Inflammation. We’ve all heard of it, but it’s not always clear what it means exactly.
By definition inflammation is a conditions that comes when your body is fighting off pain, injury or infection. Your blood supply increases to that area as white blood cells release chemicals to target and heal the area. The injury may feel hot or painful (like a muscle strain). Inflammation can happen anywhere in the body–joints (arthritis), your digestive system, your nasal cavities, and of course your muscles.
When your muscles feel hot or sore? That’s inflammation. When you turn your ankle or notice swelling in your shins? That comes from inflammation due to injury. Inflammation is a normal part of working out–as you create micro tears in your muscles, they’re constantly being repaired and rebuilt.
Now there are also many health conditions associated with inflammation in the body–everything from Chrone’s to Lupus to Cancer. (And of course, for any serious inflammatory conditions you should always be under medical treatment and following doctor’s orders!) While inflammation is a natural part of your body’s healing process, sometimes it goes a little haywire and you end up with too much. You need to cool your body down and help heal.
For runners and exercisers, incorporating some food-as-medicine into your diet is a great way to boost your body’s inflammation-fighting process. There are many whole, natural anti-inflammatory foods you can incorporate into your diet. These are easy foods to find and items you’re probably used to! Here’s how to use them in your day-to-day diet.
So try some of these natural anti-inflammatory foods to beat pain today!
Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and cayenne are all very strong anti-inflammatories. Fortunately it’s easy to add more spice in your life. Try chewing dried or pickled ginger (watch for unsweetened). Add ginger to stir fried veggies and on top of oatmeal. For cinnamon, sprinkle into smoothies, stir into oats or add to rice pudding. Both cinnamon and ginger add natural sweetness.
Many people like to try Golden Milk to drink turmeric, which has a warm, slightly spicy quality. Simply heat almond or coconut milk, sweetened with maple syrup or stevia, and stir in a teaspoon of turmeric. You can also add turmeric to smoothies and it goes well in many middle eastern dishes (it gives curry the yellow color). As for cayenne, add it to water with lemon, or sprinkle it on any dish that needs a kick. Cayenne is very spicy, so don’t go overboard at first. Try it slowly and then build as you go.
2. Leafy Greens
Spinach, kale, lettuce and chard are all great leafy greens to add to your diet. These natural anti-inflammatory foods are found everywhere and you can even grow your own. Kale and chard are both very simple to grow from seed. Lettuce is a wonderful option for green-thumb newbies too.
We all think to add greens to salads of course, but you can also add them to smoothies, soups and puree them in baked goods. Spinach is very mild and goes with just about any dinner, so stir a handful into your pasta sauce, your curry or serve as a side. Baby kale is tender and cooks up similarly to spinach. Kale chips are also a great option. Chard is a bit more robust (okay, it’s a little bitter) but it plays well with squash and spicy dishes.
Berries are natural inflammation fighters, and they’re a treat. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries–try them all and mix them up. Berries are also easy to grow in many areas, although they may not produce a high yield at first.
Organic is best when it comes to berries, with their thin edible skins. Look for big bags of frozen berries for smoothies. Try topping your cereal with berries or just enjoying them with a little almond milk. They’re delicious!
4. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries are powerful natural anti-inflammatories. I would say, they’re our go-to choice for fighting muscle soreness and strain. You can find tart cherry juice in the produce or juice section of your store, or look for frozen, fresh or dried tart cherries.
Add the juice to your morning smoothie. Enjoy it as a mocktail with a splash of plain seltzer. Add frozen cherries to any baked goods, smoothies and shakes. We add dried cherries to our DIY granola bars and put handfuls into our overnight oats. Sometimes I just eat the dried cherries plain or as part of homemade trail mix. They’re so good!
Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges and grapefruits are natural anti-inflammatory foods as well. Pineapple is another great fruit that fights inflammation. These fruits are delicious and best of all, they’re so easy to find at most grocery stores. They come in their own packaging and there’s not much to do other than enjoy!
Add some fresh lemon juice to water in the morning. Sprinkle lemon over your salads, add a wedge to iced tea, or squeeze it over broccoli. Grapefruit segments go great with avocado–my favorite salad is grapefruit, avocado and walnuts over field greens. Pineapple is great in fruit salads, or sliced on its own. As for oranges, clementines and other peel and go citrus–just enjoy it!
6. Fermented Foods
Pickles, miso, kimchi and kombucha are all deliciously fermented and full of probiotics. These fermented foods fight inflammation and although they’re pungent, they’re also so tasty! Pickled vegetables are the easiest fermented foods for beginners and they’re readily available everywhere. Watch for lower sodium varieties with no added sugar. Try pickled beans, beets and other pickled items.
Kimchi is a spicy pickled cabbage that’s both salty and tangy. Try it as a side or just out of the jar. Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is commonly used in many asian dishes. It adds a deep, savory flavor and is great with sauteed mushrooms, in soups and sauces. Finally, kombucha is a tart, tangy beverage made from tea. It takes a bit to get used to the scent and taste, but then it’s strangely addicting. We love kombucha and drink it a few times per week.
Vinegar is also fermented but deserves its own category. Apple cider vinegar is great for all sorts of applications–brushing your teeth, getting rid of a flaky scalp, as a toner for your face. The natural anti-inflammatory properties of vinegar make it soothing, even though it’s an acidic substance.
Use vinegar in your cooking. It’s a tangy, delicious salad dressing and works well in rice and pasta dishes. If you’re really brave, consider doing a shot of apple cider vinegar every once in a while. This can boost digestion and is even said by some to help you burn fat (this is pretty debatable, but it’s still a great anti-inflammatory).
8. Garlic & Onions
Garlic is one of the natural anti-inflammatory foods I swear by. Whenever I feel a cold coming on, am feeling run down or achy I start taking a garlic supplement. It always seems to help me feel better and strengthens my immune system. Garlic in soup is a classic cold and flu home remedy, and the sulfur compounds in garlic help your body stave off illness.
Onions contain similar compounds and also offer anti-inflammatory benefits. To be honest, I don’t LOVE raw onions (okay I don’t even like raw onions at all), but they cook into dishes and add flavor. Incorporating some raw onions in your meals once in a while will help fight inflammation.
9. Green Tea
Green tea has many benefits and being a natural anti-inflammatory food is just one of them. Matcha powder can be found at your local tea shop or ordered online. Whisk the powder into tea (rather than steeping it) and you have a delicious, green, slightly frothy beverage. Green tea is soothing and has a yummy soft, slightly grassy-flavor.
Drink tea throughout the day when you need an energy boost or pick-me-up. Green tea does contain some caffeine, but not as much as coffee. You can also enjoy green tea in your cooking–try adding some to give rice a flavor boost.
Celery is delicious and a fast, easy snack. Cover it with some almond butter or hummus and you’ll get a nice protein boost. Now, celery doesn’t have tons of flavor but the leaves are actually a delicious swap for parsley (which is yet another anti-inflammatory food).
Celery is great in soups, stir-fries and can be used in almost any dish. The classic pairing of celery and buffalo wings, shows how cooling and soothing celery can be. Try it as a foil for your next spicy meal. It makes a great pallet cleanser.
People have mixed feelings about beets. We always have success with them in our garden and often receive them as part of our CSA box. In the summer especially, we roast them weekly and eat them all week long.
Beets definitely have a distinctive earthy flavor that some folks don’t love, but if it’s been awhile since you gave beets a shot, try packaged cooked beets like Red Beets. Roasted beets are delicious in salads, in pasta dishes, topped with almond ricotta or just on their own. Try making spiralized noodles from raw beets, for a different take.
Broccoli is amazing, isn’t it? It’s one of the BEST vegetables (well, according to our household). It’s delicious and goes with everything. Frozen broccoli is easy to find almost anywhere. It’s usually a vegetable that most people have tried and enjoy.
Enjoy broccoli with a squeeze of lemon, topped with some of the spices mentioned above. Broccoli goes great with spicy foods. Oven-roasted broccoli is delicious and is easy to make–simply roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. The resulting crispy broccoli can be used in tacos, salads, pasta dishes and more.
Peanuts are often talked about as foods that cause inflammation. Consequently all nuts get a bad rap. Most people who have a reaction or allergy to peanuts may be fine with other nuts (of course, this isn’t one to risk) because peanuts are actually legumes. They are in the same category as beans and peas. Tree nuts on the other hand, like cashews, pecans and walnuts are natural anti-inflammatory foods.
Walnuts make great taco filling. They’re delicious on salads and add crunch to oatmeal. Walnuts are great in homemade trail mix and they’re a wonderful snack for athletes. They have 4g of protein per serving, plus healthy fats.
14. Quinoa & Oats
Quinoa, oats and other gluten-free grains are anti-inflammatory foods. Quinoa has become quite popular and is commonly found in most grocery stores these days. It’s easy to prepare–very similar to rice. It’s the perfect base for grain bowls and a swap for pasta and rice.
Oats are also commonly found, but if you’re concerned about gluten, be sure to check the packaging. Many oats aren’t gluten-free due to the processing procedure. We love to use oats for overnight oatmeal, by simply putting half a cup of oats in a mason jar with almond milk to cover (about half a cup). Put in the fridge overnight and in the morning you have an easy to go breakfast.
Do I really have to say anything else about chocolate?! Dark, delicious chocolate is easy to find. There are plenty of dairy-free varieties out there and it’s oh-so-satisfying. Chocolate is a natural anti-inflammatory food.
Try grating chocolate over the top of oatmeal or cereal. Enjoy a little square of chocolate when you need a treat. Try using unsweetened cocoa in cooking savory dishes such as chile or mole. Chocolate: It’s what’s for dinner.
If you’re hoping to fight off inflammation there are also a few foods to avoid: alcohol, red meat, peanuts, dairy, processed and fried foods. These foods can actually cause more inflamation and make you feel worse.
Give these natural anti-inflammatory foods a try and see if they help take away the soreness from your workouts.
What are your favorite anti-inflammatory foods? What are some new foods you’d like to try?
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