Anti-inflammation foods Harvard experts say reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes and dementia

Woman eating salad
One of the best ways to cut your risk of inflammation may not be at the pharmacy, but in the supermarket -Credit:Getty


Harvard Health experts have listed the best foods that reduce your risk of several chronic illnesses. Each one is rich in anti-inflammatory properties.

When your immune system is activated by something your body recognises as foreign - like a chemical or microbe - it can trigger a process known as inflammation. This process aims to protect your health by threatening invaders.

According to the NHS, inflammation is your immune system's natural response to injury or infection. It causes swelling and can help the body deal with invading germs.

If inflammation is triggered too often, it can become your enemy. Howard E. LeWine, MD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health warns: "Many major diseases that plague us - including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer's - have been linked to chronic inflammation."

However, one of the most effective ways people can tackle inflammation is by eating the right food. "Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects," Dr. Frank Hu says.

He added: "Choose the right anti-inflammatory foods, and you may be able to reduce your risk of illness. Consistently pick the wrong ones, and you could accelerate the inflammatory disease process."

Foods that cause inflammation

The health expert explains: "Some of the foods that have been associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease are also associated with excess inflammation. It's not surprising, since inflammation is an important underlying mechanism for the development of these diseases."

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries.

  • French fries and other fried foods.

  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage).

  • Margarine, shortening, and lard.

Anti-inflammation foods

"A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving mood and overall quality of life," Dr. Hu says.

  • Tomatoes.

  • Olive oil.

  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards.

  • Nuts like almonds and walnuts.

  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines.

  • Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.

Tomatoes get their bright red colour from an antioxidant called lycopene. Studies show that lycopene has the potential to fight prostate cancer. Some evidence even shows it is stronger in processed tomato products, such as tomato sauce.

Blueberries are among the most powerful sources of antioxidants. They contain a cancer fighting chemical called anthocyanosides.

According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, anthocyanosides are one of the most potent antioxidants. They have been found to have a number of anticancer properties including radical scavenging activity, stimulation of phase II detoxifying enzymes, and reduced cell proliferation and inflammation.