Studies suggest that some foods can help decrease chronic inflammation. These include olive oil, certain berries, fruit, vegetables, spices, and fish.

Inflammation can be both good and bad.

On the one hand, it helps your body defend itself from infection and injury. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can lead to disease (1, 2).

Stress, low activity levels, and foods that cause inflammation can make this risk even more significant. For this reason, eating foods that can help reduce inflammation is strongly advisable.

What are the top anti-inflammatory foods?

Foods like fruits, vegetables, and spices contain anti-inflammatory compounds and may help reduce inflammation. The most anti-inflammatory foods may include:

  • berries
  • fatty fish
  • broccoli
  • avocados
  • green tea
  • peppers
  • mushrooms
  • grapes
  • turmeric
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • dark chocolate and cocoa
  • tomatoes
  • cherries
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1. Berries

Berries are small fruits packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Dozens of varieties exist. Some of the most common ones include:

  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • blackberries

Berries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. These compounds have anti-inflammatory effects that may reduce your disease risk (3, 4).

A 2018 review of research suggests that phytochemicals found in berries may help delay cancer development and progression. Though more research is needed, they may benefit immunotherapy (5).

Your body naturally produces NK cells, and they help keep your immune system functioning correctly.

In another study, adults with excess weight who ate strawberries had lower levels of specific inflammatory markers associated with heart disease than those who didn’t (6).

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2. Fatty fish

Fatty fish are a great source of protein and the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Although all types of fish contain some omega-3 fatty acids, these fatty fish are among the best sources:

  • salmon
  • sardines
  • herring
  • mackerel
  • anchovies

EPA and DHA help reduce inflammation, which may otherwise lead to health conditions that may include (7, 8, 9, 10):

  • metabolic syndrome
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • kidney disease

Your body metabolizes these fatty acids into compounds called resolvins and protectins, which have anti-inflammatory effects (11).

Studies have found that people consuming salmon or EPA and DHA supplements experienced reductions in the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP) (12, 13).

However, in one study, people with an irregular heartbeat who took EPA and DHA daily experienced no difference in inflammatory markers compared with those who received a placebo (14).

3. Broccoli

Broccoli is highly nutritious.

It’s a cruciferous vegetable, along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale.

Research has shown that eating many cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and cancer (15, 16).

This may be related to the anti-inflammatory effects of the antioxidants they contain.

Broccoli is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant that decreases inflammation by reducing your levels of cytokines and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB), which are molecules that drive inflammation in your body (17, 18, 19, 20).

4. Avocados

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Avocados contain potassium, magnesium, fiber, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (21, 22).

They also contain carotenoids and tocopherols, which are linked to a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease (23, 24, 25).

In addition, one compound in avocados may reduce inflammation in newly forming skin cells (25).

In one high quality study including 51 adults with excess weight, those who ate avocado for 12 weeks had a reduction of inflammatory markers interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β) and CRP (26).

5. Green tea

You’ve probably heard that green tea, such as matcha green tea, is one of the healthiest beverages.

Research has found that drinking green tea is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and other conditions (27, 28, 29).

Many of its benefits are due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially a substance called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).

EGCG inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in your cells (27, 30, 31).

6. Peppers

Bell and chili peppers are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants with powerful anti-inflammatory effects (32, 33, 34, 35).

Bell peppers also provide the antioxidant quercetin, which may reduce inflammation associated with chronic diseases like diabetes (36, 37).

Chili peppers contain sinapic acid and ferulic acid, which may reduce inflammation and support healthier aging (38, 39).

7. Mushrooms

While thousands of varieties of mushrooms exist worldwide, only a few are edible and grown commercially.

These include truffles, portobello mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms.

Mushrooms are very low in calories and rich in selenium, copper, and all of the B vitamins.

They also contain phenols and other antioxidants that provide anti-inflammatory protection (40, 41, 42, 43).

8. Grapes

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Grapes contain anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation.

In addition, they may decrease the risk of several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and eye disorders (44, 45, 46, 47, 48).

Grapes are also one of the best sources of resveratrol, another antioxidant compound with many health benefits.

Studies show that resveratrol can protect the heart against inflammation.

While taking a resveratrol supplement is not the same as eating grapes, in one study including 60 people with heart failure, those who consumed two 50-mg capsules of resveratrol supplements daily for 3 months experienced a decrease in inflammatory gene markers, including interleukin 6 (IL-6) (49).

An older study from 2012 found that adults who ate grape extract daily experienced increased adiponectin levels. Low levels of this hormone are associated with weight gain and an increased risk of cancer (50, 51).

9. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice with a warm, earthy flavor often used in curries and other Indian dishes.

It has received a lot of attention because it contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound (52, 53, 54, 55).

Research has shown that turmeric reduces inflammation related to arthritis, diabetes, and other diseases (55, 56, 57).

In one study, people with metabolic syndrome consumed 1 gram of curcumin daily combined with piperine from black pepper. They experienced a significant decrease in the inflammatory marker CRP (56, 55).

It may be hard to get enough curcumin from turmeric alone to experience a noticeable effect. Taking supplements containing isolated curcumin may be much more effective.

Curcumin supplements often include piperine, which can boost curcumin absorption by 2,000% (55).

More research is needed to understand how the dosage of turmeric affects inflammatory markers (58).

10. Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat.

It’s rich in monounsaturated fats and a staple in the Mediterranean diet, which provides numerous health benefits.

Studies suggest extra virgin olive oil may reduce the risk of heart disease, brain cancer, obesity, and other serious health conditions (59, 60, 61).

Research suggests that following a Mediterranean diet and supplementing with extra virgin olive oil can significantly decrease inflammatory markers (62).

The effect of oleocanthal, an antioxidant found in olive oil, has been compared to anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (63).

Remember that extra virgin olive oil has greater anti-inflammatory benefits than refined olive oils (4).

11. Dark chocolate and cocoa

Dark chocolate is delicious, rich, and satisfying.

It’s also packed with antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. These may reduce your disease risk and lead to healthier aging (65, 66, 67, 68).

Flavanols are responsible for chocolate’s anti-inflammatory effects and help keep the endothelial cells that line your arteries healthy.

One small study of participants who consumed 852 mg of cocoa flavanols twice daily or a placebo suggests that cocoa flavanols can improve vascular function and decrease blood pressure and arterial stiffness within the first 3—8 hours after ingestion (69).

However, more high quality studies on chocolate and its components are needed.

In the meantime, it can’t hurt to choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa — a greater percentage is even better — to reap these anti-inflammatory benefits (67, 68, 70).

12. Tomatoes

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The tomato is a nutritional powerhouse.

Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, an antioxidant with impressive anti-inflammatory properties (71, 72, 73, 74).

Lycopene may be particularly beneficial for reducing pro-inflammatory compounds related to several types of cancer (75, 76, 77).

Cooking tomatoes in olive oil can help you absorb more of their lycopene content (78).

That’s because lycopene is a carotenoid, a nutrient better absorbed with a source of fat.

13. Cherries

Cherries are delicious and rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins and catechins, which decrease inflammation (79, 80, 81).

Although the health-promoting properties of tart cherries have been studied more than other varieties, sweet cherries may also provide benefits.

One 2019 study including 37 older adults found that those who consumed 16 ounces (480 mL) of tart cherry juice daily for 12 weeks experienced significantly lower levels of the inflammatory marker CRP (82).

However, another study found tart cherry juice had no effect on inflammation in healthy younger adults after they took it daily for 30 days (83).

More research is needed to understand how cherries might help reduce inflammation.

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Inflammatory foods

In addition to filling your diet with nutritious anti-inflammatory ingredients, it’s essential to limit your consumption of foods that can promote inflammation may support your overall health (84, 85).

For example, a higher intake of some fast foods, frozen microwavable snack items, and processed meat products may be associated with higher blood levels of inflammatory markers like CRP (86, 87, 88).

Foods like sugar-sweetened beverages and refined carbs may also promote inflammation (89, 90).

Examples of foods that have been linked to increased levels of inflammation can include:

  • Processed foods: potato chips and fast food (91, 92, 93)
  • Refined carbs: white bread, white rice, crackers, and biscuits (94, 95, 96)
  • Fried foods: fries, fried chicken, and mozzarella sticks (97, 98)
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: soda, sweet tea, and sports drinks (99, 90)
  • Processed meats: bacon, ham, and hot dogs (98, 100, 101)

Keep in mind that it’s okay to eat these foods occasionally. Just try to ensure that you follow a well-balanced diet that’s based on whole foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables. It’s best to stick to foods that are minimally processed.

The bottom line

Even low levels of inflammation on a chronic basis can lead to disease.

Do your best to keep inflammation in check by choosing a wide variety of delicious, antioxidant-rich foods. Eating foods that are as close to their original form and choosing a variety of brightly colored foods can help provide more anti-inflammatory nutrients.

Peppers, dark chocolate, fish, and extra virgin olive oil are just a few foods that can help you lower inflammation and reduce your risk of illness.

Just one thing

Try this today: Enjoy the powerful antioxidant effects of chocolate by making your own hot chocolate.

Heat 1 cup (237 mL) of your favorite milk –– whether it’s dairy, oat, or nut-based –– and whisk in about 1 tablespoon (5.4 grams) of unsweetened cocoa until it’s fully dissolved.

For extra flavor, you can add a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a dash of agave, honey, or maple syrup for sweetness. And for an optional anti-inflammatory boost, try it with a pinch of cayenne and cinnamon.

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