Food

Fight Inflammation by Adding These 5 Foods to Your Diet

These foods not only promote recovery, but they offer a host of other health benefits.

We’ve all been there: We start seeing swelling and redness or feeling pain and heat after pushing through a niggle or two to get through a run, which translates into inflammation. At best, you’re looking at a few hours of discomfort, but the worst-case scenario could mean a mini-break from your favorite activity.

A little inflammation is a natural part of exercise as muscles break down and rebuild. It protects your body against infection and illness. But too much inflammation can be responsible for a host of chronic diseases.

The upside of an injury is that it shows our immune system is functioning by alerting our white blood cells, known as the macrophage. These specialized cells of the immune system are formed in response to an infection and destroy accumulating damaged or dead cells to fight infection and begin the repair process. Anti-inflammatory foods can also help the body heal, as well as stave off future injuries.

Here’s a look at five fabulous foods that can help fuel your body for healthy, injury-free running.

Blueberries

Science Says

Blueberries are a superfood. Rich in flavonoids, they act both as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, are loaded in vitamin C and potassium, and have been shown to improve cognitive function.

In a recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition, female subjects benefitted from eating two 19-gram servings of blueberries a day (about 1.75 cups total) over the course of six-weeks. The women, aged 25 to 40, who added blueberries to their normal diet had an increase in muscle progenitor cells, which are responsible for muscle regeneration. They also had fewer percentage of dead muscle progenitor cells compared to the control group. This suggests that the consumption of blueberries offered protection against oxidative stress, making them an effective antioxidant.

How to Consume

Blueberries can be frozen without losing any nutritional value, but they are heat-sensitive, so keep them cool and choose organic (if your budget allows) to avoid pesticides. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests “moderately active women through the age of 30” require 2 cups of raw or cooked fruit per day, but women over 30 should reduce daily intake to 1.5 cups.

Add It in to Fight Inflammation

Mix berries into your yogurt and cereal to start the day, or try them in a smoothie. You can also toss some berries into a salad, but consider throwing in some nuts for protein.

 

Curcumin

Science Says

A powerful antioxidant, curcumin is the yellow pigment and medicinal compound found in turmeric, a spice native to India and Indonesia. It can reduce inflammation, improve performance recovery, and, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “offset some of the damage associated with downhill running.” In a 2010 study in the Journal of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment showed curcumin and “piperine,” an alkaloid derived from black pepper, were able to prevent the development of cancer stem cells in breasts.

A more recent study published in the Journal of General Virology found that curcumin had antiviral properties. In the study, researchers treated experimental cells with curcumin and then attempted to infect the cells with certain viruses. The cells treated with higher concentrations of curcumin had fewer virus particles at the end of the experiment.

How to Consume

The European Food Safety Authority advises consuming 1.4 milligrams of curcumin per pound of body weight per day. If taking a curcumin supplement, up to 400–500 milligrams is suggested twice a day.

Curcumin is not easily absorbed, so take it before a meal or three hours after; avoid taking before bedtime, as it can cause digestive problems. Also, increase the dose gradually. Too much of the supplement can be hard on the stomach and gallbladder and can interfere with other medications (like anticoagulants), so make sure you check with your doctor before taking, especially if pregnant.

Add It in to Fight Inflammation

The key to this insoluble spice is that it needs fat to go into full absorption mode. Mix freshly grated curcumin (which can be found in some grocery and specialty food stores and can last up to a week in the fridge) with olive oil before you drizzle it on roasted veggies, scrambled eggs or rice. For a post-run smoothie (as it can give you gas if you consume before a run), dissolve it in a tablespoon of coconut oil. Adding black pepper will help quicken the absorption process 1,000 times, says Melissa Rifkin, a registered bariatric dietitian at NYC’s Montefiore Medical Center. You can also buy curcumin in dried or supplement form. Or try it in this golden overnight oats recipe.

 

Photo: Getty Images

Green Tea

Science Says

Green tea has been touted as a powerful antioxidant that can do it all, from preventing high cholesterol to improving mental alertness. An analysis published in The European Journal of Preventative Cardiology looked at over 100,000 people and found that habitual green tea drinkers (people who had tea three or more times a week) had a 25 percent lower risk for heart disease and stroke (both fatal and non-fatal) and all-cause death.

And thanks to its high amounts of catechin polyphenols, the beverage is also being recognized for its anti-inflammatory virtues, especially for those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

How to Consume

You should be getting 240 to 320 grams of polyphenols daily, which means about 2 to 3 cups of green tea, according to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (or 100 to 750 milligrams per day when taking green tea extract supplements). Green tea contains 2 to 4 percent caffeine, so look for caffeine-free products. But even just drinking three cups of tea a week should suffice.

Add It in to Fight Inflammation

Drink up! Add ginger (a known anti-inflammatory that helps your body absorb nutrients) and a little honey (which brings active enzymes to the mix) for even more benefits.

 

Photo: Getty Images

Tomatoes

Science Says

Tomatoes are an important source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects your brain and fights depression-causing inflammation. A 2017 study out of Johns Hopkins University also found that adults who ate two or more tomatoes a day had a slower decline in lung function that is natural with aging. The protective effect is only found with fresh tomatoes and not in processed forms of the fruit, like tomato sauce.

How to Consume

Tomatoes are high in potassium and water content, but most of their nutrients are found in the skin. Eat them fresh and raw to get the most out of them.

Add It in to Fight Inflammation

Cherry tomatoes are an easy snack on their own or to add to a salad. Consider adding some olive oil to your salad dressing because (like curcumin) tomatoes are fat-soluble. Or give this Bloody Mary–inspired recovery drink a try.

Photo: Getty Images

Dark Leafy Greens

Science Says

Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, and other dark green vegetables are an excellent source of vitamin E, which protects the body against pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines. And a study published in Neurology found that just one serving of dark leafy greens a day slowed memory loss in participants that they followed for over a decade. On average, the participants whose diet included these power-packed veggies daily had memory test scores that put them about 11 years younger than the participants who did not have them in their diet.

How to Consume

The USDA’s 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend, for a 2,000-calorie diet, an equivalent of 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. One cup of raw leafy greens (the equivalent of half a cup when cooked or ¾ cup of juice) equals one serving.

Add It in to Fight Inflammation

Add handfuls of the green stuff to smoothies or build a nutrient-dense salad. If you’re looking for something more flavorful and filling, try this spinach and feta pie for dinner.