These Are the Top 5 Anti-Inflammatory Food Groups Linked to Long-Term Brain Health

Photo: Stocksy/Ellie Baygulov
It’s no secret that persistent, chronic inflammation—no matter where it occurs in the body—spells trouble for our long-term health goals. Cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis are all linked to chronic inflammation, a state in which the body’s immune system detects damage and attempts to repair itself to no satisfying avail.

Chronic inflammation also plays a role in the development of cognitive conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. That’s why a crucial aspect of preserving long-term brain health is cutting down on inflammatory triggers wherever you can. You’re probably already doing this in a few ways: quitting smoking, limiting your alcohol use, getting enough sleep, cutting down on stress, and staying active. There are also some simple choices you can make at the grocery store that will be a net-positive for your brain health and your relationship with inflammation.

A new study out of the American Academy of Neurology found that people who follow an anti-inflammatory diet, rich in a few key ingredients, had a lower risk of developing dementia later in life. In the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,000 people in Greece about the types of food they ate over the course of three years. They sought to elicit the kinds of food people were eating most regularly, including dairy products, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, legumes, alcoholic beverages, and sweets. The participants were then broken up into stratified groups and given scores based on how inflammatory their overall diets were.

Over the course of the study, 62 people—around six percent of study participants—developed dementia. These people just so happened to be those in the group representing the most inflammatory diets. In fact, those who ate the most inflammatory foods during the study were found to be three times more likely to develop dementia when compared to people who maintained anti-inflammatory diets.

The best and most effective way to reduce your intake of inflammatory foods is to eliminate highly-processed foods like fast foods, saturated fats, and sugary beverages, as these are some of the most common food triggers that increase inflammation.

As is the case with one-off studies such as this one, more research is needed before we draw any definitive conclusions. But the findings in this study certainly jive with our growing understanding of the inflammation-brain connection: When the body is inflamed, so is the brain. The researchers have even gone so far as to say these results should inform dietary recommendations for the long-term preservation of cognitive health.

“Our results are getting us closer to characterizing and measuring the inflammatory potential of people’s diets,” said study author Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, PhD, of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece. “That, in turn, could help inform more tailored and precise dietary recommendations and other strategies to maintain cognitive health.”

The study highlighted three key food groups and two beverages that were present across the brain-boosting, anti-inflammatory diets. And while these may come as no surprise to already-healthy eaters, it is certainly good for us to refresh our minds about each their benefits.

Here are the 5 top anti-inflammatory foods and drinks linked to long-term brain health.

1. Fruits

Yup, no surprise here. Try to include at least four to five servings of fruit in your diet per week. If optimal anti-inflammatory benefits are what you’re after, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are all excellent options. The entire berry family contains antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are compounds that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

2. Vegetables

Particularly of the leafy green variety—think broccoli, spinach, kale, and collards. These verdant superfoods are filled with vitamin E, another natural antioxidant that has been shown to reduce processes of inflammation and calm overactive immune systems.

3. Beans

Beans have a bad reputation when it comes to inflammation. It has been suspected that beans cause inflammation because they contain lectins, a protein that binds to carbohydrates and is difficult for the body to break down. In reality, soaking, sprouting or cooking beans—which is most often how they are prepared—neutralized these lectins and prevents them from binding. Beans and legumes are not only full of nutrients and antioxidants, but they are also densely packed with fiber and protein—all of which are crucial elements of any anti-inflammatory diet.

4. Coffee and tea

Caffeine dependents can rejoice, because members of the study who demonstrated long-term cognitive health were also found to be coffee and tea drinkers. Coffee has been a suspected anti-inflammation agent for some time, as it contains polyphenols, which are naturally occurring anti-inflammatory compounds. Tea, on the other hand, possesses antioxidants called catechins, which reduce inflammation. Green tea, in particular, contains something called EGCG, the most powerful type of catechin. While other teas also have EGCG, green tea packs the biggest punch when it comes to inflammation.

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