15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods I Actually Eat

I recently obtained a copy of Johnny Bowden’s book “The 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth”, and it is a monster-size book of over 700 pages.  As a Hashimoto’s patient who is focused on getting my health back, my diet has been my focus for the last couple of months.  And this book’s title grabbed my attention.

As a Hashimoto’s patient, I know that I have an autoimmune disease that is slowly killing my thyroid gland over time.  Inflammation is my biggest enemy and challenge.  And because of this inflammation, it is important that I try to preserve and protect whatever is left of my thyroid gland.

So little back story – I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid in 2003, and only diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in 2015.  That was a long time of struggling with symptoms, and at times, being very ill, tired or even feeling depressed.  It’s all thyroid related.

Since then, I have learned a HUGE amount about thyroid autoimmunity.  I have realised that to take my health back, I MUST become my own health advocate.  Since my diagnosis, I have seen two endocrinologists who I fired, I have changed my primary health care doctor, and for my thyroid health, I have started working with a functional medicine doctor since 2019.  Changing my doctors to work with a functional health doctor has been one of the best things I have done for my health.

But back to the book.

In Johnny Bowden’s book, he listed four key criteria he looked at when compiling this list of 150 foods:

  1. Omega-3 fats
  2. Fiber
  3. Antioxidants
  4. Glycemic load

Why these four criteria?  Here’s the explanation:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fats are a special class of polyunsaturated fats. There are 3 types of omega-3 fats, which are ALA, DHA, and EPA.

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is an essential fatty acid, meaning that our bodies cannot make it, and we must obtain it from our diets. Flaxseed is a great source of ALA.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are found in fish, such as wild salmon. Our bodies can make these, but our bodies are not really good at doing it, so it is important to get these from our diet.

There are a number of health benefits of omega-3 fats. For me, the key is that it is anti-inflammatory. We ideally want to eat more omega-3 fats than omega-6 fats (which is highly inflammatory). It also helps to lower blood pressure and helps to improve insulin and glucose metabolism. This is key since many Hashimoto’s patients struggle with insulin resistance.

2. Fiber

Fiber plays a key role in our gut health, and also has a huge amount of health benefits. Soluble fiber, which changes into a gel-like substance in the gut, helps to slow the absorption of sugar – again, very important for Hashimoto’s patients who struggle with blood sugar issues.

3. Antioxidants

Antioxidants play an important role in our overall health. It is the counter measure against oxidative stress. If you haven’t head of oxidative stress, here is a simple explanation:
So, you know how our bodies are like a bustling little city, with lots of tiny workers called cells doing their jobs? Well, sometimes, these cells produce these little troublemakers called “free radicals.” These free radicals can damage our body’s cells.

That’s where oxidative stress comes in. It’s the damage caused by these free radicals.
But here’s the superhero part: Antioxidants! They’re like our trusty repair crew.

Antioxidants are these awesome substances that can help neutralize those pesky free radicals.

4. Glycemic Load

You may have heard about the glycemic index of foods – this is a measurement of how much a given food raises your blood sugar. But, it does not take into account the portion size.
For this reason, we want to look at glycemic load, where it also takes the portion size into account. So, it’s like considering how big the rollercoaster is and how fast it goes.

High glycemic load foods, like sugary stuff or refined grains, are like a super tall and speedy rollercoaster. When you eat them, your blood sugar goes up really fast, and then it crashes down, leaving you feeling tired and hungry again.

On the other hand, low glycemic load foods, like whole grains and veggies, are like a gentle kiddie ride. They don’t make your blood sugar spike and crash; instead, it’s a nice, steady ride that keeps you feeling full and energized.

So, in simple terms, glycemic load helps you figure out how the food you’re eating affects your energy levels and hunger. It’s like choosing the right rollercoaster ride for your blood sugar!

My Top 15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

That is great, but for me, as a Hashimoto’s patient, I also want to focus on foods that are anti-flammatory. So, here are my TOP 15 Anti-inflammatory foods that I actually eat.

1. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds, despite their small size, are nutritional powerhouses. They’re loaded with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid known for its anti-inflammatory benefits.

These seeds are not just nutrient-packed but also rich in fiber, with the potential to combat harmful inflammation. Fiber plays a key role in maintaining a balanced gut, reducing inflammation, and lowering the risk of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease.

Chia seeds are unique among plant foods because they contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source. They also offer valuable antioxidants, like flavonoids, which protect against the free radicals associated with chronic inflammation.

Additionally, chia seeds are a good source of magnesium, which helps reduce inflammation, and they contain vitamins C and E, known for their anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Blueberries

Blueberries are like nature’s little gems, and they’re not just delicious; they come with a bundle of health benefits. These juicy berries are loaded with anthocyanins, a special type of flavonoid that gives them that rich blue or purple hue. Anthocyanins aren’t just about color; they’re powerful antioxidants that work wonders. They help keep your blood sugar in check and bring down the inflammation levels in your body. So, they’re like little anti-inflammatory superheroes!

But that’s not all. Blueberries have more tricks up their sleeves. They contain other anti-inflammatory flavonoids such as quercetin, plus a good dose of vitamin C, gut-friendly soluble fiber, and polyphenolic compounds like resveratrol. These are all good things for your health.

Now, here’s the catch: conventional blueberries often come with an unwanted sidekick—pesticides. So, if you can, go for organic blueberries to keep things healthy and delicious.

3. Ginger

Ginger is quite the remarkable plant with its unique, spicy taste. It’s been a trusted remedy for ages, primarily for its potential health perks, including its knack for calming inflammation. It’s like your body’s personal inflammation manager; it can slow down those pesky inflammatory enzymes. 

This fantastic ability comes from a compound called gingerol, the superstar behind ginger’s taste and its anti-inflammatory powers. Plus, just like turmeric, ginger is loaded with antioxidants that do a superhero job neutralizing those troublesome free radicals.

But that’s not all—ginger has more tricks up its sleeve. It can help ease gut inflammation, enhance your gut’s protective barrier, and keep your gut buddies happy and healthy. And here’s a bonus: it’s great for post-workout recovery. Studies even say that ginger can help reduce those achy muscles after a hardcore workout.

So, ginger is your go-to pal for both everyday health and fitness!

4. Garlic

Garlic is not only famous for its bold, pungent taste but also for its remarkable health potential. The secret to its unique flavor and its anti-inflammatory powers lies in its primary active player, allicin.

You see, garlic packs a punch of sulfur-containing compounds that are skilled at putting a stop to inflammation. But that’s not all; it’s got an arsenal of flavonoids, sulfurous compounds, and other antioxidants that wage war against oxidative stress, a key contributor to inflammation.

And to top it all off, its prebiotics act as cheerleaders for good gut bacteria while damping down gut inflammation. So, garlic isn’t just for flavor; it’s a superhero in the world of health!

5. Onions

Onions contain powerful antioxidants, specifically quercetin, and are also anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and antiviral. I use onions on an almost daily basis in my cooking.

I just don’t eat onions raw, because I do not like the aftertaste it leaves (not even raw in a salad).

Thanks to quercetin, a potent flavonoid in onions, they excel at reducing inflammation in the body. This antioxidant shields cells from damage, helping fend off chronic inflammatory diseases. Onions support heart health by relaxing blood vessels, lowering blood pressure, and alleviating arthritis symptoms by reducing joint inflammation.

They also boost the immune system and promote gut health, acting as prebiotics that support good bacteria.

6. Extra-virgin olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a treasure trove of the anti-inflammatory fatty acid oleic acid, which I’ve praised earlier in the context of almonds.

EVOO, with its array of polyphenolic compounds (some with tongue-twisting names like oleuropein), delivers a dynamic duo of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory power. It’s a friend of your gut, fostering the growth of healthy gut bacteria and reigning in gut inflammation.

EVOO’s ability to combat inflammatory markers in atherosclerosis is what gives it its well-deserved reputation for heart health.

When compared to regular olive oil, extra-virgin olive oil shines because it undergoes less refinement, preserving higher levels of polyphenols. It’s the superstar of salad dressings and dips, but not your go-to for high-heat cooking. That’s because EVOO has a lower smoke point (the temperature at which oil begins to break down) compared to other oils. Using it at higher temperatures could potentially harm those delicate antioxidants and diminish its nutritional punch. So, remember, EVOO is your culinary companion for lower-heat culinary endeavors.

7. Avocado

Avocado, packed with oleic acid, the same heart-healthy fat found in almonds and extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), isn’t just a delicious addition to your plate; it’s a formidable ally against inflammation. This green gem offers a bountiful supply of dietary fiber, weighing in at an impressive 10 grams per medium avocado. That fiber isn’t just great for your digestive health; it’s a valuable player in managing inflammatory conditions, including irritable bowel disease (IBD).

But that’s not all. Avocado has more tricks up its sleeve. It boasts antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, along with vitamins E and C, providing an extra layer of support in the battle against inflammation. So, slice up some avocado to boost your overall health while delighting your taste buds.

8. Spinach

I’ll be straightforward with you: I initially wanted to crown kale as the supreme leafy green, but spinach won the accessibility contest. Spinach is the go-to option, as it’s widely available and easier on the taste buds. You see, kale has a rather bitter taste due to its sulfurous compounds, which don’t sit well with everyone.

But let’s not underestimate spinach; it’s a real all-star. Packed with a wide variety of anti-inflammatory nutrients, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and an array of antioxidants, spinach is a nutritional powerhouse.

Spinach is your ticket to the antioxidant-vitamin extravaganza, boasting vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). Plus, it’s a fantastic source of inflammation-fighting magnesium. Its blend of soluble and insoluble fiber provides essential support for your gut.

While it might not rival chia or flax seeds, spinach does contain a smidge of omega-3 fatty acid, ALA.

Now, for a few folks, the oxalates in raw spinach can be a concern. The solution? Cook your spinach and other oxalate-rich foods to minimize any potential issues. If you’re planning to use it in your smoothies, my recommendation is to give it a quick steam before freezing and blending. Your taste buds and body will thank you!

9. Cherries

Cherries are like nature’s little superheroes in the fight against inflammation. They’re loaded with antioxidants and special compounds called anthocyanins that can work wonders in calming down inflammation.

So, if you’re dealing with conditions like gout or arthritis, snacking on cherries can be a delicious and sweet way to kick inflammation to the curb.

I usually order IQF (individually quick frozen) sour and sweet cherries from a local supplier, and have then on-hand to use in my morning smoothies!

10. Lemons

Surprisingly, lemons, despite their tangy punch, have a way of soothing inflammation. They’re jam-packed with vitamin C, a known antioxidant, which not only helps your immune system but also takes on inflammation like a champ. The citric acid in lemons can even lend a helping hand in taming inflammation in your tummy.

11. Oranges

Oranges are the poster child for vitamin C, and that’s a great thing for fighting inflammation. This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant, making it a top choice for reducing inflammation and giving your immune system a high-five. Plus, all the fiber in oranges keeps your gut in top shape, which indirectly dials down inflammation all over your body.

12. Sauerkraut

Fermented foods like sauerkraut are filled with probiotics, those friendly microbes that make your gut their happy home. A well-balanced gut means less inflammation, and that’s where sauerkraut steps in. It’s your go-to for creating a peaceful environment inside, where inflammation doesn’t stand a chance.

13. Cinnamon

Cinnamon isn’t just a tasty spice; it’s your secret anti-inflammatory weapon. It’s brimming with antioxidants and special compounds that can kick inflammation to the curb. A sprinkle of cinnamon in your morning oatmeal or tea adds some zing to your anti-inflammatory game.

14. Turmeric

Ever wondered why curries are not just delicious but also a health powerhouse? It’s because of turmeric, the golden spice. Turmeric’s special compound, curcumin, is like the superhero of the anti-inflammatory world. It’s been studied extensively for its inflammation-fighting abilities, so adding it to your meals can spice up your life while cooling down inflammation.

15. Pineapple

Pineapples aren’t just a tropical delight; they’re packed with bromelain, a fantastic enzyme that’s famous for its anti-inflammatory effects. If you’re dealing with joint pain or conditions like osteoarthritis, pineapple can be your fruity ally in the fight against inflammation.

So, the next time you slice into a juicy pineapple, know that you’re also taking a bite out of inflammation.

BONUS: Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is like a sweet warrior in the fight against cardiovascular diseases and brain-related disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, thanks to its impressive anti-inflammatory superpowers. Its arsenal includes flavonoids, especially those mighty flavanols, which act as potent antioxidants battling inflammation.

Additionally, dark chocolate serves up a double dose of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits through its polyphenols and catechins. Plus, it’s a sneaky source of magnesium, a mineral many of us are secretly low on, possibly explaining our chocolate cravings.

Now, don’t go thinking all dark chocolate is equal because it’s not. To get the most out of this indulgence, look for one that’s packing at least 80% cacao, sweetened with erythritol or another approved sweetener, and remember, moderation is key. Stick to these principles, and you can savor the delight of dark chocolate daily.

A final thought

Now, there are other foods that are also anti-inflammatory, including broccoli, oats, cold-water fish (such as salmon), papaya, peaches, raisins, macadamia nuts, and spirulina, to name a few. Let’s take wild-caught salmon. While every expert will recommend salmon, my family just doesn’t like the taste of salmon, so I will most likely not buy it and cook it. It is, however, something that I will enjoy when we go out to a restaurant for dinner.

The key here is: load up on the anti-inflammatory foods that you like.  Your body will appreciate it!

Adele du Rand

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