But not all types of inflammation are inherently “bad,” as acute inflammation can be the body’s (very effective) way of fighting off infections, illnesses, and recovering from injuries. The issue is when it becomes chronic, which can lead to adverse health conditions such as cancer and cognitive decline over time. One area that can take a serious hit from chronic inflammation? Your digestive system.
- Reuben Chen, MD, board-certified physician specializing in sports medicine and pain management
That said, according to Reuben Chen, MD, a board-certified sports medicine physician, pain management expert, and the chief medical advisor at Sunrider International, there are a number of essential nutrients that can help combat inflammation for a healthier gut. Particularly: antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Ahead, we delve into eleven of the best foods for reducing gut inflammation packed with these two nutrients.
11 best foods for reducing gut inflammation
According to Dr. Chen, one of the best things that you can do when addressing gut-related inflammation is establish a diet that’s packed with antioxidant- and omega-3 fatty acids-rich foods. To hone in, antioxidants have health-supporting compounds that help fight inflammation and free radical damage, and can help reduce oxidative stress (which can accelerate aging by making the body more susceptible to chronic illnesses). Meanwhile, omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most important nutrients for maintaining healthy cognitive function; low levels of omega-3s are associated with chronic inflammation. (Keep in mind that our bodies can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids on their own, meaning that we must obtain this essential nutrient through a healthy diet.) Both can help reduce inflammation that may contribute to gut issues like bloating, constipation, and diarrhea and chest pain or stomach pain.
So, what are the best foods for reducing gut inflammation? Dr. Chen says there are lots of options to pick from. “Many of the best anti-inflammatory foods are high in natural antioxidants, including blueberries, strawberries, oranges, and leafy green vegetables,” he says.
Dr. Chen also recommends natural fats and oils that are high in antioxidants and omega-3s, as these have anti-inflammatory and cardiac benefits. On the list: olive oil, tree nuts (like almonds and walnuts), and fatty fish (like tuna and salmon). In addition, he recommends tumeric and white willow bark, which he says are some herbs that also have anti-inflammatory benefits.
“Many of the best anti-inflammatory foods are high in natural antioxidants, including blueberries, strawberries, oranges, and leafy green vegetables."
—Reuben Chen, MD, board-certified sports medicine physician and pain management expert
Why you should mix and match these foods together to reap the most benefits
In order to reap the most benefits from these anti-inflammatory, gut-healthy foods, Dr. Chen says it’s best to mix and match them together. “I’m a strong believer in adding variety to your diet. Each of the foods listed not only have anti-inflammatory benefits, but also have other nutrients that are complementary to each other and provide a more balanced diet,” he says.
In order to ensure he’s keeping up with a diversified meal routine, Dr. Chen relies on a Japanese health “secret” called Go-Syoku. “My favorite is the Japanese approach that states you should consume foods of five different colors and five different flavors in each meal to maximize the different nutrients that are consumed,” he says. Although, keep in mind that foods of neutral colors can also be equally as nutritious (and delicious!), and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Dr. Chen also recommends natural fats and oils that are high in antioxidants and omega-3s, as these have anti-inflammatory and cardiac benefits.
So, when during the day should you consume these foods to boost gut health?
It’s simple: All day long. “Every meal should have some of the foods mentioned above for a healthy diet,” Dr. Chen says. In Chen’s vision of an ideal "gut world," this would equate to one to two servings of berries and green leafy vegetables in every meal we eat. Then, one to two teaspoons of olive oil, one to two servings of fatty fish (or omega-3 fatty acids supplement), along with one serving of nuts per day.
However, if Dr. Chen had to choose just one time of the day to consume all of these anti-inflammatory, gut-friendly foods, he says it’s especially important to eat them during dinner. “Increased inflammation is often related to increased stress,” he says, which can affect quality of sleep (resulting in even more inflammation the next day). This is why he suggests it’s best to prepare for bedtime with a well-balanced dinner that can help calm the immune system and decrease inflammation in the body to promote a good night’s sleep. Additionally, you’ll also want to avoid highly inflammatory foods that can have the opposite effect.
A dietitian shares the ultimate guide to gut health:
- Calder, Philip C. “Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes.” Nutrients vol. 2,3 (2010): 355-374. doi:10.3390/nu2030355
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