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5 Winter Foods That Help Your Body Fight Inflammation

Photo by Jennifer Dery
Photo by Jennifer Dery

Runners understand the plight of inflammation more than any other type of athlete (in my opinion). Who else would sit in a ice bath after a workout, just to reduce the swelling in their tired joints? Let’s avoid the torturous inflammation fighting tactics and adapt simpler ways to keep those joints happy, like filling our plates with antioxidant-filled ingredients. Luckily, the winter is the best season for finding antioxidant-filled produce that is ripe for the picking.

What exactly are antioxidants?

Found in vitamins, minerals or other plant compounds (called phytochemicals), antioxidants protect the body from oxidative damage, which can cause inflammation. Not only can inflammation cause painful swelling in our joints, but it has negative effects on the immune system and is associated with developing chronic diseases, like heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants are most prevalent in food, and each food boasts a different antioxidant profile.

These five winter seasonal foods are chock-full of antioxidants to help ward off post-run joint pain.

Beets

This earthy-flavored, deep purple veggie can’t be beat (pun intended) in terms of nutrients. Beets contain an antioxidant called betaine, which has been linked to reducing oxidative stress associated with heart disease and Alzheimer’s. For a double whammy, beet greens contain lutein, an antioxidant that may prevent the eyes from macular degeneration. And, as an extra special added bonus, beets contain nitrates that may increase your athletic endurance and help you run longer.

Try this recipe: Beet Falafel Sliders

Leafy Greens

Because they can withstand cold temperatures, leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, arugula and spinach grow best in the winter. Leafy greens contain a vast combination of antioxidant, including carotenoids, flavonoids, omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin C and lutein. Each green is different, but you will reap the benefits from any green you decide to throw on your plate.

Try this recipe: Kale Winter Salad

Citrus Fruits

One of the best things about winter is the abundance of citrus. The supermarket shelves are stocked with a variety of tangerines, clementines, oranges, grapefruits and pummelos, and they are all at the peak of freshness. When we think of citrus, we think of immune-boosting Vitamin C, but some research suggests that Vitamin C might fight the inflammation consistent with exercise- induced asthma. Citrus also contains flavonoids, which may reduce the incidence of stroke and lycopene, which may protect the cells from oxidative damage.

Try this recipe: Winter Citrus Salad with Watercress, Fennel and Pistachios

Turmeric

Okay, you caught me me—turmeric isn’t exactly a winter food, but it pairs really well with winter foods, like cauliflower or roasted root veggies. Turmeric has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant, which may reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis. Several studies are being conducted to test the effects of supplementing with the active form of turmeric, called curcumin, in order to reduce the incidence of arthritic knee pain. Although the research is still preliminary, it definitely doesn’t hurt to add more turmeric to your diet.

Try this recipe: Turmeric Kale and Chickpeas

Potatoes

That’s right, your favorite starchy veggie actually has antioxidants. All potatoes—even white ones—contain plenty of the antioxidant Vitamin C. But two types of potatoes are particularly high in antioxidants—sweet potatoes and purple potatoes. Sweet potatoes contain carotenoids, which are a precursor to Vitamin A that helps protect the cells from sun damage and protect the eyes. And purple potatoes have almost twice the amount of the antioxidant anthocyanin found in most produce.

Try this recipe: Sweet Potato Chips with Homemade Onion Dip

Natalie Rizzo

Natalie Rizzo

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition communications expert, specializing in sports nutrition. Natalie has written for many food and nutrition publications, such as Eating Well, Spright and Food & Nutrition Magazine, and she has been featured in Fitness Magazine, Women’s Health and Men’s Health. Natalie received her Masters of Science in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. When she’s not writing, she’s creating delicious recipes, running and helping other runners reach their peak potential through food. To learn more about Natalie and read about sports nutrition topics, visit her blog, Nutrition à la Natalie or follow her on Twitter.