Winter season brings a crop of fruits and vegetables to its peak in terms of flavor, nutrients and anti-inflammatory qualities. While some inflammation is normal, chronic inflammation can up your risk of serious issues such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, compromised immune system, IBS, anxiety disorder, dementia, and cancer. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet packed with inflammation-fighting foods will help you ward off potential issues, make your body less vulnerable to disease, help reduce joint and muscle pain, and keep you healthier in the long run.
While it's easy to overdo it on inflammatory foods around the holiday season (sugar cookies, processed foods, cocktails), you can take some steps to help balance your diet by eating plenty of inflammation-fighting foods this winter.
Here are 8 of the best anti-inflammatory winter foods:
- Beets are a great source of the nutrients that play an important role in your immune system’s regulation of inflammation including potassium, folate and vitamin C. In addition, two other compounds in beets—betaine and nitrates—really make them stand out as an anti-inflammatory star. Betaine is an antioxidant-like compound that research links to lower inflammatory blood markers. And, naturally occurring nitrates (different from ones added to cured and processed foods that pose potential health risks) have an anti-inflammatory effect that lowers blood pressure.
- Broccoli is the cruciferous vegetable that contains bioactive sulfur compounds called glucosinolates that minimize disease risk by decreasing inflammation throughout the body. Other cold-weather cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, Swiss chard and turnip greens are also great to combat inflammation.
- Blood Oranges are filled with vitamin C and get their vibrant red-orange color from anthocyanins, the same compounds that make berries another top anti-inflammatory food. Blood oranges offer a strong anti-inflammatory boost and are delicious on their own and great in a salad, incorporated into a pan sauce or served as a healthy and simple dessert.
- Leeks are part of the allium family, which also includes onions, shallots and scallions. Allium vegetables and roots all contain quercetin, an anti-inflammatory compound that lessens the inflammatory effects of harmful chemicals and compounds in the body. Found in winter and early spring, leeks can be a great substitute for other alliums in recipes. If you've never cooked with them, think of them as scallion with a bigger root, broader leaves and a slightly more pungent flavor (yet still milder than onions). Add them in soup, braised in the oven or even folded into mashed potatoes for an easy and delicious anti-inflammatory boost.
- Improving gut health is a key strategy for preventing and reducing inflammation. Research suggests the best way to do this is by eating more probiotic-rich foods (yogurt, fermented vegetables) and more prebiotics through high-fiber produce. Prebiotics are fibers that nourish your existing gut microbes, and pears are an excellent source of prebiotic fiber to help your good bacteria thrive. Pears are also one of the highest-fiber fruits (a medium pear contains approximately 6 grams of fiber). You can snack on a pear with some nut butter, toss some into a salad, or poach them for a healthy dessert.
- Pomegranate contains tender seeds (also known as arils) and juice that are both full of flavor and jam-packed with anti-inflammatory power. This is thanks to compounds like ellagitannin, anthocyanins and flavanols that act as antioxidants, quelling inflammation caused by free radical damage and preventing future damage. Pomegranate's antioxidant potential is considered greater than that of red wine and green tea. Arils make a great substitute for berries or citrus segments in a salad and you can add pomegranate juice to teas or smoothies for a tart, fruity flavor.
- Sweet potatoes are at the top of anti-inflammatory starchy vegetables. This is due to them serving as a lower-glycemic carbohydrate source, being a good source of vitamin C, and containing an impressive carotenoid content. Carotenoids, like beta carotene, act to protect cells from free radical damage that could create inflammation or exacerbate existing inflammation. Additionally, most carotenoids get converted to the active form of vitamin A which is key in immune system regulation and inflammation management in the body. Serve them roasted, stuff them with your favorite fillings, or make them into healthier fries.
- Spices like these should be added to any anti-inflammatory list as they offer an array of inflammation fighting potential. Cinnamon is a very versatile spice. It adds sweetness to foods and beverages and a powerful boost to immune system and metabolism. The compound, cinnamaldehyde, is what gives cinnamon its punch on flavor and health benefits. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant, balances blood sugar, fights infections and viruses, reduces high blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduces hormone insulin resistance. Ginger is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory spices out there. Several studies have shown that its functional ingredients like gingerols, shogaols, and paradols inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are directly related to chronic inflammation. Turmeric, a great food enhancer with powerful health values offers the active ingredient curcumin which acts as an anti-inflammatory, reducing allergy reactions in your sinuses, inflammation in your joints, levels of triglycerides (fats) in your bloodstream, and less cancer causing free radicals in your cells making this a serious winner for overall health. Add a pinch or two of cinnamon to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit salads, or healthy desserts; use ginger in tea, smoothies, stir fry, and stews; add turmeric to veggies and proteins like fish or chicken for optimum health and respect the power of spice.
Try this simply delicious anti-inflammatory recipe as a snack or dessert
- 1 Blood Orange, peeled and sliced
- 1 Apple, sliced
- 1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
Peel orange then slice crossways into rounds and arrange on a plate; add apple slices; lightly dust with cinnamon. Serves 2