Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or injury. However, when the immune system overreacts, inflammation can lead to serious health issues. This is why it’s important to understand which foods cause inflammation and which ones can reduce this natural response or regulate the immune system.
In this article, we will explore a list of anti-inflammatory foods divided into different categories. You will also learn about the most critical anti-inflammatory nutrients and how countering inflammation often goes hand in hand with reducing the impact of free radicals on the organism.
The best way to get rid of inflammation is to consume anti-inflammatory nutrients on a regular basis. But what are they, and how do they work? Having a list of anti-inflammatory nutrients is essential to pick antioxidant foods, so let’s start with that. The following nutrients are among the most effective at fighting inflammation:
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (EPA, DHA): These help decrease the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which is the leading cause of chronic inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of healthy fatty acids we can find in fish, nuts, and seeds. They are essential fatty acids because the body can’t produce them independently. Thus, we should obtain them from different food sources.
- Polyphenols: These are nutrients found in plants that protect them against environmental damage. They can also protect us from free radicals and inflammation. Polyphenols can control the activation of immune cells and inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines. For example, quercetin and luteolin are known to inhibit a cytokine known as TNF-alpha and nitric oxide while suppressing the activity of macrophages.
- Polysaccharides: These are complex carbohydrate molecules that are not necessarily absorbed as they are, but they trigger different functions in the gut and modulate inflammation using gut bacteria. Some polysaccharides increase the activation of antioxidant enzymes. Others inhibit gene induction of cytokines such as TNF-alpha.
- Triterpenoids: These substances are also used by plants to protect themselves. They often make up the peel of fruits and are found in pears, apples, and other fruits. Triterpenoids display anti-inflammatory activity in colon carcinoma cells and can be used to treat inflammatory bowel disease.
- Saponins: They can be found in soybeans and other legumes and are responsible for the health effects of these plants on the human body. They inhibit the release of cytokines and nitric oxide in the blood vessels, which cause the swelling and redness characteristic of inflamed tissues.
- Peptides: Some small proteins in foods can also have bioactive properties, such as inhibiting nitric oxide and the enzyme cyclooxygenase, which creates inflammatory substances.
- Lectins: These are special proteins that bind to carbohydrates in legumes. We know of some lectins that reduce the neutrophil migration rate. In other words, they inhibit the movement of the white blood cells that trigger and worsen inflammation.
- Other Compounds: There are many other compounds in plants with anti-inflammatory activity. For example, galactolipids, a type of membrane lipid with potent anti-inflammatory activity. Another component is indole-3-carbinol, which also inhibits the production of inflammatory modulators.
Along with anti-inflammatory nutrients, we also have many antioxidant compounds in fresh food. They are delivered along with anti-inflammatory substances, and you could say they work synergically to reach the same goal.
Antioxidants are compounds that help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that form in your body when you are exposed to radiation, pollution, chemicals, stress, and poor nutrition. These molecules can damage DNA, proteins, fats, and other cell components. By doing that, they can trigger or worsen inflammation. That’s why many compounds with antioxidant properties are also considered anti-inflammatory agents.