Anti-inflammatory foods: best foods to fight inflammation and why it's so important

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You may have heard of anti-inflammatory foods, but what are they exactly? Dietician Lilian Nwora Shepherd is here to explain what they do and why we should be eating more of them. 

When it comes to keeping your body healthy and your gut balanced, diet is of the utmost importance. This is particularly true if you are worried about inflammation. The good news is, whether you’re vegan, a meat-eater, or have other specific dietary requirements, eating foods that are high in antioxidants can help to keep problematic inflammation at bay.

Now, inflammation isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it is one of your body’s natural defences against illness and injury. But when inflammation lasts for several weeks or longer, it becomes a problem. Thankfully, eating anti-inflammatory foods is an effective way to ensure that your body is well-equipped to fight infection and to prevent issues with inflammation. However, if you are currently experiencing problems or are worried about inflammation, you should speak to your doctor. 

It’s easy to up your intake of anti-inflammatory foods, and they have a range of benefits. Founder of Dresses & Dumbbells Lilian Nwora Shepherd, RD, LD, CDECS, CPT, fills us in on everything we need to know about anti-inflammatory foods – from how they work to the best foods we can benefit from. 

Woman holding her stomach
Anti-inflammatory foods: inflammation helps us fight illness, but when it lasts for several weeks or longer, it becomes a problem

What do anti-inflammatory foods do?

According to Lilian, “anti-inflammatory foods provide us with antioxidants, which eat away at the free radicals produced in our bodies”. Free radicals are basically unstable atoms in cells that can “cause irritation, cell damage and, of course, inflammation”. By eating anti-inflammatory foods, we give ourselves the best chance of fighting the issues caused by free radicals.

These foods have also been shown to stave off conditions that are caused or exacerbated by chronic inflammation, such as “arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and so on”, says Lilian. Plus, they can help those struggling with such conditions to manage their symptoms. However, anti-inflammatory foods by no means offer a cure, and you should always ensure you follow the medical advice of your doctor.

In addition, anti-inflammatory foods can help to balance the good and bad bacteria in the gut. Lilian explains that, “when there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria within the gut from diets that are high in processed foods and sugar”, this can trigger bloating caused by inflammation, as well as issues with digestion and hormonal imbalances. Luckily, eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods can help to counteract these effects. We dived deeper into the importance of gut health here, and it’s worth checking out.

Do anti-inflammatory foods benefit your mental health?

“Absolutely”, says Lilian – that balance of good and bad bacteria that is so good for your gut is also super beneficial for your mental health. “Your brain and your gut talk to each other”, she explains. When there is bloating or inflammation in the gut, this can have a knock-on effect on your mental health. In fact, a number of recent studies link inflammation of the gut to mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Inflammation can be caused by any number of things, including smoking, diet and stress. “Lowering your stress alone can drastically improve not only inflammation, but your mental health as well”, says Lilian. She recommends “considering regular exercise, delegating tasks at work and at home, and taking a warm bath if you need to wind down”.  

What are the best anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet?

There are plenty of anti-inflammatory foods that will suit all diet types. Lilian says that the key thing is to “think fresh and unprocessed”, with “fruits such as berries and oranges, vegetables like spinach and bell peppers, and nuts” – all being well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties. 

“Natural fats such as olive oil and avocados, fibre rich grains including brown rice and beans, and fatty fish, for example salmon, tuna and cod, are also great options.”     

Herbs and spices that offer these anti-inflammatory benefits include “turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and garlic”. All of these foods “are packed with the nutrients, vitamins, and phytochemicals our bodies need on a cellular level to keep us at our best”. 

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Images: Getty

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