6 Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Hearty Winter Meals
Medically reviewed by Allison Truong, M.D.
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If you have an inflammatory condition, you’ve probably tried lots of things to reduce inflammation in your body. An anti-inflammatory diet is designed to do just that—and a growing body of experimental research supports an association between particular foods and the inflammatory disease process.
“Your gut system contains about 70 percent of your immune-system cells,” explains Carrie Lam, M.D., who runs an integrative medicine practice in Tustin, California. “These cells are in constant, daily contact with the food you eat. Once the immune system is triggered by inflammatory foods or bacteria within foods, or begins treating foods as allergens, inflammation results.”
And so, an anti-inflammatory diet is often recommended for people living with psoriasis, inflammatory arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
The great thing about incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet is that they’re packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and other good stuff—they're healthy foods for most anyone to eat—so it’s a win-win. With the colder season upon us, here are six hearty anti-inflammatory foods to add to your winter meals.
Adding winter vegetables like beets to your diet is a really easy way to up your intake of anti-inflammatory foods, says Trista Best, R.D., a registered dietitian in Whitfield County, Georgia.
“Because of their versatility in texture and relatively mild flavors, they can be added to stews, soups, casseroles, and even desserts,” Best says.
Plus, winter veggies have secondary health benefits, including weight loss, which can help reduce inflammation and joint pain. “The fiber content of winter vegetables makes them great for increasing satiety and preventing overeating,” Best says.
Fresh beets can add depth to a winter salad, be served roasted as a side dish, or added to soup or risotto.
“Research has shown beet juice to reduce liver inflammation, decrease damage caused by oxidation, and increase the enzymes needed to naturally detoxify the body of metabolites,” Lam says.
Pumpkin is an excellent source of antioxidants, says Best. These anti-inflammatory compounds stimulate the immune system and are also responsible for reducing inflammation by preventing clumping of blood platelets, Best explains.
She suggests roasting pumpkin and adding it to a soup or stew, shaving or grating it into a lasagna or casserole, or boiling and pureeing it to create a base for pasta sauce.
When it comes to health benefits, ginger is a multitasking plant. Not only is it a powerful antioxidant, it helps to ward off bacteria and other germs, aids digestion, and may reduce pain in people with arthritis. One study, published 2016 in Natural Product Research, found that ginger and echinacea supplements effectively reduced inflammation and pain following knee surgery.
In fact, however you choose to take your ginger—from drinking warm ginger tea on a cold day to savoring a ginger, honey, and soy sauce marinade with your favorite chicken dish—you can be sure it’s doing you good.
A winter staple in many kitchens, sweet potatoes are sweet because of their natural sugars, which are absorbed into the bloodstream slowly, Lam says. “This prevents blood-sugar spikes and helps keep your energy levels steady for hours,” she explains. Their rich orange color comes from carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants that may help protect against cancer and delay the effects of aging.
Sweet potato is also high in vitamin C, fiber, and vitamin A, says Best. “This makes it excellent at both ridding the body of harmful toxins and supporting a healthy immune response, which is vital to reducing inflammation in the body,” she explains.
Many savory dishes benefit from the addition of sweet potato, from spicy curries to roasted tofu. Or you could just keep it simple and make baked sweet potato "fries" with an herby dip—the perfect winter movie-night snack.
Walnuts are high in antioxidants, which play a major role in warding off free radicals in the body—free radicals accelerate the aging process. But their health benefits don’t stop there. “They contain an amino acid called L-arginine, which offers many benefits for vascular health and therefore helps lower the risk for heart conditions,” Lam says.
Walnuts also contain an important omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). “ALA has anti-inflammatory properties that can possibly avert the development of blood clots,” Lam explains. A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation found that a diet high in ALA offers a 50 percent reduced risk of having a sudden cardiac death.
If you love nothing more than a nourishing winter veggie chili, there's good news: beans, like kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans, add lots of anti-inflammatory plant protein to this family favorite. They’re also rich in B-complex vitamins and vitamin K. According to a review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, beans may reduce inflammation and help protect against diabetes, high blood disease, and some types of heart disease.
You can also add this pantry staple to soups, stews, and casseroles for tasty, warming winter meals.
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