Chronic inflammation is linked to some of the most pressing health conditions affecting Americans—cancer, obesity, diabetes, and arthritis. Eating inflammatory foods will only exacerbate pain disorders and conditions. However, with an eye on what you’re eating, reducing and eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet, you can be well on your way to a feeling better and leading a healthy life.
Health experts agree the following foods and ingredients are culprits in causing inflammation and should be avoided:
Put this one at the top of the list. Processed, packaged, and prepared foods that fill the grocery store aisles are generally filled with preservatives, food additives, sugars and artificial sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, and oils with trans-fat, all of which are highly inflammatory.
We’re all aware of the artery-clogging trans-fats found in vegetable oils. But these vegetable oils also have high concentrations of omega-6, an inflammatory fat, and low levels of anti-inflammatory fat, omega-3.
A diet heavy in white bleached sugar or high fructose corn syrup can create an excess of glucose that are bodies are unable to process. Besides affecting obesity, sugar is highly inflammatory, and one of the more addictive substances. Too much sugar will increase the level of cytokines, inflammatory agents in the body, and wreak havoc and weaken the immune system, making us all the more susceptible to inflammatory infectious diseases and sickness.
If you can avoid the dairy products packed with hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful ingredients, you will be well on your way to reducing the intake of inflammation-inducing saturated fats. For example, plain yogurt can actually help decrease inflammation with its gut-healing probiotics, but common fat heavy dairy products disrupt and decrease gut microbiome, a good gut bacteria that reduces inflammation.
Refined, bleached wheat flours are inflammatory and highly acidic in the body. These flours have been stripped of the fiber and nutrients intended to slowly digest, breaking down foods too quickly, leading to inflammation. Even worse, this wheat is GMO (genetically modified), which is increasingly being linked to serious inflammatory-related health conditions.
Hydrogenated Oils and Trans-Fat Foods
You know the list—margarine, lard, and shortening used in most baked goods off-the-shelf—doughnuts, pies, cookies and cakes—non-dairy coffee creamers, and frostings. Trans-fat, hydrogenated oils are manmade and do not occur naturally in foods. Our bodies stimulate an inflammatory response because it does not possess an adequate way to break the trans-fat down. Further, trans- fat damages the cells in the lining of blood vessels which is another source of inflammation.
Even the hard core carnivores amongst us would not argue that a plant-based diet would be much lower in inflammatory substances. That’s because the familiar grain-fed meats we consume—beef, chicken, pork—are based on grain-fed diets loaded with antibiotics. This unnatural diet may prevent disease in cramped barns and pens, and also induces rapid weight gain in the animals (and us). The result is meats that are higher in inflammatory saturated fats, with greater levels of inflammatory omega-6s from the GMO corn and soy diet. Choose lean cuts of grass-fed beef as a healthy meat choice. It has inflammation-fighting omega-3s and healthier saturated and trans-fats.
These are the familiar inflammation inducing foods that are one of the cornerstones of the fast food industry—French fries, onion rings, fried chicken, fish sticks, chicken tenders, etc. Though these types of food do speak for themselves, know that foods fried in vegetable oil contain high levels of advanced glycation end products (known as AGEs) that present a host of inflammatory health issues.
Artificial or Synthetic Sweeteners
NutraSweet, Splenda, saccharin, aspartame, High fructose corn syrup—these artificial sweeteners are some of the nastiest substances you can put in your body. It disrupts the body’s ability to metabolize glucose properly. Avoid ‘no sugar’ added products or ‘diet’ soft drinks with zero calories. The substitute sweeteners cause a release of inflammatory inducing cytokines that flood the body. Artificial sweeteners are bad for the composition of our gut health, too, by decreasing levels of the good bacteria that aid in releasing anti-inflammatory compounds.
Artificial Food Additives
Foods not found in nature are by definition artificial. Not only does your body not have a way to process them, they are generally harmful and in some cases even toxic to ingest. For example, additives like artificial coloring are made from petroleum. Such additives as flavor enhancers, stabilizers, sulfites, benzoates, and preservatives are increasingly being linked to health issues. As our body attempts to defend itself from these synthetic agents, it causes inflammation throughout our entire system.
Gluten found in store bought breads with refined wheat flour and other gluten-containing grains are highly inflammatory. If you’re struggling to lose weight and you have a gluten-based diet, this could be a major factor in the struggle. Choose grains or seeds like buckwheat, quinoa, or millet for your baking.
Bakery-made sourdough breads are a fermented food that provides healthy probiotics that support your gut health and help to reduce inflammation.
Though research here is contradicting for beer, wine, and liquor, most alcohol is high in sugar and affects the liver. Some research has shown a drink a day can lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein (CRP). However, too much generates toxic by-products that promote inflammation of all kinds. On the other hand, there are probiotics in craft beer, and antioxidants and flavonoids in wine that have anti-inflammatory properties. Let moderation be your guide to reduce or prevent inflammation from alcohol.
Another cornerstone of the fast food industry—burgers, pizza, nachos—are all high in saturated fats. These fats trigger inflammation by attacking white adipose tissue, i.e., fat tissue. This white tissue stores energy, rather than burns energy. As these fat cells grow and become bigger, they actually release pro-inflammatory agents that promote systemic inflammation.
There are processed meats low in saturated fats and without preservatives. However, the overwhelming amounts of processed meats on the market is high in saturated fats, and contain inflammatory compounds produced by high levels of those nasty advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These processed meats are actually injected with a mix of preservatives, colorings, and artificial flavorings that attack our immune system and cause inflammation.
Too much salt consumption can have many side effects, most notably inflammation and high blood pressure. Salt is one of the most common sources of sodium which is found in processed food. Your system needs sodium to aid in maintaining the fluid and electrolyte balance in your entire body. However, if your kidneys cannot flush the excess sodium from your body, the mineral builds up in your bloodstream, leading to a host of inflammatory-related health issues such as heart disease, kidney disease, and complications with rheumatoid arthritis.