It’s not as glamorous as building muscle or improving performance, but fighting inflammation can mean a better overall quality of health and lifestyle.
Inflammation is the body’s response to physical stress, injury, and certain diseases. Short-term inflammation is healthy and a necessary part of the healing process.
But long-term or chronic inflammation is one the primary reasons that chronic diseases develop and get worse. For example, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and type-II diabetes are inflammation-based diseases.
An anti-inflammatory diet can significantly reduce your risk of developing these diseases while providing a laundry list of other benefits.
Let’s take a look at some of the best anti-inflammatory foods and supplements.
Best Anti-Inflammatory Vegetables
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends eating between six to eight servings of vegetables each day. Here are a few vegetables with anti-inflammatory benefits.
1. Cruciferous Vegetables & Dark Leafy Greens
With an emphasis on dark leafy greens such as kale and broccoli, cruciferous veggies contain an antioxidant called sulforaphane. Studies show that this antioxidant can successfully reduce inflammation. (1)
A recommended serving of cruciferous vegetables is three cups. Try to mix it up between broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and spinach.
2. Portobello, Oyster, and Shitake Mushrooms
Mushrooms contain antioxidants and phytonutrients like flavonoids, phenolics, and polysaccharides, which have all been shown in studies to promote anti-inflammatory benefits. (2)
A recommended serving of mushrooms is one cup, if eaten raw, or ½ cup, if you cook them. Keep in mind that cooking mushrooms will decrease their anti-inflammatory benefit. I recommend eating them raw or lightly steamed.
Garlic contains diallyl disulfide, and studies show that it can reduce inflammation by decreasing cytokines, compounds known for causing an inflammatory response. (3)
I recommend eating one clove of garlic per day, preferably raw. If you want to skip the garlic breath, cut up the clove and swallow it like a pill.
Learn more about the health benefits of garlic.
Beetroot is one of the most beloved supplements by endurance athletes both for its ability to increase nitric oxide production (blood flow) as well as lower inflammation which for an endurance athlete is a big deal.
Beetroot gets its vibrant color due to being rich in a special antioxidant known as “betalain” which has been researched for its incredible anti-inflammatory properties. (4)
Learn more about the health benefits of beetroot.
Asparagus is rich is several antioxidants including glutathione which has been labeled by many scientist as a “master antioxidant” for its ability to reduce oxidative stress.
It has also been shown to help improve sleep and promote more youthful skin.
Best Anti-Inflammatory Fruits
The USDA also recommends eating between two to three servings of low-sugar fruits each day. Here are a few healthy fruits with anti-inflammatory benefits.
With a high antioxidant profile, studies show that ellagic acid can promote anti-inflammatory activities in the gut. (5)
While this study used pomegranate juice, I’d recommend eating one cup of the actual arils (seeds) to avoid excessive levels of sugar.
2. Blueberries, Strawberries, and Blackberries
The same compound that gives berries their color is also responsible for helping you fight inflammation. Berries contain polyphenol compounds, but the one we’re focusing on is called anthocyanins. Studies show that anthocyanins have an anti-inflammatory effect. (6)
A recommended serving size of berries is a half-cup. I’d recommend lower-sugar options such as blueberries or raspberries.
A rich source of healthy fatty acids, avocados also contain a natural sugar called AV119. Studies show that AV119 possesses anti-inflammatory properties. It can block NF-kB activation, which is responsible for the inflammation response. (7)
A recommended serving is between a half to one whole avocado. If you’re going to eat a whole avocado, try to have half earlier in the day and the other half hours later.
Avocados also made my list of best natural testosterone boosters.
Best Anti-Inflammatory Supplements
While the bulk of your diet should be focused on whole food choices, supplements are a great way to bridge nutritional gaps and complement the anti-inflammatory effect of the foods above.
1. Full Spectrum CBD Oil
CBD Oil can actually inhibit the body’s inflammatory response by suppressing inflammatory cytokines and chemokines which are small proteins important for cell signalling . (8)
While more human case studies are needed, CBD Oil has been rapidly rising in use with professional athletes because it works so well.
Use of CBD Oil is currently allowed for PGA and professional tennis players but banned in the NFL. However, several groups are working to legalize CBD in the NFL and former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski actually said he would un-retire if the NFL permits its use.
There is no “high” associated with CBD Oil use as the THC (the active compound which causes a marijuana high) must meet a federal requirement of no more than 0.3%.
This is such a small amount that it will not get you intoxicated nor will it show up on a drug screening.
Learn more about the health benefits of CBD Oil
One of the most well documented benefits of MSM is its ability to reduce joint pain. It has been shown to help ease both knee and back pain in runners as well as improving movement for the average person’s day to day activities. (9, 10)
Learn more about the health benefits of MSM.
Turmeric is well regarded for its great anti-inflammatory benefits due in large part to a unique compound called curcumin.
However, curcumin only makes up about 3% of turmeric’s property by weight and turmeric is not well absorbed by the body.
Studies have shown that taking bioperine along with turmeric can greatly enhance absorption, however the best way to ensure maximum absorption is to take a liposomal based turmeric or curcumin supplement.
4. Grape Seeds
Grape seeds have a special antioxidant compound called oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes or OPC which has been shown to fight inflammation, allergic responses and reduce chronic joint pain. (11)
Learn more about the health benefits of grape seeds.
5. Dark Chocolate (Cacao)
Dark chocolate is packed full of flavonols which are believed to improve long-term brain function due to their powerful anti-inflammatory effects. (12)
Another unique antioxidant in cacao is “procyanidins” which may have help the body in fighting cancer. (13)
Learn more about the health benefits of dark chocolate.
6. Green Tea
The antioxidants in green tea have been shown to potentially help fight psoriasis, delay aging, fight cancer and improve brain function. (14, 15, 16, 17)
This is due to the high amounts of catechins, polyphenols, and many other types of flavonoids in green tea which are all great inflammation fighters.
Green tea is also rich in L-Theanine which can help your body and mind relax!
Learn more about the health benefits of green tea.
Hands down, the most popular sports performance supplement, whey protein provides a number of benefits including muscle growth and weight management. It’s also been shown to be a decent anti-inflammatory.
Whey protein contains lactoferrin, which studies have shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect while supporting the body’s natural immune response to disease. (17)
There is no official USDA-approved recommend serving, but most supplement manufacturers will advise one scoop per day. I recommend taking it right after your workout. If it’s a rest day, use it as a snack.
Focus More on Anti-Inflammation
While the benefits might not be as obvious as bigger muscles or a faster sprint, following an anti-inflammation diet is more important. Anti-inflammatory foods can help to alleviate soreness, reduce risk of disease formation, and promote longevity.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of anti-inflammatory foods and supplements, but it’s a good starting point if you want to start making some dietary changes right away.
- Hwang JH, Lim SB. Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Activities of Broccoli Florets in LPS-stimulated RAW 264.7 Cells. Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2014 Jun;19(2):89-97. doi: 10.3746/pnf.2014.19.2.089. – Link
- Elsayed EA, El Enshasy H, Wadaan MA, Aziz R. Mushrooms: a potential natural source of anti-inflammatory compounds for medical applications. Mediators Inflamm. 2014;2014:805841. doi: 10.1155/2014/805841. Epub 2014 Nov 23. – Link
- Schäfer G, Kaschula CH. The immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic organosulfur compounds in cancer chemoprevention. Anticancer Agents Med Chem. 2014;14(2):233–240. doi:10.2174/18715206113136660370. – Link
- The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease Tom Clifford, Glyn Howatson, Daniel J. West, and Emma J. Stevenson – Link
- Sohrab G, Nasrollahzadeh J, Zand H, Amiri Z, Tohidi M, Kimiagar M. Effects of pomegranate juice consumption on inflammatory markers in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Res Med Sci. 2014;19(3):215–220. – Link
- Joseph SV, Edirisinghe I, Burton-Freeman BM. Berries: anti-inflammatory effects in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2014 May 7;62(18):3886-903. doi: 10.1021/jf4044056. Epub 2014 Mar 17. – Link
- Donnarumma G, Paoletti I, Buommino E, Fusco A, Baudouin C, Msika P, Tufano MA, Baroni A. AV119, a natural sugar from avocado gratissima, modulates the LPS-induced proinflammatory response in human keratinocytes. Inflammation. 2011 Dec;34(6):568-75. doi: 10.1007/s10753-010-9264-6. – Link
- Nagarkatti P, Pandey R, Rieder SA, Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M. Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Med Chem. 2009;1(7):1333–1349. doi:10.4155/fmc.09.93 – Link
- Withee ED, Tippens KM, Dehen R, Hanes D. Effects of MSM on exercise-induced muscle and joint pain: a pilot study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(Suppl 1):P8. Published 2015 Sep 21. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-12-S1-P8 – Link
- van der Merwe M, Bloomer RJ. The Influence of Methylsulfonylmethane on Inflammation-Associated Cytokine Release before and following Strenuous Exercise. J Sports Med (Hindawi Publ Corp). 2016;2016:7498359. doi:10.1155/2016/7498359 – Link
- Fine AM. Oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes: history, structure, and phytopharmaceutical applications. Altern Med Rev. 2000 Apr;5(2):144-51 – Link
- The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on cerebral perfusion in healthy older adults during conscious resting state: a placebo controlled, crossover, acute trial. Lamport DJ, Pal D, Moutsiana C, Field DT, Williams CM, Spencer JP, Butler LT. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Sep;232(17):3227-34 – Link
- Effect of Procyanidin-rich Extract from Natural Cocoa Powder on Cellular Viability, Cell Cycle Progression, and Chemoresistance in Human Epithelial Ovarian Carcinoma Cell Lines. Shruti Taparia, Aparna Khanna. Pharmacogn Mag. 2016 May; 12(Suppl 2): S109–S115 – Link
- Hsu S, Dickinson D, Borke J, Walsh DS, Wood J, Qin H, Winger J, Pearl H, Schuster G, Bollag WB. Green tea polyphenol induces caspase 14 in epidermal keratinocytes via MAPK pathways and reduces psoriasiform lesions in the flaky skin mouse model. Exp Dermatol. 2007 Aug;16(8):678-84 – Link
- Rutter K, Sell DR, Fraser N, et al. Green tea extract suppresses the age-related increase in collagen crosslinking and fluorescent products in C57BL/6 mice. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2003;73(6):453–460. doi:10.1024/0300-98188.8.131.523 – Link
- Dodd FL, Kennedy DO, Riby LM, Haskell-Ramsay CF. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the effects of caffeine and L-theanine both alone and in combination on cerebral blood flow, cognition and mood. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Jul;232(14):2563-76. Epub 2015 Mar 13. – Link
- Hirofumi Tachibana, Kiyoshi Koga, Yoshinori Fujimura & Koji Yamada. A receptor for green teapolyphenol EGCG. 2004 Nature Publishing Group – Link
- Conneely OM. Antiinflammatory activities of lactoferrin. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Oct;20(5 Suppl):389S-395S; discussion 396S-397S. – Link