Your diet can have a positive or negative affect on the amount of inflammation in the body, as well as modulate the immune system. 

Anti-Inflammation Foods: Some foods combat inflammation by providing basic nutrients to help the body modulate inflammation “biochemical pathways”. This is thought to prevent disease or reduce the more severe symptoms in those who are suffering from certain health issues, such as arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Pro-Inflammation Foods: Some foods trigger inflammation, so avoiding or minimizing these foods can also provide relief from a range of troublesome symptoms, including allergic reactions such as eczema, asthma, joint pain, gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerance.  Avoiding these has been shown to improve heart disease,  all forms of arthritis, and improve blood sugar control.

Anti-Oxidants: An important quality found in foods that can help the immune system and enhance health is its amount of naturally occurring antioxidants. Many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients found in food fight the deleterious effects of oxidation in the body.  Oxidation is a normal cellular reaction, but it results in by-products called Reactive Oxygen Species that can be damaging to the body, especially promoting heart disease, arthritis, and is implicated in diabetes, neurological diseases, and cancer. Environmental toxins, cigarette smoke, fried and processed foods can also add to the oxidative stress on our bodies. Oxidative stress is one of the drivers of aging at the cellular level.  Antioxidants combat oxidative stress, decreasing the wear and tear on the body and reducing the effects of Reactive Oxygen Species. Some antioxidants are so powerful, they have even been associated with cancer prevention.

Eating more anti-inflammatory foods, while cutting back on inflammatory ones, and adding delicious antioxidants to your diet, is a foundational way to boost your immune system, reduce the effects of aging, and prevent disease.

So, which are the best foods to eat, which are the best to avoid, and which foods are the best sources of antioxidants?

Here are the top 10 for each category.

The Top 10 Foods for Reducing Inflammation

1. Salmon and Other Fatty Fish with Omega-3s
2. Probiotics, found in cultured foods like yogurt and kefir
3. Olive Oil or Avocado (both high in inflammation-neutral Omega-9 fatty acid)
4. Sour Cherries
5. Walnuts and other tree nuts, and seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds
6. Beans (soaked and sprouted if sensitive)
7. Ginger and Turmeric (these are related)
8. Onions and Garlic
9. Green leafy vegetables and cruciferous (pronounced CREW-sif-er-us) vegetables like broccoli and bok choy (Chinese cabbage)
10. Berries such as blueberries

The Top 10 to Avoid to Reduce Inflammation

1. Sugar
2. Salt
3. Standard Cooking Oils (high in processed omega-6 rich oils)
4. Trans fats
5. Red Meat
6. Processed Meats/cold Cuts
7. Refined Carbohydrates
8. Artificial Sweeteners and Flavorings, such as aspartame and saccharin; Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
9. Alcohol
10. Dairy Products

The Top 10 Foods With the Highest Level of Antioxidants

1. Small red beans
2. Blueberries, wild
3. Red kidney beans
4. Pinto beans
5. Blueberries, cultivated
6. Cranberries
7. Artichokes
8. Blackberries
9. Raisins

It may seem overwhelming at first to make changes to your diet, especially if many of your favorites are on the foods to avoid list.

Fortunately, a little effort can go a long way towards improving your immune system if you make healthy substitutions.

For example, if you love sweet, sugary foods, use more fruit to curb your cravings. Blueberries and raspberries can be eaten fresh or cooked as part of a healthy dessert.In our house, we buy them frozen when they are on sale at the supermarket and eat them frozen with honey yogurt or coconut yogurt in place of ice cream. 

If you are a meat eater, switching to wild caught fish 1 meal a week and a vegetarian meal with beans, such as the antioxidant-rich red kidney or pinto beans, is easy and tasty too.

Have fun looking up new recipes and exploring cuisines from around the world. For example, beans are perfect for Mexican or Tex-Mex recipes. Many of the foods on the anti-inflammatory list are ideal for Asian or Indian inspired recipes.

Use these three lists to boost your immune system, and see how you can eat better than ever while fighting disease.