Inflammation isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s designed to protect us. When we are hurt or sick, our immune system sends armies of white blood cells to fight off the injury or illness and repair damaged tissue. With more blood flowing to the source of harm, we feel discomfort, swelling, redness, and heat. This is why an ankle swells up when sprained. It can be a pain (literally) but without inflammation, we wouldn’t be able to heal.
While inflammation as a defense mechanism is a healthy and necessary response, chronic inflammation is not.
In these chronic cases, inflammation occurs even when there isn’t an injury or illness. Your body, unable to tell the difference, sends white blood cells to attack healthy tissue instead.
Nutrition research shows that diet plays a big role in inflammation. The Standard American Diet is chock full of inflammatory foods that are highly processed, fried, and comprised of refined flours and sugars.
The good news? An anti-inflammatory plant-based diet can protect against chronic inflammation and many of the diseases that accompany it.
While nearly all whole plant-based foods have anti-inflammatory properties, there are three elements — antioxidants, certain minerals, and essential fatty acids — that are particularly helpful in fighting inflammation.
We’ve rounded up our top 5 favorite anti-inflammatory plant-based foods for you to add to your plate:
An antioxidant powerhouse! This versatile leafy green has inflammation-fighting properties thanks to its carotenoids, antioxidants, and vitamins C, E, and K.
How to add spinach to your plate: Stir steamed spinach into our dairy-free and gluten-free Lazy Lasagna for a delicious and easy weeknight dinner.
These delicious little berries are loaded with Vitamin C, which has been shown to lower levels of the C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation in your body). But perhaps even more important, are the anthocyanins in blueberries. Anthocyanins are antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
How to add blueberries to your plate: Spruce up your morning routine with this antioxidant blueberry smoothie.
This mild spice gives your favorite curry dishes their yellow coloring but it does so much more than that. Curcumin, the compound in turmeric responsible for that bright color, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, which may help reverse many steps in the heart disease process, alleviate joint pain as well as ibuprofen, and potentially regenerate and repair damaged brain cells.
How to add turmeric to your plate: Kick off your day with our protein-packed Turmeric Chickpea Scramble. (Bonus: this healthy breakfast is cholesterol-free!)
Your Mama was right — “Eat your broccoli!” This cruciferous vegetable has anti-inflammatory properties aplenty — from its high magnesium content (a magnesium deficiency is associated with higher inflammation) to its sulforaphane, an antioxidant that reduces levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
How to add broccoli to your plate: Drizzle some dairy-free Mama’s Mac Sauce over roasted broccoli for a delicious whole food plant-based side.
These delicious nuts are packed with more than just plant-based protein. Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3s. Why do you want omega-3s? They're fatty acids which your body can’t make on their own and have been shown to moderate inflammation in the body and reduce risk for and symptoms of autoimmune diseases, heart disease, kidney disease, arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
How to add walnuts to your plate: Our Maple Walnut Granola is the perfect on-the-go snack— and kid-friendly, to boot!
Discover how Carolyn Kaufman healed her MS symptoms and lost 145 pounds by eating this way. Read her story here.
By Ali Brown
Ali is a nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.
Your healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to go by the wayside when you’re on the go. We’ve got 9 tips for keeping your whole food plant-based diet while traveling.