4 Delicious Foods You Didn't Know Were Anti-Inflammatory

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

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.

01 of 04

Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake Mushrooms
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.

02 of 04


This Spanish-inspired chicken dinner is short on time but long on flavor, thanks to a clever combination of dried chorizo and a triple dose of alliums, aka spring onions, red onions, and garlic cloves. The rice pilaf is a riff on a classic Spanish dish called fideos—essentially pan-toasted pasta, spiced with saffron and simmered in rich chicken broth. The result is so much more exciting and delicious than your average chicken and rice combo.  Get the recipeChicken Thighs With Chorizo, Spring Onions, and Rice Pilaf. 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 benefits. "Onions are rich in quercetin, an antioxidant compound that has been linked with anti-inflammatory properties and benefits for heart health, including lowered blood pressure levels," McGrane says.

03 of 04


Top View of Tofu and Mushroom Larb Dish in a Large Gray Plate with a Metal Spoon for Serving
Caitlin Bensel

Soy foods, including tofu, are rich in plant compounds known as isoflavones. "These isoflavones are known for anti-inflammatory activity, which may explain why soy-rich foods have been associated with health benefits in epidemiological studies," says Hamshaw. Thanks to its well-balanced amino acid profile, 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."

04 of 04

Sprouted Grains

Sandwich recipes
Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, carb-filled foods—especially whole grains—are very much on the anti-inflammatory list. "Whole grains have microbiome-boosting fiber and a high concentration of immune-supportive minerals like 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. "Sprouted grains, in particular, provide an extra anti-inflammatory boost 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 in two slices."

Was this page helpful?
Real Simple is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. Furman D, Campisi J, Verdin E, et al. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nat Med. 2019;25(12):1822-1832. doi:10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0

  2. Kozarski M, Klaus A, Jakovljevic D, et al. Antioxidants of edible mushrooms. Molecules. 2015;20(10):19489-19525. doi:10.3390/molecules201019489

  3. Kiełczykowska M, Kocot J, Paździor M, et al. Selenium - a fascinating antioxidant of protective properties. Adv Clin Exp Med. 2018;27(2):245-255. doi:10.17219/acem/67222

  4. Salehi B, Machin L, Monzote L, et al. Therapeutic potential of quercetin: New insights and perspectives for human health. ACS Omega. 2020;5(20):11849-11872. doi:10.1021/acsomega.0c01818

  5. Nakai S, Fujita M, Kamei Y. Health promotion effects of soy isoflavones. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2020;66(6):502-507. doi:10.3177/jnsv.66.502

  6. Benincasa P, Falcinelli B, Lutts S, et al. Sprouted grains: A comprehensive review. Nutrients. 2019;11(2):421. doi:10.3390/nu11020421

Related Articles