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Culinary Curatives: 4 Anti-Inflammatory Ingredients

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Athletes are skipping the over-the-counter meds in favor of natural (and tasty!) anti-inflammatory ingredients.

If you think all-natural treatments are nothing more than snake oil, think again. A growing body of research validates what Mother Nature has been saying all along: Flavorful foods are the original wonder drugs.

With increased evidence of efficacy and safety, the natural medicine movement has exploded in recent years, says Christopher Hobbs, Ph.D., founder of the Institute for Natural Products Research. Today, nearly one-third of Americans favor natural treatments over conventional medicine for many ailments. Athletes have especially taken to herbal treatments for aches and pains instead of using conventional anti-inflammatory medications, which have been linked to ulcers, liver damage and gastrointestinal distress.

Though herbal supplements are widely available in capsule form, it’s easy—and tasty—to reap the benefits of anti-inflammatory foods in everyday cooking. These four flavors are great for pleasing the palate and keeping you pain-free.

Did you know? Nearly one-third of Americans favor natural treatments over conventional medicine for many ailments.

Turmeric is not just for curry—this bright spice-cabinet staple has been found to pack some serious anti-inflammatory properties. The power comes from a particular chemical compound called curcumin, which reduces muscle and joint pain, Hobbs says.
Try it: Turmeric’s peppery flavor works well with roasted vegetables, especially cauliflower. The spice is also great sprinkled into sautéed greens like kale or rainbow chard.

Related: 3 Foods That Fight Muscle Soreness

The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger root have been praised for centuries, and science has confirmed the benefits of using this spicy specialty. Buy it fresh in root form in the produce section, or as a dried, fine powder in the spice aisle.
Try it: Ginger is incredibly versatile, lending itself well to both sweet and savory dishes. Try a generous sprinkle in your morning oatmeal, especially if you’re adding cinnamon and honey.

“Proteolytic enzymes, specifically bromelain from pineapple, show strong anti-inflammatory effects,” says Hobbs, who cites studies showing bromelain has similar effects on pain as NSAIDs, but with fewer gastrointestinal complications.
Try it: The same enzymes that reduce inflammation in your body also make an effective meat tenderizer. Try a mixture of soy sauce, olive oil and pineapple juice for a simple but tasty marinade for chicken breasts.

Related: Benefits of Coconut Oil

Yes, you read that right—the ingredient that makes your IPA so tasty is also an effective anti-inflammatory. Hops have long been used by clinical herbalists to ease inflammation and infections. “Studies have demonstrated activity of certain hops fractions, called alpha-acids, in inhibiting key pathways in the inflammatory process, making it an excellent choice for treating pain and inflammation,” Hobbs says.
Try it: Though there’s no doubt a post-ride beer is delicious, cooking with hops can also add a unique profile to recipes. Try a tablespoon of fresh, finely diced hop flowers in your bruschetta recipe, or use a light dusting of dried, ground hops with lemon on grilled fish.