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5 Essential Foods that Reduce Inflammation and Optimize Health

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Foods that reduce inflammation. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend

All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend

Excess inflammation is a major cause of disease in our modern times. It is linked to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and even the aging process. This makes reducing inflammation one of the most important ways to promote health and longevity. Luckily our diet play a key role in controlling the inflammatory process and everyday food choices can make the difference between health and disease. It’s not complicated, the equation is simple. By avoiding the foods that promote inflammation and consuming the foods that decrease inflammation we can reduce our risk with each meal!

The first step is to eat a diet rich in organic, unrefined foods. Many whole foods have anti-inflammatory properties because they have beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, some stand apart, possessing powerful medicinal properties. Below I have listed my five favorite foods to reduce inflammation, prevent diseases and retard the aging process. Not only are these foods rich in nutrition, they are rich in flavor.

    Five foods that reduce inflammation
  1. Turmeric

    Tumeric. Photo: Wendy GoodfriendThis Asian spice is a medicinal superfood. Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) is a relative of ginger and is the spice that gives curry powder its characteristic yellow color. It is one of the most extensively researched medicinal spices. It protects the liver from toxins and is effective in killing numerous bacteria and yeasts. It is also and exceptional anti-inflammatory. Studies indicate that one of the most important constituents in turmeric is the yellow pigment, curcumin. It blocks several inflammatory chemicals reducing inflammation throughout the body. It is easy to consume turmeric daily by adding it to curries, beans, rice, sauces or smoothies. Just be careful because curcumin is so powerful that is stains everything -- clothing, towels and countertops. Turmeric is available as a dried powder or as the fresh root which resembles yellow ginger. It is best absorbed when it is combined with black pepper, or other aromatic spices as it is in traditional curry.

  2. Flax seeds and other rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids

    Flax Seeds and Walnuts. Photo: Wendy GoodfriendIn our bodies, cells communicate with each other by sending chemical messengers into the blood stream. These messengers are called cytokines. Certain cytokines promote an inflammatory response, while others turn it off. Omega-3 fatty acids cause more of the anti-inflammatory cytokines to be made. The modern American diet is very low in omega-3 fatty acids. It is difficult to get enough of them without making a conscious effort to eat high omega-3 foods. Flax seeds are one of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3s. Other rich sources are cold-water fish, hemp seeds, walnuts, chia seeds and grass-fed beef.

  3. Berries

    Blueberries and Pomegranate. Photo: Wendy GoodfriendBerries have a wide range of health benefits from anti-cancer effects to improving wound healing. One of their most important properties is their ability to reduce inflammation. This property has been studied in different types of berries as well as in similar fruit such as pomegranate and cherries. It is easy to eat a variety of berries regularly as they tend to be accessible and are delicious. In the winter frozen berries are a good option. Freezing and thawing the fruit actually makes the powerful flavonoid compounds more available. Berries can be eaten in smoothies, fruit salads, desserts or straight from the bowl.

  4. Kiwis and other high enzyme foods

    Kiwis. Photo: Wendy GoodfriendEnzymes are one of the oldest natural remedies for inflammation. Bromelain, an enzyme rich extract from the pineapple fruit, has been used by the medical community for over 50 years. The most effective enzymes seem to be the ones that break down proteins. These are found abundantly in several fruits like kiwi, pineapple and green papaya. When consumed raw, a portion of these enzymes are absorbed intact into the blood stream where they break down inflammatory complexes. For acute conditions highly concentrated supplements are often used. But for low-grade chronic inflammation food is an important part of prevention and healing. Kiwis are a winter fruit in California. They are available in most stores, or you can pick your own organic kiwis at Swanton Farms in Pescadero.

  5. Olives and extra virgin olive oil

    Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Olives. Photo: Wendy GoodfriendThe Mediterranean diet is well known to promote health and longevity. This is largely due to the high consumption of olives and extra virgin olive oil. These oily fruits are packed with anti-inflammatory polyphenols that have been shown to reduce both arthritis and heart disease. However, these important phytochemicals are not present in the refined oil. So remember to use the extra virgin, cold-pressed oil or the whole olives.

Try the simple recipe below for wintertime treat.


Recipe: Almond-Ambrosia Fruit Salad

Serves 4 people as a light meal or 8 people as a side dish.

Almond-Ambrosia Fruit Salad. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend

  • 1 cup of kiwis, sliced into rounds or half moons
  • 1 cup of pomegranate seeds
  • 1 cup of blueberries -- fresh or frozen, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup of navel oranges, peeled and separated into wedges (for an attractive presentation remove the outer membrane from the orange slices)
  • 1 cup of blanched almonds
  • 4 pitted dates or 2 T. of maple syrup or honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of diced fresh turmeric or ginger
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup of flax, hemp or chia seeds to garnish
  1. Put all of the fruit in a serving bowl and mix it gently. You may also layer it or arrange it in circular patterns.
  2. For Fruit Salad Dressing -- Place the almond, dates, spices and salt in a blender with 1/2 cup of water.
  3. Keep an additional cup of water next to the blender to add while mixing. Turn the blender on a low (be sure your lid is on tight) and slowly increase the speed adding water as necessary to process the nuts. The nuts will not puree effectively with too much water added all at once.
  4. Increase to the speed to the highest setting process the mixture until it resembles a thick cream. This is a dressing for the fruit salad.
  5. Serve the fruit salad, almond ambrosia sauce and seeds in separate bowls and allow people to assemble their own dishes. The seeds will become soggy and gummy if they are added too soon.


None of the information in this article is intended as medical advice or to diagnose, or treat any disease or health condition.

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