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The Top 11 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

No, it doesn’t mean you can toss your Aleve — these foods fight the invisible inflammation that silently threatens our health.

By Jack Challem
Chronic, low-grade inflammation almost always lurks beneath the surface of diabetes and excess weight. You can’t usually see or feel the damage, but this type of inflammation significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death among people with diabetes. Low-grade inflammation has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor can measure it with the “high-sensitivity C-reactive protein,” or CRP, test.

Processed sugars and other high-glycemic starches increase inflammation, just as they raise blood sugar, according to an article in the March 2002 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and many other drugs reduce inflammation, but they pose a risk of side effects and no doctor’s going to suggest taking these drugs on a regular basis because your CRP is elevated. However, many foods have anti-inflammatory benefits, and the only side effects are other stellar health benefits. Here are 10 of the best:
1. Salmon. Coldwater fish, including salmon, contain anti-inflammatory fats called omega-3s. Wild salmon has more of these super-healthy fats than does farmed salmon.

Shopping tip: All salmon from Alaska is wild, whereas Atlantic salmon is usually farmed. Herring, sardines, and tuna also contain omega-3s.

2. Grass-fed beef and other animal foods. As opposed to traditional, grain-fed livestock, meat that comes from animals fed grass also contains anti-inflammatory omega-3s, but in lower concentrations than coldwater fish. Free-range livestock that graze in pastures build up higher levels of omega-3s. Meat from grain-fed animals has virtually no omega-3s and plenty of saturated fat. Cooking tip: Unless it’s ground, grass-fed beef may be tougher, so slow cook it.
3. Olive oil. Olive oil is a great source of oleic acid, another anti-inflammatory oil. Researchers wrote in the October 2007 Journal of the American College of Nutrition that those who consume more oleic acid have better insulin function and lower blood sugar. Shopping tip: Opt for extra-virgin olive oil, which is the least processed, and use it instead of other cooking oils. Other “cold-pressed” or “expeller-pressed” oils can be good sources, too.
4. Salads. Dark-green lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, and other salad veggies are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants, nutrients that dampen inflammation.

Suggestion: Opt for olive oil-and-vinegar salad dressing (vinegar helps moderate blood sugar) and skip the croutons.
5. Cruciferous vegetables. These veggies, which include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale, are also loaded with antioxidants. But they provide one other ingredient — sulfur — that the body needs to make its own high-powered antioxidants, such as one called glutathione.

6. Cherries. A study in the April 2006 Journal of Nutrition showed that eating cherries daily can significantly reduce inflammation. Cherries are also packed with 6. antioxidants and relatively low on the glycemic index.

Tip: Frozen cherries are available all year long and make a tasty dessert with a little yogurt or cheese.

7. Blueberries. These delectable fruits are chocked full of natural compounds that reduce inflammation. Blueberries may also protect the brain from many of the effects of aging. Frozen are usually less expensive than fresh—and just as good.

8. Turmeric. This spice contains a powerful, natural anti-inflammatory compound, according to a report in the August 2007 Biochemical Pharmacology. Turmeric has long been part of curry spice blends, used in southern Asian cuisines. To use: Buy powdered curry spice (which contains turmeric and other spices) and use it as a seasoning when pan-frying chicken breasts in olive oil.
9. Ginger. This relative of tumeric is also known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and some research suggests that it might also help control blood sugar. Suggestion: Brew your own ginger tea. Use a peeler to remove the skin off a piece of ginger, then add several thin slices to a cup of hot water and let steep for a few minutes.
10. Garlic. The research isn’t consistent, but garlic may have some anti-inflammatory and glucose-regulating benefits and it may also help your body fight infections. At the very least, it won’t hurt and makes for a tasty addition to food. Kitchen tip: Dice garlic and fresh rosemary, and rub them on a whole chicken before roasting.

11. Green tea. Like fruits and vegetables, green tea contains natural anti-inflammatory compounds. It may even reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Suggestion: Drink a cup a day — or brew it like sun tea, refrigerate, and serve.

Andres-Lacueva C, Shukitt-Hale B, Galli RL, et al. 2005 Anthocyanins in aged blueberry-fed rats are found centrally and may enhance memory. Nutritional Neuroscience 8:111-20.

Asgard R. Rytter E, Basu A, et al. 2007 High intake of fruit and vegetables is related to low oxidative stress and inflammation in a group of patients with type 2 diabetes. Scandinavian Journal of Food and Nutrition 51:149-158.

Bahceci M, Tuzcu A, Ogun C, et al. 2005 Is serum C-reactive protein concentration correlated with HbA1c and insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetic men with or without coronary heart disease? Journal of Endocrinological Investigation 28:145-50.

Basu A, Lucas EA. 2007 Mechanisms and effects of green tea on cardiovascular health. Nutrition Reviews 65:361-75.

Goel A, Kunnumakkara AB, Aggarwal BB. 2007 Curcumin as “Curecumin”: from kitchen to clinic. Biochemical Pharmacology doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2007.08.016.

Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. 2005 Ginger--an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. Journal of Medicinal Food 8:125-32.

Hak AE, Stehouwer CD, Bots ML, et al. 1999 Associations of C-reactive protein with measures of obesity, insulin resistance, and subclinical atherosclerosis in healthy, middle-aged women. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology 19:1986-91.

Hofbauer R, Frass M, Gmeiner B, et al. 2001 Effects of garlic extract (Allium sativum) on neutrophil migration at the cellular level. Heart Disease 3:14-7.

Kelley DS, Rasooly R, Jacob RA, et al. 2006 Consumption of bing sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women. Journal of Nutrition 136:981-986.

Kim SH, Jun CD, Suk K, et al. 2006 Gallic acid inhibits histamine release and pro-inflammatory cytokine production in mast cells. Toxicological Sciences 91:123-31.

Lau FC, Bielinski DF, Joseph JA. 2007 Inhibitory effects of blueberry extract on the production of inflammatory mediators in lipopolysaccharide-activated BV2 microglia. Journal of Neuroscience Research 85:1010-7.

Liu CT, Sheen LY, Lii CK. 2007 Does garlic have a role as an antidiabetic agent? Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 51:1353-64.

Liu S, Manson JE, Buring HE, et al. 2002 Relation between a diet with a high glycemic load and plasma concentrations of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein in middle-aged women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 75:492-498.

Ojewole JA. 2006 Analgesic, antiinflammatory and hypoglycaemic effects of ethanol extract of Zingiber officinale (Roscoe) rhizomes (Zingiberaceae) in mice and rats. Phytotherapy Research 20:764-72.

Paniagua JA, de la Sacristana AG, Sánchez E, et al. 2007 A MUFA-rich diet improves posprandial glucose, lipid and GLP-1 responses insulin-resistant subjects. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 26:434-44.

Ridker PM, Hennekens CH, Buring JE, et al. 2000 C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation in the prediction of cardiovascular disease in women. New England Journal of Medicine 342:836-843.

Schubert R, Kitz R, Beermann C, et al. 2007 Influence of low-dose polyunsaturated fatty acids supplementation on the inflammatory response of healthy adults. Nutrition 23:724-30.

Yuan G, Zhou L, Tang J, et al. 2006 Serum CRP levels are equally elevated in newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance and related to adiponectin levels and insulin sensitivity. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 72:244-50.

Reviewed by Susan Weiner, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., C.D.N. 3/08