When it comes to food and wellness, nutrition experts will all agree on one thing: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Any diet or self-proclaimed superfood that claims to act as a cure-all—or worse, lacks science-backed research to supports said assertions—should be taken with a large grain of salt.
That being said, there are a number of ingredients and meal regimes that do have legitimate backing from health professionals. One superstar example: the anti-inflammatory diet. “Science has linked chronic inflammation with the diseases that kill the most people each year in the United States: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke,” explains Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN. “Inflammation is also at the root of other debilitating conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Autoimmune diseases, like lupus and fibromyalgia, also have an inflammatory component.”
However, according to Largeman-Roth, inflammation isn’t all bad. Acute inflammation, or short-term inflammation that helps to increase blood flow to an injury or infection, speeds up your body’s healing process. Chronic inflammation, which lingers for months or years, is the dangerous form that needs to be reduced for optimal health (find five ways to reduce chronic inflammation here).
“The good news is that several plant substances, known as phytochemicals, can help do just that. And choosing more fresh, whole foods instead of processed foods can go a long way toward dialing down your body’s inflammatory response,” she says. And whether you’re short on time or you’re looking for a simple snack that’ll squeeze more fresh whole foods into your diet, smoothies are an excellent way to jumpstart your anti-inflammatory meal plan. In honor of Largeman-Roth’s recently-released cookbook, Prevention Healthy Kitchen: Juices and Smoothies, she helped us outline the best inflammation-fighting ingredients that are perfect for whirling into smoothies. The best part? They’re all supported by science.
These super snackers are rich in anti-inflammatories. “Their mix of flavonoids and resveratrol combine to fight free radicals and inflammation. Resveratrol shows promise in combating the inflammatory effects of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and other age-related illnesses,” explains Largeman-Roth.
Cherries offer a wealth of inflammation-busting power in one small scarlet package. According to Largeman-Roth, studies have found that cherries, both sweet and tart, help prevent or decrease oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Both sweet and tart cherry varieties are rich in polyphenols, including anthocyanins. Extra big benefits: cherries have also been proven to help you sleep.
This spice is a component of curry powder and serves up a bevy of anti-inflammatory benefits. “The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has been shown to help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach ulcers, and Crohn’s disease. It can also help with the pain of post-operative inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis,” Largeman-Roth says.
Small and mighty, chia seeds were prized by the Aztecs and Mayans for the long-lasting energy they provide. The seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory benefits.
The zing that ginger gives to food is delicious, but this ancient healing ingredient also has a ton of inflammation-fighting power. “In studies, ginger has been linked to relieving menstrual pain, pain from migraines, and pain from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis,” Largeman-Roth explains.
Blueberries & Wild Berries
These tart-sweet gems are tiny but formidable inflammation fighters. According to Largeman-Roth, blueberries contain high amounts of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that counters inflammation and may help reduce the risk for heart disease and cancer. “These berries show promise as an aid in reducing age-related cognitive decline, thanks to their high polyphenol content.”
Gallery: 25 ‘Superfoods’ That Aren’t as Super as You Think (Cheapism)