All of us who’ve spent any time working out will be familiar with the unpleasantness that is DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). The sore, achey feeling in your muscles can affect for you for a few days after your workout (and sometimes longer – deadlifts, I’m looking at you!). This feeling is partly caused by inflammation. Inflammation is not always a bad thing – it is actually a vital part of the process of your body repairing itself after the (good) damage done during workouts. Inflammation also helps your body defend itself from infection, which I guess is also pretty important. These are, however, examples of short-term, acute, inflammation. When inflammation becomes chronic it becomes unhealthy and can cause diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Luckily, there are certain foods that are anti-inflammatory which help to prevent chronic inflammation, and can also aid in your recovery from the (good) inflammation caused by working out. Below are some of our favourite anti-inflammatory foods. Including these foods into your diet will help promote your overall health (and, as an added bonus, they are delicious!).
Avocado is, technically, a fruit. I don’t know about you, but we tend to eat it as a savoury addition to our meals, so I don’t really think of it as a fruit. There are many health benefits from eating avocados. They are extremely nutrient dense, full of antioxidants and contain more potassium than bananas! The particularly interesting thing about avocados is that, unlike most fruits, they are high in healthy fats. The main fat in avocados is called oleic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been associated with reduced inflammation - meaning that your smashed avo on toast (hello fellow millennials) is not only delicious, but also is an aid to recovery and overall health!
Berries are small, nutrient dense fruits that are packed full of flavour, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Berries have very strong anti-inflammatory properties, as they are rich in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation, boost your immunity and reduce your risk of disease.
There are loads of different types of berries, but some of my favourites are:
Although not technically berries, cherries and grapes also have strong anti-inflammatory properties and are high in antioxidants.
Cruciferous vegetables are extremely nutrient dense. They are good sources of phytonutrients, which are plant-based compounds that may help lower inflammation and reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables include:
· Bok choy
· Brussel sprouts
Dark chocolate and cocoa
Woooo! Who would’ve guessed that chocolate would make the list?! Well, it does! One word of warning though, I’m talking about dark chocolate, not the sugary milk chocolate stuff (which is most certainly not good for you). If you buy high quality dark chocolate, or unsweetened cocoa, it is actually very nutritious. In addition to being a good source of iron and other nutrients, they are both powerful sources of antioxidants which help reduce inflammation. Remember though that it still packs quite a calorie punch, so this isn’t me telling you to go nuts on the dark chocolate (unless, of course, you are looking to put on weight, in which case enjoy!).
Green tea is one of the healthiest things you can drink! It is packed full of antioxidants and nutrients that have a beneficial effect on overall health. Green tea is rich in polyphenols, which are micronutrients that have effects like reducing inflammation and helping to fight cancer. Green tea is about 30 percent polyphenols by weight, meaning it is a powerful addition to your diet to help prevent cell damage and provide other health benefits. I found that it took me a while to get used to the taste, and even now I like to mix it with peppermint tea to make it taste better, but it’s definitely worth getting used to!
Herbs and spices
One easy and delicious way to include anti-inflammatory foods into your diet is by including lots of herbs and spices. Both dried and fresh herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants and have many beneficial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s easy to include herbs and spices in every meal, and I’d recommend that you try to do so. Whether it’s through adding mint leaves to your smoothie, cinnamon to your porridge, adding black pepper to your lunch or ensuring a mix of herbs and/or spices are added to your dinner – it’s a very easy way to make your diet healthier!
Some of our favourite herbs and spices are:
· Black pepper
All types of edible mushrooms contain B vitamins, along with selenium which is a powerful antioxidant. Selenium helps to support the immune system, and helps prevent damage to cells. Mushrooms are rich in many anti-inflammatory compounds and are an excellent addition to a healthy diet! Additionally, white button mushrooms are one of the only plant-based sources of vitamin D.
Edible mushrooms include:
· Brown mushrooms
· Button mushrooms
· Enoki mushrooms
· King oyster mushrooms
· Portabello mushrooms
· Shiitake mushrooms
Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Curcumin is not easily absorbed by the human body, so absorption is helped by eating black pepper with turmeric. Turmeric has many other health benefits and you should definitely be looking to include it in your diet! I personally don’t particularly like the taste of turmeric, but I include it in almost every lunch and dinner I prepare, as it has incredibly powerful health promoting benefits.
The above are just some examples of some of our favourite anti-inflammatory foods. There are many others, and a whole food plant based diet is generally health promoting and anti-inflammatory (especially compared to standard diets). Make sure you get a wide variety of whole, plant based foods into your diet and you should start reaping the health benefits!