The best part? You're probably already eating some of these versatile ingredients daily.

By Betty Gold
January 14, 2021

Inflammation is a normal part of our body's immune defenses. Acute inflammation, which might include a bruise or slight swelling that heals along with an injury, is actually a positive response. However, if that immune response becomes chronic, it can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, and stroke.

People can help keep inflammation at bay by avoiding certain inflammatory triggering foods like processed meat, added sugar, and saturated fats. But we can also look at what we should be eating to minimize inflammation as well. Surprisingly, you may already have many of these foods in your diet—and if not, there are many easy ways to incorporate them.

We asked three registered dietitians—Desiree Nielson, RD, author of the anti-inflammatory cookbook Eat More Plants, Kelli McGrane, RD, nutrition expert for Lose It!, and Gena Hamshaw, RD, founder of The Full Helping—to share some of their favorite anti-inflammatory ingredients that may catch you by surprise.

Credit: Greg DuPree

Often overlooked for more vibrantly colored vegetables, mushrooms are surprisingly high in antioxidants. According to McGrane, mushrooms are also one of the best sources of selenium, an essential mineral with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. “Shiitake mushrooms, in particular, are also rich in several polysaccharides (the most abundant carbohydrate found in food) that have been linked with reducing inflammation and supporting immune function,” she says.

Credit: Greg DuPree

Onions are more than just a flavor-booster—they're also incredibly nutritious. You might be familiar with garlic as an anti-inflammatory ingredient, but onions offer equally powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. According to McGrane, onions are rich in several types of antioxidants that have been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory properties. “For example, quercetin is an antioxidant compound found in onions that has been linked with anti-inflammatory properties and benefits for heart health, including lowered blood pressure levels,” she says.

Credit: Caitlin Bensel

According to Hamshaw, soy foods, including tofu, are rich in plant compounds known as isoflavones. “These isoflavones have a known anti-inflammatory activity, which may explain why consumption of foods that are rich in soy has been associated with health benefits in epidemiological studies,” she says. Additionally, thanks to its well-balanced amino acid profile—along with its fiber, manganese, and other high mineral content—tofu is a great source of ‘complete’ plant protein. When cooking with tofu, Hamshaw recommends using organic extra firm and super firm varieties. “Both are highly versatile; they can be marinated and baked, added to stir fries, or turned into a plant-based 'scramble,'" she says. “Nasoya’s Toss’ables and Superfood Skillets make it especially easy to harness the benefits of soy foods at home.”

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Contrary to popular belief, carb-filled foods—especially whole grains—are very much on the anti-inflammatory list. “Whole grains have microbiome-boosting fiber, as well as a high concentration of immune-supportive minerals, such as zinc and selenium,” says Nielson. The high amount of fiber not only gives your stomach something to ferment, it also helps to keep you feeling full and satisfied as a bonus. “Sprouted grains, in particular, provide an extra anti-inflammatory boost over standard grain products because the sprouting process appears to increase antioxidants such as flavonoids—as much as 200 percent in one trial—and anti-inflammatory nutrients such as vitamin C and manganese, a mineral essential for energizing the body," Nielson says. "I love the Squirrelly Sprouted Wheat Bread from Silver Hill’s Bakery because it contains a third of your daily value for manganese, or their Mack’s Flax Sprouted loaf which has 10 grams of fiber for two slices.”