Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Q: Can food choices really help reduce inflammation?
A: Anti-inflammatory foods are an important part of any healthy diet, especially during the dog days of summer. Why? Because many diseases manifest with heat: fever, infection, swelling, and inflammation are all signs of excess heat in the body. Dark, concentrated urine is also a sign of heat, and brings me to the first consideration with any “hot” problem. Drink more water. Ideally water, along with herbal teas and kombucha drinks, will be your main beverages. In my practice, I never recommend alcohol or caffeinated beverages for improving health.
Heat-producing foods, which should always be restricted during hot weather or times of “heat”-type illness, include meats, fatty foods (especially food fried in vegetable oil), alcohol, caffeine, and warming spices such as cayenne, garlic, ginger, and paprika.
Cooling, anti-inflammatory foods, on the other hand, are watery, juicy, not too spicy, and easier to digest.
To keep cool, include more of these anti-inflammatory foods in your diet:
- all citrus fruits
- summer squash
- bok choy
Legumes and Grains
- organic soy milk
- soy sprouts
- tofu and tempeh
- mung beans and their sprouts
- alfalfa sprouts
Other Anti-Inflammatory Foods
- kelp and all seaweeds
- barley grass
- dandelion greens
- honeysuckle flowers
- red clover blossoms
- lemon balm
- white peppercorn
Spirulina is one of the “coldest” anti-inflammatory foods, and should not be used in cold climates, especially in the interior of a landmass—for example, Fairbanks, Alaska. But spirulina is perfect as a superfood if you live in Hawaii or Los Angeles.
In traditional Chinese medicine, heat is considered a “yang” condition, and can be countered with “yin” remedies—including water.
Instinctively, we are drawn to anti-inflammatory raw foods and salads in the summer. This is because eating raw or minimally cooked foods preserves their moisture. Simmer or steam food rather than baking or roasting in the hot months. And hydrate throughout the day, with particular emphasis on drinking water between meals and during exercise. Eating less will also help you stay cooler, since digestion requires a great deal of energy and produces lots of metabolic heat.
Anti-Inflammatory Gazpacho Soup: Drink Your Salad!
A simple gazpacho on a summer day is a smart and tasty way to cool off. Just put a variety of fresh veggies, including vine-ripe tomatoes, in the blender with 1/4 lime (peel included), mint—my favorite cooling herb—or cilantro, lots of water, and some ice. Then pulverize and enjoy!