Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and infection.
However, chronic inflammation — which may be influenced by diet, inadequate sleep, and high stress levels — is linked to overweight and obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (
Fortunately, studies have shown that some cultural foods common to the Caribbean region, as well as overall lifestyle habits, fight inflammation.
Here are 8 anti-inflammatory foods common to the Caribbean and its diasporas.
The Caribbean has a longstanding history of producing quality cocoa products, with the Trinidad & Tobago Fine Cocoa Company among the oldest.
Flavanols — antioxidants found in cocoa products — have anti-inflammatory properties that may protect blood vessel health, potentially reducing your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. They may also improve exercise performance and recovery (
Furthermore, flavanol-rich cocoa and dark chocolate guard against blood vessel damage from oxidative stress, which occurs with age and in people who smoke, by increasing nitric oxide production (
Nitric oxide is a compound that may reduce inflammation and support healthy blood flow (
The higher the percentage of cocoa that dark chocolate contains, the more flavanols and greater antioxidant properties it has — although it may be slightly less palatable, as high percentages of cocoa increase bitterness (
Enjoy dark chocolate bites for a snack or sip a warm cup of cocoa tea at night.
Flavanols in cocoa and dark chocolate may reduce inflammation and support your blood vessels, potentially reducing your risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
Vitamin C fights inflammation by reducing the number of free radicals — the by-products of metabolism — in the body. Current research is exploring its potential to reduce the risk of developing some cancers (
The fruit blooms between the spring and autumn and may be enjoyed raw or made into a juice.
West Indian cherry (acerola) is a potent source of the anti-inflammatory antioxidant vitamin C. It provides up to 22 times the daily recommended value.
Peppers of the capsicum family, including pimento pepper (Capsicum annum), contain phytochemical compounds that may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (
In animal studies, capsaicin — the spicy component of mild and hot peppers — reduced the release of pro-inflammatory compounds by adipose tissue in rats with obesity. It also reduced cell damage in the guts of mice (
However, human research is needed.
The pimento pepper is related to the habanero pepper (Capsicum chinense), but it’s less spicy. It’s traditionally used to add flavor to myriad cooked dishes, including stews and soups.
The pimento pepper, a member of the Capsicum pepper family, contains phytochemicals that may have anti-inflammatory properties. However, more human research is needed.
Red sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa), also called roselle, is a mainstay in traditional medicine.
One study determined that the plant is a good candidate to investigate for its role as an herbal supplement for cancer prevention and treatment. More human clinical trials are needed, though (
Roselle tea is quite popular as a hot or cold beverage. In the Caribbean, fresh and dried leaves of the plant are primarily used to make the traditional Christmastime drink sorrel juice.
Red sorrel, or roselle, tea is a popular beverage that may have anti-inflammatory properties. It may reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight, and insulin resistance.
It contains potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, such as flavonoids, piceatannol, and triterpenoids, which may lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels (
One study found that piceatannol extract from passion fruit improved insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and heart rate in men with overweight. However, it didn’t have the same effect on women with moderate weight or women with overweight (
More human research is needed.
Passion fruit is tart, but you can eat it raw or make it into juice or lilikoi jelly, a staple breakfast food in Hawaiian culture.
Passion fruit has anti-inflammatory compounds that may help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol. It may also have antihypertensive effects.
Curcumin may have anti-inflammatory health benefits that protect brain health and fight against diabetes, heart disease, bowel disease, arthritis, obesity-related inflammation, and cancer (
Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric that provides the spice with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In the Caribbean, turmeric is commonly added to dishes prepared with Indian spices, including curry and geera (ground cumin).
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and is responsible for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Piperine from black pepper may enhance the absorption of curcumin in the body.
Ginger is common in cooked foods and hot beverages throughout the Caribbean.
However, more human research is needed.
Ginger may have anti-inflammatory benefits that protect against rheumatoid arthritis, aging, and neurodegenerative diseases. It’s being studied for potential use as an asthma treatment.
However, human studies have yielded conflicting results.
For instance, one review showed that supplementation with cinnamon significantly reduced most markers of inflammation (
More research is needed, but studies suggest that cinnamon may be used as an adjunct to conventional medicine to combat inflammation.
Cinnamon is a popular spice that may reduce blood sugar levels and cholesterol, but more human research on its potential anti-inflammatory properties is needed.
In addition to fueling your diet with nutritious, anti-inflammatory foods, it’s important that your lifestyle habits do not contribute to high levels of inflammation.
Furthermore, emotional and psychological stress are associated with poor cardiovascular health and may raise your risk of experiencing acute coronary heart disease events (
What you can do:
- Aim for 7–9 hours of sleep per night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults 18 years and older get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night (57).
- Move your body. Moderate-intensity exercise may reduce inflammation and depression. Most people should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, along with at least 2 days of muscle-strengthening exercises (
- Manage your stress levels. Take care of your emotional health by making time to unwind, connecting with friends and family, or seeking support through therapy with a licensed professional.
Poor sleep quality and high stress levels may increase inflammation, as well as your risk of developing heart disease. Aim for 7–9 hours of sleep, get sufficient exercise, and manage your emotional health to fight inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can increase your risk of chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Cultural foods, such as red sorrel, turmeric, and passion fruit, contain phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may support your health.
Be sure to support an anti-inflammatory diet by getting enough sleep, exercising, and managing your emotional health.
Just one thing
Try this today: You can use cultural Caribbean foods to support your health. Try whipping up an anti-inflammatory cup of golden milk with fresh or powdered turmeric.