10 anti-inflammatory foods essential for a healthy diet


Behind excess weight often lies chronic inflammation, a problem stemming from poor eating habits. An anti-inflammatory diet incorporating these 10 foods can help reduce swelling and prevent other medical conditions

10 anti-inflammatory foods essential for a healthy diet

Who hasn't felt bloated and heavy after eating? No matter how thin you are, there comes a time during the day when your waistband feel tight, and it looks like your body is expanding, or at least that's how it feels. The cause? It's rooted in what we eat: according to the American Gastroenterological Association, 40% of Americans' daily lives are disrupted by digestive troubles, due to poor diet.

This is also responsible for the body's internal inflammation. "It's a natural defense mechanism triggered after trauma, injury, or infection that helps protect and repair structures," explains Dr. María José Martínez Obiols, a nutritionist specialized in the treatment of obesity. However, it becomes problematic when it starts to become a regular occurrence: "Sustained chronic inflammation damages our physical, mental, and emotional health," says the doctor. It's the root of many medical conditions, "linked to arthritis, diabetes, asthma, obesity, and various intestinal diseases," adds María José Hidalgo, a pharmacist with a doctorate in Medicine.

But the body is wise and capable of reducing this process. The key lies in the foods we consume, notes Hidalgo, which influence, for better or worse, the internal inflammation processes by either increasing or decreasing hormone levels that regulate and stop these processes when they are no longer necessary.

"A primary step to reduce chronic inflammation is avoiding pro-inflammatory foods, which are essentially refined carbohydrates, processed foods, sugars, and trans fats," explains Dr. Martínez Obiols.

Foods that promote inflammation

Besides being harmful to the body, foods that promote inflammation — often overlapping with those causing oxidation — are particularly detrimental to women. So says Dr. Francisco Carmona, gynecologist and member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Catalonia. The reason? They also negatively impact estrogen metabolism. These are the foods that you should avoid if you want to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, according to the list compiled by Dr. Carmona:

  • Red meat.
  • Animal fats: pork, lamb, liver.
  • Trans fats: pre-cooked foods and industrial pastry products.
  • Dairy: milk, cheeses, butter.
  • Sugars, especially refined.
  • Gluten.
  • Alcoholic beverages.
  • Refined vegetable oils, such as sunflower or soybean.

An anti-inflammatory diet

Many dietary plans present themselves as anti-inflammatory, but only one is recognized by the entire scientific community: the Mediterranean diet. It includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, whole grains, and legumes, moderate amounts of fish, chicken, low-fat dairy products, and nuts. At the same time, it limits red meat, sugary drinks, salt, and processed foods.

"Essentially, the anti-inflammatory diet provides a balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids," explains Hidalgo. "This balance should be close to the 3/2 ratio. In most diets, there's an excess of Omega-6 fats, and although they have a beneficial effect on our health by reducing cardiovascular risk, their inflammatory effect needs to be controlled." They mainly come from meat, eggs, most vegetable oils (soy, sunflower, corn), and cereals. "But we have another option: Omega-3 fats. These also reduce cardiovascular risk and have an anti-inflammatory effect," says Hidalgo. And another plus: "They are effective in lowering cholesterol and contribute to the proper functioning of our defenses," adds José Manuel Martín, a pharmacist specializing in Homeopathy and over-the-counter medications.

The primary source of Omega-3 is found in oily fish — like sardines, tuna, salmon, trout, or anchovies — some nuts such as almonds and pistachios, and extra virgin olive oil.

Anti-inflammatory foods

The foods with the most anti-inflammatory properties are among the most common in our supermarkets. The following are the best natural remedies to combat inflammation:

  1. Oily fish: Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B and D, phosphorus, and high-quality proteins.
  2. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables: They are rich "in glucosinolates", explains Dr. Martínez Obiols. "In broccoli, the most abundant is sulforaphane. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as it contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium."
  3. Green tea: Quality matters, preferably organic and loose-leaf. It contains epigallocatechin, an antioxidant-rich polyphenol. "To reap its benefits, it's advisable to drink three cups a day," explains the doctor. "Adding ginger enhances its effects."
  4. Turmeric: A potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory due to its curcumin content. It's best consumed when "mixed with olive oil, avocado and pepper to aid absorption", adds Martínez Obiols. It can also be enjoyed as a drink, mixed with coconut or almond drink. "A teaspoon (5 grams a day) is sufficient."
  5. Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and currants are rich in polyphenols, potent anti-inflammatories, and antioxidants.
  6. Ginger root: Known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, one of its compounds, gingerol, helps reduce the release of inflammatory substances from blood cells.
  7. Extra virgen olive oil: Rich in omega-3, it contains oleocanthal, a compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that work similarly in the body to ibuprofen.
  8. Beets: Rich in fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, and betalains (responsible for its color), it's a good antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.
  9. Bell peppers: Besides being an antioxidant, it contains vitamin B6, folic acid, flavonoids, and salicylates, one of the active principles of aspirin, giving it natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
  10. Garlic and onion: Two vegetables that are potent natural anti-inflammatories and act similarly. Onion, thanks to compounds like allicin, quercetin, and alicin, the latter an active ingredient also found in garlic.

The best anti-inflammatory fruits

There are two fruits that are powerful anti-inflammatory foods. Firstly, pineapple, due to its bromelain content, an enzyme that aids in amino acid assimilation and supports the digestive process. Secondly, strawberries, a fruit that contains "approximately 30 anti-inflammatory components that alleviate intestinal discomfort, cleanse, and purify the digestive system," explains Dr. María Victoria Martín, a nutritionist at Clínica Menorca.

Rich in phenols and salicylates, strawberries "also help combat the body's inflammatory processes by inhibiting the production of the enzyme cyclooxygenase, in the same way that compounds such as aspirin or ibuprofen do," adds Dr. Martín. They also contain manganese, a mineral that acts as a potent antioxidant and natural anti-inflammatory. "Research shows that a high consumption of strawberries develops C-reactive protein (CRP), a potent anti-inflammatory produced by the liver. Hence, they're a good natural remedy for diseases like arthritis and gout," she concludes.