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Shorter days, cooler temperatures, warm drinks and comfort foods are all things we usually associate with winter – not usually brightly colored fresh produce. However, cooler weather means that a new crop of fruits and vegetables is about to be at its peak in terms of flavor, nutrients, and anti-inflammatory ability. While some inflammation is normal, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of diseases such as cancer, dementia, diabetes, and more. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet full of anti-inflammatory foods can help keep you healthy in the long run.
While it’s easy to overindulge in inflammatory foods this holiday season (think: sugar cookies, processed foods, and cocktails), you can also take some steps to help balance your diet by eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods this winter. Here are the seven best anti-inflammatory winter foods.
The best anti-inflammatory foods to eat this winter
Don’t let the pomegranate’s outer layer intimidate you, because the tender seeds (also known as arils) and juice are full of flavor and the jam is packed with anti-inflammatory power. This is thanks to compounds like ellagitannins, anthocyanins and flavanols that act as antioxidants and calm inflammation caused by free radical damage and prevent future damage. In fact, the antioxidant potential of pomegranate is greater than that of red wine and green tea. Arils are a great substitute for the berries or citrus sections of salads, and you can also add pomegranate juice to tea, smoothies, or kombucha for a fruity tart.
While we may buy it year-round, broccoli is actually a winter vegetable due to its ability to thrive in cold weather. You probably know that eating several servings of vegetables each day is an essential part of an anti-inflammatory diet, but did you know that you can reap additional anti-inflammatory benefits by choosing a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli? Cruciferous vegetables contain bioactive sulfur compounds called glucosinolates that reduce disease risk by reducing inflammation. If you’re not big on broccoli, incorporate other cool-weather cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, and turnip greens.
3. Blood orange
All citrus fruits are packed with the immune-boosting antioxidant vitamin C, and most ripen to their sweetest flavor during the winter months—two things that make any citrus fruit (including oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, tangelos, and others) an excellent cold-weather addition to your diet. If you’re looking for an extra antioxidant boost, consider blood oranges. Their vibrant red-orange flesh comes from anthocyanins, the same compounds that make berries one of the best anti-inflammatory foods. Blood oranges are delicious on their own, but they’re also great in salads, if incorporated into pan sauce or as a healthy dessert.
Shallots are part of the allium family which also includes onions, leeks, and green onions. Allium vegetables and roots contain quercetin, an anti-inflammatory compound that research suggests may reduce the inflammatory effects of harmful chemicals and compounds in the body. Mostly found in winter and early spring, shallots can be a great substitute for other alliums in recipes. If you’ve never cooked with them before, consider them green onions with a larger root and wider leaves with a slightly more pungent flavor (but still milder than onions). We love them in soups, braised in the oven or even folded into mashed potatoes to enhance the vegetables.
5. sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are at the top of the list in terms of anti-inflammatory starchy vegetables. This is partly because it serves as a low source of blood carbs and vitamin C, but also because of its impressive carotenoid content. Carotenoids (such as beta-carotene) give potatoes the deep orange color, but they also work to protect cells from free radical damage that can cause inflammation or exacerbate existing inflammation. Additionally, most carotenoids are converted into the active form of vitamin A (which is essential in immune regulation and inflammation management) in the body. We love roasting sweet potatoes, stuffing them with our favorite fillings, and turning them into a healthier fries.
Beets are a great source of potassium, folate, and vitamin C — all nutrients that play various roles in regulating inflammation in the immune system. But two other compounds in beets – betaine and nitrate – really make them stand out as an anti-inflammatory star. Betaine is a lesser known antioxidant-like compound that preliminary research links to lowered inflammatory blood markers. Naturally occurring nitrates (as distinct from those added to processed and processed foods that pose potential health risks) appear to have an anti-inflammatory effect that lowers blood pressure.
Improving gut health is a key factor in preventing and reducing inflammation, and research suggests that the best way to do this is to eat more probiotic-rich foods (such as yogurt, kombucha, and fermented vegetables) and eat more prebiotics through high-fiber products. Prebiotics are fibers that nourish our gut microbes, and pears are an excellent source of prebiotic fibers to help good bacteria thrive. Pears are also one of the highest fiber-rich fruits (one medium pear has nearly 6 grams of fiber). You can snack pears with some nut butter, toss them in a salad, roast them or turn them into a healthy dessert.
Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is a culinary nutritionist known for her ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She is also the author of two cookbooks, Meals That Heal: 100 Daily Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less and Meals in One Bowl That Heal (June 2022). She is also a co-presenter of the Happy Eating podcast. You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or at carolynwilliamsrd.com.