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Nature’s original desserts, naturally sweet fruits are particularly abundant in anti-inflammatory compounds, which are important in protecting our bodies from heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer and bowel disease. Eating at least one-and-a-half to two cups of diverse fruits every day can boost antioxidant activity. One strategy is to eat with the seasons, choosing grapes and stone fruits in the summer, apples and pears in the fall, persimmons and pomegranates in the winter, and citrus and cherries in the spring.
While all fruits tend to be rich in disease-protective nutrients, some have received particular attention in the nutrition world for their anti-inflammatory benefits.
Berries. From strawberries and blackberries to cranberries and blueberries, these gemlike fruits are particularly potent in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Along with fiber and vitamin C, berries possess plant pigment phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins and ellagic acid, which may be behind their health benefits. Studies have linked increased berry consumption with lower risks of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.
Apples. Maybe it’s true what they say about an apple a day: a study of nearly 35,000 women, found that consumption of this fruit—along with its relative, pears—was linked with a lower risk of death from heart disease. The star components of apples—fiber, vitamin C, pectin, and polyphenols—have been associated, primarily in animal studies, with anti-inflammatory effects and an increase in beneficial microbes in the gut.
Stone fruits. Cherries, peaches, apricots, and plums are all examples of stone fruits, which contain fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and a variety of phytochemicals associated with their colors. For example, cherries have garnered the lion’s share of the research among stone fruits, having been linked to reduced average blood sugar and improved cholesterol and blood pressure. Some studies even suggest reduced pain and soreness after exercise and reduced risk of gout attacks with cherry intake. The high levels of phenolic compounds in cherries, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, may be behind those benefits.
Grapes. These succulent fruits are bursting with fiber, vitamins C and K, and powerful phytochemicals, especially the resveratrol found in red grapes. It’s no wonder that moderate imbibing of red wine has been associated with heart health. Results from a multiethnic seven-year study of 3,300 middle-aged women linked moderate wine consumption with significantly lower levels of inflammation, compared with women who drank no or less wine. Some more recent studies, however, have called some of these benefits into question. It’s important to note, however, that even moderate consumption of alcohol (including wine) has been associated with higher cancer risk. The best advice: if you already enjoy wine, drink it in moderation (a maximum of one drink per day for women, two drinks for men), but don’t start drinking for supposed health benefits.
Citrus. Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes are famously rich in vitamin C. They also contain fiber, potassium, calcium, B vitamins, copper, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals such as flavonoids and carotenoids. Though there is little human research on citrus, the nutrients found in citrus fruits have been shown to have heart-protective effects, such as improvements in blood cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood vessel function.
Pomegranates. Those tiny pomegranate seeds contain big rewards of vitamins C and K, potassium, fiber, and potent phytochemicals such as anthocyanin and resveratrol. These nutrients may be behind the potential benefits of eating pomegranates; according to a 2020 review of the research on pomegranates, this fruit shows potential for helping keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in check.
Image: Kwangmoozaa/Getty Images
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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In this Harvard Medical School Guide you’ll be introduced to foods—more than 120 in all—that will help you turn out meals that fight inflammation and disease. You’ll learn how plant-based chemicals called phytochemicals act as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents, helping to bring down levels of inflammation and to counteract inflammation’s harmful effects. And you’ll find dozens of anti-inflammatory foods with added health benefits that include lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and of stroke, improving blood pressure, adding protection against heart disease, and even reducing pain and soreness after exercise.
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Could cataract surgery protect against dementia?