7 Foods That Fight Inflammation

When you think of inflammation, you probably think of a bad sinus infection or that not-so-cute zit that conveniently popped up before a hot date. But there's another type of inflammation that could be happening in your body right now, and it's a contributing factor in health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and some cancers — yikes! "The first kind of inflammation, acute inflammation, allows for white blood cells to spring to action, and works great for healing a cut finger or a bumped head," says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Eat Your Way to Happiness . "The second, chronic inflammation, happens when tissues are damaged by the wrong diet or lifestyle choices, causing your body to constantly be in fight mode." Can you shut off your body's internal warrior? Yes, and food makes a huge impact. "Diet is a major player in whether or not you fight fire or fuel the flames," says Somer. "Fast food, fried food, saturated fat, sugar and refined grains are huge inflammation irritants." If you've been reaching for the chips and sweets too often, here are seven foods to swap in and get your body back on track. TART CHERRY JUICEInstead of reaching for that Diet Coke, fill up on this tangy juice instead. "It has potent anti-inflammatory properties called anthocyanins, natural compounds in cherries that work directly to fight enzymes associated with inflammation," says nutritionist Emily Edison, M.S., founder of Momentum Health and Fitness in Seattle. "Plus, the juice can decrease muscle soreness after exercise." A post-workout glass of cherry juice will nix both in one fell swoop.

WATERMELONThis favorite warm weather fruit is rich in antioxidants such as lycopene and vitamins A and C. "These compounds reduce damage to tissues that otherwise start the inflammatory process. Other compounds in watermelon, like citrulline and arginine, improve blood flow, so that blood doesn’t become sluggish, reducing the risk for inflammation," says Somer. FATTY FISHSalmon and other fatty fish like Chilean sea bass, sardines, and black cod are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids found to reduce inflammation and are especially great for preventing heart disease, says Edison. She suggests filling up three times a week for maximum impact.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH

More than just a autumn decoration, this veggie contains a lot of antioxidants, especially Vitamins A and C, which help the body ward off inflammation, says Edison. Try an easy butternut squash soup or sneak it into your next healthy mac and cheese.

BERRIESDoesn't matter if you're a fan of blueberries, strawberries or raspberries, all are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C. A recent study from the University of Maine found that wild blueberries reduced blood pressure and improved cardiovascular function. Slip them in your morning smoothie and grab a handful for a quick snack.

TOMATOESTomatoes have a host of health benefits: they're a natural sunscreen of sorts, and they contain compounds that improve blood flow by helping regulate platelets, the cell fragments responsible for blood clots, says Somer. Now recent research has shown that tomato juice has anti-inflammatory properties. Is there anything this fruit can't do?

DARK LEAFY GREENS

There's good reason to join in on the kale love fest: "Studies suggest that vitamin E, found in plants such as kale, spinach, and chard, may play a key role in protecting the body from pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines," says Edison. If you're not keen on Gwyneth Paltrow's kale lemonade, try this yummy kale, mushroom and white bean stew. Trust us, you won't even know it's there.Image: Berc/Fotolia