This bountiful Mediterranean chicken and chickpea bowl is packed with protein, vegetables and spices that can calm harmful chronic inflammation. Photos by Jessica VanRoo.
Inflammation is a natural process that helps your body defend itself. But when inflammation becomes chronic — lasting for weeks, months or years — it can trigger a variety of health problems, fueling diseases like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, fatty liver disease and many cancers.
Some of the foods we eat can cause inflammation. Think red and processed meats, fried foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar-laden drinks. Conversely, there are a wide variety of foods and spices that are known to fight chronic inflammation.
"Good nutrition and focusing on foods that reduce inflammation in the body can significantly improve your health,” says Katie E. Rankell, a registered dietitian and director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program.
“The Mediterranean diet is recognized as one of the best anti-inflammatory diets in the world because it centers on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, legumes and healthy oils."
These flavorful recipes — created by Jessica VanRoo, executive chef of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health — can offer relief from inflammatory conditions while also tickling your taste buds.
Golden Summer Corn Chowder
Serves 4 (Total cost: $9.10/$3.03 per serving)
Calories: 123 per serving
Despite its name, this gorgeous, golden soup gets most of its color from yellow crookneck squash. This summer squash is the perfect anti-inflammatory vegetable, containing omega-3 fatty acids in its seeds and carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene in the skin.
Corn, as a gluten-free whole grain, brings a healthy dose of fiber to aid in digestion.
Onion, garlic and spices give this chowder its unique flavors and healthful benefits. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is well known for its ability to reduce inflammation, boost immunity and lower blood pressure and blood sugars. Oregano and thyme, which are part of the mint family, provide other calming polyphenols, including a key antioxidant called carvacrol — shown to decrease inflammation and fight infection.
Add a little lemon juice for vitamin C and you have a bright and soothing meal.
- 1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 medium yellow crookneck squash, diced
(about 1 pound)
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 cups vegetable stock or broth
- 1 cup fresh corn kernels (1 large cob)
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 4-6 green onions, chopped
- ¼ cup crumbled cotija or feta cheese
- Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat, then sauté onion, garlic and squash until softened, about 3-5 minutes.
- Stir in turmeric, pepper and stock, bring to a boil, then simmer 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and mix with a handheld blender until smooth. (You can use a blender but take care transferring the hot liquid.)
- Add corn, thyme and oregano to the blended stock, bring to a boil, then simmer until corn is tender, about 5-8 minutes.
- Turn off heat, remove thyme and oregano sprigs, add lemon juice and stir.
- Garnish with cheese crumbles and green onions before serving.
Pro tip: To get the most flavor from the corn, after removing kernels, scrape the cob with the back of a knife to release a milky corn residue you can add to the soup!
Mediterranean Chicken and Chickpea Bowl
Serves 4 (Total cost: $25.23/$6.31 per serving)
Calories: 523 per serving
One of the best features of Mediterranean cuisine is the way colors, textures and flavors are often combined in a single dish. This bountiful rice bowl is packed with protein, vegetables and spices that calm inflammatory responses.
Garbanzo beans are prized for their ability to reduce levels of C reactive protein (CRP) in the blood, a sign of inflammation due to a variety of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. An excellent source of protein, they also are high folic acid, iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium, all of which support the immune system.
The roasted veggies in this dish provide a plethora of health benefits, especially broccoli and cauliflower. These cruciferous vegetables are rich in folate, fiber and vitamins C, E and K. They also are good sources of phytonutrients — plant-based compounds that may help lower inflammation. Bell peppers round out this bowl's powerful nutrient punch with other healthy antioxidants, including capsanthin, violaxanthin, lutein, quercetin and luteolin.
This recipe is also great because the chicken and vegetables can be roasted in large batches for make-ahead bowls to last a week.
Chicken and marinade
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
- ½ head broccoli, cut in bite-size pieces
- ½ head cauliflower, cut in bite-size pieces
- 1 bell pepper, cored, seeded, cut in bite-size pieces
- ½ large red onion, cut in ½-inch wedges
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Optional toppings: avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, hummus
- 2 teaspoons avocado oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small red or yellow onion, diced
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1½ cups brown basmati rice (preferably soaked overnight)
- 2¼-3 cups chicken broth or water (2¼ for soaked rice, 3 unsoaked)
- 1½ cups garbanzo beans, canned or freshly cooked
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 Persian cucumber, grated or diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dry
- juice of ½ lemon, about 1 tablespoon, or to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
Roast chicken and vegetables:
- Combine chicken thighs with spices and lemon juice in a bowl, mix well and marinate at least 20 minutes or up to 4 hours (refrigerated).
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange marinated chicken on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Roast chicken 35-45 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Toss vegetables and oil in a bowl, then spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until vegetables begin to brown.
- Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat, add garlic, onion, turmeric, cumin and black pepper and cook 30 seconds.
- Add rice and stir, then add stock or water.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes (soaked) or 30 minutes (unsoaked).
- Remove from heat, leaving pot covered at least 10 minutes.
- Remove lid, fluff rice then stir in garbanzo beans.
Yogurt sauce: Mix ingredients, taste, then season with salt and pepper.
To serve: Spoon a layer of rice in a bowl, top with roasted chicken and veggies, drizzle with yogurt sauce then add other toppings as desired.
Strawberry Oatmeal Streusel Bars
Serves 16 (Total cost: $7.28/$0.46 per serving)
Calories: 118 per serving (without glaze)
What says spring and summer better than fresh strawberries?
All berries are particularly potent with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but strawberries are among the most popular and readily available. Along with fiber and vitamin C, strawberries possess inflammation-reducing plant pigment phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and ellagic acid.
Mixing strawberries with oats creates a naturally sweet and satisfying snack or dessert that is rich in whole-grain carbs and fiber, not to mention higher in protein and healthy fats than most other grains. Oats are also full of antioxidants, including avenanthramides that can lower blood pressure by increasing the body's production of nitric oxide, which helps dilate blood vessels. Oats also have anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties.
Add cardamom, a spice used medicinally for centuries and known for its intense, slightly sweet flavor that some people compare to mint. It, too, has a soothing effect on the digestive tract. Moreover, a recent study showed that people who took a cardamom supplement had significant reductions in high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, a common marker of inflammation in the body.
These versatile, low-calorie bars can be breakfast on the go, an energy-boosting snack or an after-dinner treat.
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- ¾ cup white whole wheat flour
- ⅓ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon (optional)
- pinch of kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil, melted
- 10 ounces strawberries, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 1-2 tablespoons milk of your choice
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line an 8-inch square baking tray with parchment paper.
- Combine oats, flour, sugar, spices and salt in a mixing bowl.
- Drizzle melted butter or oil and mix well. Put half the oat mixture in the baking tray and press to cover the bottom.
- Toss strawberries with arrowroot or cornstarch, lemon juice and sugar in bowl, then scatter over the oat layer.
- Crumble remaining oats on top of the strawberries.
- Bake 35-40 minutes or until the fruit begins to bubble and the oat crumbles are golden brown.
- Remove from oven, set aside to cool.
- For glaze, mix ingredients thoroughly in a bowl then drizzle over the cooled bars.
- Cut bars into 16 pieces and serve.