Inflammation has gotten a bad rap recently -- it has been identified as a contributor to a variety of diseases, from heart disease to Alzheimer's to cancer. But it's important to note that there are two different types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation is an essential part of the healing -- from a scrape or bruise to a pulled muscle, burn or bronchitis. This type of inflammation is beneficial to the body.
Chronic or systemic inflammation, on the other hand, can wreak havoc on healthy tissues. This type of inflammation, which can last for months or even years, is associated with the diseases mentioned above as well as autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, Type 2 diabetes and allergies.
The good news is that you have the power to help prevent this immune response. How? Your first step is to avoid pro-inflammatory triggers, which include excess body fat; smoking; eating a diet rich in added sugars, trans and saturated fats; and insufficient sleep. Second, you can load up your diet with foods that have been shown to fight inflammation, specifically plant-based foods containing bioactive compounds that help turn down the immune response.
Here are five anti-inflammatory foods to toss into your shopping cart:
Available all summer long, sweet cherries, are a powerful inflammation fighter. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating sweet bing cherries significantly decreased several markers of inflammation including C-reactive protein and Interluekin-18. A cup of cherries (about 21) has 90 calories and 3 grams of filling fiber. To enjoy this super fruit all year long, simply rinse fresh cherries, pack in plastic freezer bags or in freezer-proof containers and freeze.
Lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans are protein- and fiber-rich and research conducted at Penn State University reported that adding 1.5 cups of legumes per day (to a calorie-controlled, low glycemic index diet) helped reduce inflammatory markers and improved insulin resistance. Another bonus? They're inexpensive. Use versatile legumes in dips, salads, main dishes and soups.
Mangos are not just nutrient-packed and bursting with color and flavor, research indicates that this tropical fruit may also be a powerful inflammation fighter. One studyreported that polyphenols present in mangos might inhibit the inflammatory response in both cancerous and non-cancerous breast cells. In addition to their potential anti-inflammatory benefits, mangos are a source of over 20 vitamins and minerals, including several lacking in the typical US diet including vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium. Enjoy fresh mango on its own, in smoothies or make a mango salsa to serve with fish or poultry.
Deeply colored dried plums (aka prunes) are a source of polyphenols that are known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Mounting research suggests that dried plums may help improve bone mineral density by reducing markers of inflammation that increase the rate at which bone cells resorb or breakdown. Boosting these compounds in one's diet has been shown to improve bone health. In fact, findings from a study conducted at San Diego State University reported at the 2015 Experimental Biology meeting indicated that postmenopausal women given one serving (4-5 prunes) daily experienced improved bone health and a slowing of bone loss.
While many herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory properties, there are more than 2,000 published papers about ginger in the medical literature, making it the most extensively-studied spice. Ginger's ability to temper the body's immune response is one of its well-known health-promoting properties. One study compared the effects of ginger extract to placebo in patients with osteoarthritis. The ginger helped reduce pain and stiffness in joints by 40 percent over the placebo. Ongoing research is also investigating the role of ginger to help lessen neuronal inflammation and related declines in memory and cognition. Add ginger to your stir-fries, smoothies, roasted vegetables, whole grain salads or make ginger-based glazes for seafood and poultry.