The Big Anti-Inflammatory Diet Guide — Counteract Inflammation with Vegetables and Fruits

Many people think inflammation is a negative process or disease we should not have present in our bodies. In reality, inflammation is a natural and essential part of our body's immune response that is crucial for our survival and well-being. Still, inflammation can become chronic and a health issue. So what is inflammation, and how are there differences between “good” and “bad” inflammation? And most importantly, how can we support our health with anti-inflammatory foods?

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Nutrition
16 min read · Oct 06, 2023

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Prevent Inflammation With Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Inflammation is a complex biological process that helps our body defend itself against harmful invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and injuries. [1]

Inflammatory processes can occur in various ways and serve as a protective mechanism. However, when this natural response goes awry, it can become chronic and lead to a mosaic of health issues. [2]

Therefore, the concept of introducing an anti-inflammatory & healthy diet is a clever and easy way to harness the power of nutrition to counteract harmful inflammation and promote overall well-being. And the good news is anti-inflammatory foods are super delicious.

This article will showcase anti-inflammatory foods, explain how they work, and why we can all profit from healthy eating and an anti-inflammatory diet.

Making proper food choices can help our body function efficiently and reduce chronic inflammation. Eating healthy is the first step in supporting our body and prioritizing our well-being. By focusing on anti-inflammatory foods like certain vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, we can support the natural processes in our body that fight inflammation and avoid chronic inflammation. [3]

But, before you can embrace the wisdom of an anti-inflammatory diet, you should understand the role of inflammation in our bodies:

Inflammation is our body's natural defense mechanism against injury, infection, and other threats. When you cut your finger, the redness, warmth, and swelling you experience are signs of acute inflammation in action. This is essential for healing and safeguarding your wound and your whole body against potential harm.

So, why is there even concern over inflammation?

Chronic vs. Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation is a true gift of Mother Nature. The problem arises when inflammation becomes chronic.

While acute inflammation is a short-lived, focused response that targets and fights against a specific issue, chronic inflammation is prolonged and systemic, affecting our entire body. Sometimes, chronic inflammation even attacks healthy tissues and bacteria in our body. Unlike its acute counterpart, chronic inflammation can quietly smolder for months or even years, causing damage to our tissues and organs. [2]

But how does chronic inflammation develop?

Chronic inflammation can be triggered by various factors, including autoimmune diseases, where our immune system attacks the body's own tissues, persistent infections, environmental toxins, bad lifestyle choices, obesity, and aging.

It's the persistent state of inflammation that has been linked to many chronic health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders. [4]

So, how can we manage and reduce chronic inflammation while still honoring and treasuring our body's natural defense mechanism? Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and prioritizing certain foods over others is the answer. And they do not even have to be gross or predominantly green!

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Nourishing with Whole Foods

Whole foods are natural, unprocessed, and minimally refined foods that we consume in their most natural form. They are typically nutrient-dense, providing us with many essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and minimally processed dairy products like yogurt, kefir and cheese are prime examples of whole foods. By emphasizing these foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, they can help control inflammation in our bodies. [5]

And how do these powerhouses work?

Many whole foods are brimming with antioxidants, which are compounds that help combat

oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there's an imbalance between harmful free radicals and antioxidants in our body, leading to cell damage and inflammation. The antioxidants in whole foods neutralize free radicals, therefore reducing inflammation in the process.

Specific whole foods, such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are known to reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines.

Another major factor of whole foods and their contribution to an anti-inflammatory diet is their impact on our gut because a healthy gut is essential for preventing chronic inflammation. Whole foods, particularly those high in fiber and probiotics (like yogurt and fermented foods), promote a thriving gut microbiome, which, in turn, helps modulate inflammation.

Since whole foods tend to be rich in fiber, they promote a healthy digestive system and exert anti-inflammatory effects by modulating gut bacteria. A balanced gut microbiome, a renaissance painting of different healthy bacteria in your gut, plays a crucial role in regulating inflammation throughout the body. [6]

Concluding our ode to whole foods, we recommend choosing whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, over refined grains, like American white bread, which can promote inflammation. Furthermore, legumes, like beans and lentils, are excellent sources of plant-based protein and contain anti-inflammatory compounds.

Fats that Heal

Healthy fats play a crucial role in promoting an anti-inflammatory diet. While it might seem counterintuitive that fats can be anti-inflammatory because we often associate them with obesity, it's important to distinguish between healthy fats and unhealthy fats (trans fats). [7]

Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce chronic inflammation in the body. [8]

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies or mackerel, are well-known for their anti-inflammatory effects. They reduce the production of pro-inflammatory molecules (cytokines and eicosanoids), which play a central role in the inflammatory process.

Therefore, we recommend incorporating healthy fats, like omega-3 fatty acids and plant sources like flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds into your anti-inflammatory diet. The healthy fats become integrated into cell membranes, making them more fluid and less prone to inflammation. This can improve your cell's ability to communicate and function properly. [8]

Another tip: When cooking with fat or oils, you should choose olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil instead of saturated fats like butter and margarine. Butter and other unhealthy fats can cause inflammation. [9]

PRO Protein — Mindful Protein Choices

Lean protein sources are considered good anti-inflammatory foods because they provide the body with essential amino acids without the excess saturated fats and potential inflammatory compounds found in fatty cuts of meat.

Therefore, select lean protein sources, including poultry, fish, tofu, and legumes, while reducing your consumption of red and processed meats.

Dietary Wellness — Spices To Indulge Your Senses (and Health)

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Spices not only lift any dish but also include anti-inflammatory properties. Especially spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, and cinnamon contain natural compounds that have been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. [10]

Curcumin, for example, is the primary active compound in turmeric responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin inhibits the activity of several inflammatory enzymes and proteins, including cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB). These molecules play critical roles in the body's inflammatory response. By inhibiting them, curcumin helps reduce inflammation at a molecular level. Curcumin is also a potent antioxidant, which means it can neutralize harmful free radicals that contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation.

Ginger, the magic root, contains various bioactive compounds, including gingerol, which is primarily responsible for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Gingerol has been found to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, such as COX-2, similar to how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work. This inhibition helps reduce inflammation and pain. Gingerol also acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from oxidative damage and reducing inflammation. [10]

Allicin is one of the critical sulphur-containing compounds found in garlic that contributes to its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to inhibit the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes and cytokines, including NF-κB. This inhibition helps modulate the inflammatory response. Garlic thereby also supports the immune system, helping the body defend against infections and potentially reducing the risk of chronic inflammation related to infections.

Did you know that cinnamon is a tree bark found in India and Asia? The Christmassy-smelling spice contains compounds like cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, and procyanidins, which contribute to anti-inflammatory effects. Cinnamon compounds have been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory markers and cytokines, including tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). This helps mitigate inflammation as well.

Cinnamon may also help regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of inflammation related to insulin resistance.

Pro-Tip: Sprinkle cinnamon on your desserts, in your coffee or even with certain fish, mushroom or meat dishes to seize the spices’ healthy potential.

Inflammation Red Flags — Avoiding Inflammatory Triggers

Triggers should not only be avoided emotionally but also in our anti-inflammatory diet. Processed and highly refined foods often contain unhealthy fats, added sugars, and artificial additives, which can trigger and promote inflammation.

On the other hand, whole foods are free from these pro-inflammatory elements, making them a healthier choice for maintaining a healthy and anti-inflammatory diet.

Therefore, limit sugary foods and beverages, as excess sugar can promote inflammation. Also, steer clear of highly processed and fast foods, like hot dogs and fried foods like french fries, which typically contain unhealthy fats and additives.

The 6 Best Fruits, Spices and Vegetables to Fight Inflammation

There is an abundance of delicious and healthy anti-inflammatory fruits, spices and veggies to fight inflammation, but we have curated our seven all-star favourites for you. Those are leek & onions, turmeric, broccoli, citrus fruits, berries, and pineapples.

Leek and Onions — Eating Like an Adult

Our smaller ones will most definitely yell “yuck” when they hear about those two: leek and onions.

Leeks and onions are excellent anti-inflammatory foods due to the presence of various bioactive compounds in them. Both leeks and onions are rich in quercetin, a flavonoid with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Quercetin helps reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines and enzymes in the body, thereby mitigating inflammation. [11]

Onions and leeks furthermore contain sulphur compounds, including allicin and allyl sulphides. These compounds have been shown to suppress pro-inflammatory molecules and enzymes, reducing inflammation at the cellular level.

Furthermore, both vegetables are splendid sources of dietary fibre, particularly inulin and fructooligosaccharides. These prebiotic fibres support a healthy gut microbiome, promoting a balanced and diverse population of beneficial gut bacteria that can help reduce inflammation.

Turmeric — Is The Turmeric Effect The Real Deal?

Yes, it is!

Turmeric contains curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound. Curcumin inhibits inflammatory enzymes and pathways, reducing inflammation at the molecular level.

Turmeric has been associated with improved joint health and helps alleviate symptoms of conditions like osteoarthritis. Therefore, the “yellow gold” is indeed the real deal when it comes to fighting inflammation. [12]

Some people even swear on turmeric when it comes to pimples and apply some wet turmeric on the affected area. But watch out since your skin might become slightly yellow if you leave it on for too long!

Broccoli — The Tree of Doom

Our favourite petfluencer, Tucker Budzyn, calls this vegetable the tree of doom but in fact Broccoli should be called the tree of gloom because it is radiating with positive effects.

Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound. Sulforaphane inhibits the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes and molecules, reducing inflammation at the cellular level. [13]

Interestingly, broccoli is also a good source of vitamins C and K, both of which contribute to overall health and anti-inflammatory effects.

A Zest of Anti-Inflammation — Citrus Fruits

When smelling the zest of citrus fruits, our mood gets uplifet immediately. Citrus fruits are not only a olfactory delight, but also contain anti-inflammatory properties due to their rich content of several bioactive compounds, including vitamin C, flavonoids, and carotenoids. [14]

Therefore, including citrus fruits in your diet can be a delicious and practical way to harness their anti-inflammatory benefits. Consider incorporating a variety of citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and tangerines into your daily meals and snacks.

Lemons, limes, blood oranges and grapefruits are worldwide renowned for their high vitamin C content. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps combat oxidative stress, a primary driver of chronic inflammation. By neutralizing free radicals, vitamin C reduces cellular damage and inflammation. [15]

Citrus fruits also contain a variety of flavonoids, such as quercetin, hesperidin, and naringin. These flavonoids possess anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting the body's production of inflammatory molecules and enzymes. [16]

Especially citrus fruits with orange and yellow pigments are likewise rich in carotenoids like beta-carotene. Carotenoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, protecting cells from oxidative damage and inflammation. While not as abundant as in some other fruits, citrus fruits provide you with dietary fibre, which supports a healthy gut microbiome. A balanced and diverse gut microbiome plays a role in regulating inflammation throughout the body.

Furthermore, Citrus fruits have high water content, aiding in hydration. Staying adequately hydrated is essential for overall health, as dehydration can promote inflammation and exacerbate various health issues.

Recipe Tip — Citrus Sunrise

Even though a fresh citrus fruit can be enjoyed on its own, added to salads, blended into smoothies, or used as a flavorful accent for dishes like the duck al orange, it can be an interesting ingredient.

For the Citrus Sunrise recipe, stack some Greek Yogurt with fresh slices of citrus and grapefruit. Start with some slices of citrus fruit on the bottom of the glass and layer them with Greek yogurt. You can add some wholegrain granola in between if you wish. Top the last layer of yogurt with some pistachios and honey, and voilà, there you have your Citrus Sunrise.

The vibrant flavors and nutritional richness of citrus fruits enhance your diet and contribute to reducing chronic inflammation and supporting overall well-being.

Very Berry — Berries Against Inflammation

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Eating “very berry” can become your new daily routine!

Berries, like blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, are rich in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins and quercetin, which have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Anthocyanins and quercetin help neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress, a key driver of inflammation. [17]

Berries also support brain health, improve cardiovascular function, and regulate blood sugar levels, all of which contribute to reducing inflammation in the body.

The Inflammatory Fruit That Wears A Crown — Pineapple

The queen among all fruits, the pineapple, is truly a reigning symbol of valuable inflammatory properties.

Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties. Bromelain helps reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. [18]

Pineapple also provides vitamin C and manganese, which support immune function and overall health.

How Many Vegetables & Fruits Should I Eat Daily?

To seize the anti-inflammatory properties of vegetables and fruits in an ideal manner, you should aim to consume a variety of them daily. A general guideline is to aim for at least five servings of vegetables and fruits daily.

This mix should include diverse colors, as different colors often signify distinct phytonutrients and antioxidants with unique anti-inflammatory properties. By incorporating a rainbow of vegetables and fruits into your diet, you can maximize the health benefits of vegetables to reduce the risk of chronic inflammation in your body. [19]

Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Specific Diseases

We can harness the properties of anti-inflammatory foods for specific diseases and conditions. [20]

For example, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis may find relief by incorporating fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, into their diet. [21]

Turmeric and ginger, on the other hand, can be beneficial for those dealing with inflammatory diseases that harm their bowels, like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

People with cardiovascular disease can benefit from a Meditteranean diet rich in leafy greens, whole grains, and berries, as these foods help lower inflammation as well as support heart health. [21]

Blackberries — Healthy & Delicious

Blackberries offer several anti-inflammatory properties, making them a nutritious addition to an anti-inflammatory diet. Blackberries are rich in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, quercetin, and vitamin C. [22]

These antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress, which is a primary driver of chronic inflammation. They contain various polyphenolic compounds, which have anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting pro-inflammatory molecules and pathways in the body. Blackberries provide dietary fibre, which supports gut health. A healthy gut microbiome is linked to reduced inflammation and overall well-being.

Cherries — Sweet & Nutritious

Cherries, particularly tart cherries, offer numerous anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit your overall health. Cherries are rich in anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants responsible for the fruit's red or purple color. [23]

Remember that traditional cherry pies count as highly processed foods since they usually contain wheat and sugar — therefore, avoid traditional sugary cherry pies and tarts.

The bioactive compounds in cherries have been shown to reduce inflammation by inhibiting the activity of enzymes and molecules involved in the inflammatory response. Cherries also contain quercetin, a flavonoid with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Quercetin helps reduce inflammation by suppressing the production of inflammatory molecules in the body.

Elderberries — Ancient Anti-Inflammatory Wisdom

Elderberries are known for their potential anti-inflammatory properties, and they have been used in traditional medicine for centuries for their health benefits.

Elderberries are rich in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, flavonols, and quercetin. These antioxidants help combat oxidative stress, which is a key driver of inflammation. By neutralizing free radicals, elderberries reduce cellular damage and inflammation. [24]

Elderberries are often praised for their immune-boosting properties. A robust immune system can help defend against infections and reduce inflammation related to immune responses. Elderberries contain compounds that have demonstrated antiviral properties. Reducing viral infections can indirectly lower inflammation by preventing the body's immune response to infections.

Seasonal Vegetables Throughout The Year

An anti-inflammatory diet can be sustained throughout the year by incorporating a variety of seasonal vegetables that offer consistent health benefits. Here are some recommendable seasonal vegetables and an explanation of their year-round appeal:

  • Kale, Spinach, Swiss Chard: These leafy greens are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They are versatile and available in various forms year-round, making them a staple in an anti-inflammatory diet. They contribute to reduced oxidative stress and support overall health.
  • Broccoli & Cauliflower: These cruciferous vegetables are resilient and can be found in different varieties throughout the year. They contain anti-inflammatory compounds like sulforaphane, which help regulate inflammation and promote detoxification.
  • Carrots & Sweet Potatoes: Root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are readily available during the fall and winter months. They provide beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Bell Peppers: Bell peppers come in various colors and are a source of vitamin C and other antioxidants. They are accessible throughout the year and contribute to reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Tomatoes: While often associated with summer and a Mediterranean diet, canned and greenhouse-grown tomatoes are available year-round. They contain lycopene, known for its anti-inflammatory effects and potential protection against chronic diseases. [21]
  • Zucchini & Eggplant: These vegetables are abundant during summer but also available year-round. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which promote gut health and reduce inflammation.

List of References

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!