from a Cross-Sectional Study in a Community Setting”
- Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research: “Effect of Yoga Practice on Levels of Inflammatory Markers After Moderate and Strenuous Exercise”