Over two thousand years ago, the great Greek physician Hippocrates said:
Hippocrates was a man ahead of his time. Now, entire books explore how the properties of certain foods can benefit our immune systems (check out Food as Medicine, The A-Z Guide to Food as Medicine). It turns out that some of the herbs and foods we’ve been eating for centuries exhibit qualities that we now call “anti-inflammatory.” So today, we’re going to throw it all the way back to 460 B.C. and take a look at how our new understanding of anti-inflammatories/oxidants applies to Hippocrates’ “food as medicine” philosophy. Food as medicine is especially important in managing autoimmune diseases. In particular, we will focus on our top 8 favorite anti-inflammatory foods.
Anti-inflammatory vs Anti-oxidant: what’s the difference?
Firstly, what is inflammation? To put it simply, inflammation is one of your body’s normal defenses against infection and tissue damage. If you need to visualize it, think of it as the red and sensitive skin around a cut. While normal inflammation works to protect your body, persistent inflammation can do some serious damage to tissues and organs. For example, over-active inflammation response is often seen in autoimmune patients (2).
It follows that anti-inflammatory compounds are chemicals that can reduce inflammation. For example, they can stop the cascade of inflammatory-signaling molecules. Or else they reduce the number of inflammatory molecules by binding to them. Alternatively, they promote the release of molecules that reduce inflammation. While there are drugs (like Advil and aspirin) that reduce inflammation, there are also many naturally occurring anti-inflammatory components found in foods and spices. In fact, aspirin is a relative of chemicals found in willow bark and wintergreen. But don’t eat the plant sources! Hippocrates would have infused willow bark in hot water and then given this decoction to his patient to drink. Wintergreen oil has traditionally been used for centuries as a topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory, but it is too toxic to eat or drink.
It’s important to first know about reactive oxygen species to understand the function of antioxidants. These highly reactive oxygen-based molecules can cause damage to your cells. They’re involved in the development of cancers and other diseases by increasing the inflammation produced by your body (3). Simply speaking, they’re pretty harmful.
Antioxidants neutralize reactive oxygen species, making them less reactive. This prevents them from reacting with and wreaking havoc on your cells. By reducing inflammation they also can only help prevent some nasty diseases. So, in some respects, antioxidant compounds can also be considered anti-inflammatory!
Which anti-inflammatory foods to consume?
So, what anti-inflammatory foods should you try? We would start with antioxidant foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins like A, the B complex, D, E, and others. Here is a quick list of our top 8 anti-inflammatory foods:
Our top 8 Anti-inflammatory foods:
Turmeric, ginger, green leafy vegetables, berries, flax and chia seeds, walnuts and almonds, olive oil, and salmon.
Click on each food to view the screen shot, then click on the image again to get a full size view.
Nerd alert: check out our expanded bibliography for these foods for autoimmune health.
Recipes with Our 8 Anti-inflammatory Foods
- Turmeric recipes,
- Ginger recipes,
- Green leafy vegetable recipes,
- Berries recipes,
- Flax and Chia seed recipes,
- Walnuts and almond recipes,
- Olive oil recipes,
- Salmon recipes
Pro-inflammatory Foods to Avoid
In addition to consuming anti-inflammatory foods, you should avoid pro-inflammatory foods. These include processed meats, sodas, salty snacks, packaged sweets, and refined carbohydrates. If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, these types of food are likely to intensify any symptoms you’re already experiencing.
By exploring your different dietary options, learning about the natural immune benefits of certain foods and the potentially harmful effects of other foods, you can take control of your diet and optimize your immune health!
Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Becca Malizia, BS, Hailey Motooka, BS
- Explore the whole Food Matters series here!
- Check out the expanded bibliography on our foods for autoimmune health!
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- “Flax and Chia Seed Benefits.” Zen Breakfast Blend. https://www.zenbreakfastblend.com/pages/flax-chia-seed-benefits .
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- “Why You Should be Eating More Almonds and Walnuts.” One Green Planet. http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-health/why-you-should-be-eating-more-almonds-and-walnuts/ .
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- “Alaskan King Salmon 20lbs.” Tanner’s Alaskan Seafood. https://www.tannersfish.com/product/alaskan-king-salmon-20lbs/ .
- Ahn, Chang-Bum et al. “Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory peptide fraction from salmon byproduct protein hydrolysates by peptic hydrolysis.” Food Research International. Vol 49(1). 2012. 92- 98. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996912003109 .