The food choices you make influence how much inflammation you have in your body. One high-fat meal will trigger a release of specific molecules that set off an inflammatory response. Having too much inflammation in your body can lead to dangerous illnesses. It’s worth knowing which foods to avoid so you can decrease your levels of inflammation. Here are the six most common foods that trigger inflammation, leading to severe disease.
The Connection Between Inflammation and Disease
Doctors warn that inflammation is a common factor in diabetes, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease. These diseases account for approximately 70% of all deaths in the United States every year. Other conditions that may stem from inflammation include these:
- Crohn’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
6 Foods That Cause Inflammation
Here are six foods to avoid if you have inflammatory diseases or conditions.
1 – Refined carbohydrates
A group of researchers at Harvard found that people who ate a diet high in sugary drinks, processed meats, and refined carbohydrates were 38% more likely to end up with heart disease than people who didn’t eat these foods. Refined carbohydrates are grains that have the bran and fiber removed. These refined carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels after you eat them. Several hours later, you end up with a blood sugar crash that makes you feel hungry and craving the foods again. Refined carbohydrates include these everyday pantry staples:
- White bread
- White rice
- Sugary cereals
- Sweet desserts
2 – Sugar
Inflammation isn’t a new medical concept. 2,000 years ago, Roman doctors noticed that they got warm to the touch, painful, and swollen as wounds healed. The word Inflammare Latin for “to set on fire,” became the word doctors used to describe this phenomenon. Only centuries later, the medical community understood the cause of inflammation-your body’s immune system fighting off threatening germs and toxins. This is the good side of inflammation, but inflammation also has a harmful side.
Glucose, a type of sugar, can lead to an inflammatory response. A diet high in sugary drinks, baked goods, or candy sets you up to have daily inflammation. Over time, this constant inflammation leads to chronic inflammation, which leads to diseases and even conditions like depression. Foods that contain a lot of sugar include the following:
- Soft drinks
- Fruit juices
When you read food labels, be aware that some ingredients are the sugar in disguise. If you see these ingredients on a brand, they are sugar.
- Corn syrup
- Golden syrup
- Sorghum syrup
3 – Saturated Fats and Trans-fats
It does not a surprise that foods that lead to inflammation are unhealthy. Foods high in unhealthy fats and trans-fats cause you to gain weight, which puts you at risk of inflammation. Foods like
- Deep-fried foods
- Fast foods
- Commercially baked foods, especially hydrogenated oil, margarine, or vegetable shortening.
- Granola bars
- Salad dressings
The food manufacturers know consumers don’t want to buy foods with trans-fats, so they use different names on the labels. Regulations allow food companies to hide ½ gram of trans fat per serving. Typically, you end up eating a lot more than 1 gram of trans fat, which is the recommended amount per day for adults.
Even foods containing zero grams of trans fats contain unhealthy fats. They use different names for these fats, such as
- Hydrogenated oils
- Partially hydrogenated oils
4 – Food Additives
When you consume food with food additives, it changes the microbes in your stomach, causing intestinal problems and inflammation. They used food additives in processed foods to thicken, add texture, or increase the shelf life. Processed foods lack fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They’re usually high in sugar, fat, and calories. Today there are more regulations for using food additives than in the past. However, scientists must still conduct more studies to better understand food additives’ long-term effects.
Unhealthy food additives include those on the following list:
- Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Hydrogenated oils
- Aspartame-found in Equal and NutraSweet
- Sodium nitrate
- Artificial colors
5 – Red and Processed Meats
Overeating red meat will trigger an inflammatory response over time. This outcome puts you at risk for heart disease and cancer. Red meats include these:
They processed certain types of meat using smoke, salt, curing, or chemicals. They have linked processed meats to inflammation-causing diseases like colon and rectum, esophagus, and lung cancer. Meats that are processed include the following:
So limit the amount of red meat you eat. Replace it with fish, poultry, or vegetables. When you consume red meat, choose grass-fed meat if possible.
6 – Alcohol
High alcohol consumption causes inflammation of your esophagus, larynx, and your liver. Chronic inflammation can lead to cancer in these areas of your body. Alcohol also puts a burden on your liver, so it can’t function thoroughly. Examples of drinks that can increase your inflammation include these things:
Doctors suggest that you drink moderately to reduce your risk of alcohol-related inflammation and other problems. The 2020-2025 CDC guidelines for men, the recommended amount is two drinks of alcohol or less per day, and for women, the recommended amount is one drink of alcohol or less per day.
What Foods Can Fight Inflammation?
The best way to fight inflammation isn’t taking a pill but eating anti-inflammatory foods. These foods help fight free radicals that interfere with your body’s proper function. Here are some of the best foods you can eat to fight inflammation in your body.
- High-fiber foods-Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, legumes, and whole grains
- Omega3 fatty acids-Salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, flaxseed oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, leafy greens
- Unsaturated fats-almonds, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin, and flaxseeds. Sesame and plant oils.
- Polyphenols-These are plant chemicals in dark chocolate, berries, apples, citrus, onions, tea, or seeds.
How Do You Start to Eat to Fight Inflammation?
You may not want to start a completely new lifestyle eating plan all at once. It’s best to make changes slowly. Otherwise, you’ll feel deprived of the foods you love. When you’re at the store, hang out in the fresh produce aisle longer than you usually do. Look around and see if there’s produce you’ve never noticed. Try something new from the produce aisle like kale, fresh mango, or fresh red beets. Take it home and research how to prepare your newfound fruit or veggie. You may find that you love the taste.
Buy whole-wheat spaghetti pasta and brown rice instead of white. Avoid sugary snacks. Try getting your sweet tooth fixed by eating frozen mixed berries or a little dark chocolate. Skip your everyday processed food. Substitute things like
- Instant mashed potatoes: Make real potatoes. They are super easy!
- Salad dressing: Make your oil and vinegar.
- Flavored popcorn: Make your popcorn with a particular popcorn maker that goes in your microwave. When you pull your popcorn out of the microwave, drizzle it with olive oil and a little salt or spices.
- Tomato pasta sauce-Store bought tomato pasta sauce has lots of sugar. Instead of buying that, make your own. It’s easy. Chop up tomatoes. Saute them for a few minutes in a skillet with fresh garlic and basil. Drizzle your pasta with olive oil and top with your homemade pasta sauce.
- Pita chips-Make your own by cutting a pita into fourths. Lay them on a baking sheet, then spray with olive oil. Bake in an oven 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or until desired crispiness.
Start Fighting Inflammation One Meal at a Time
- Try to think about each meal instead of an entire day of eating. For instance, you can eat with berries and walnuts, coffee, or tea for a leisurely breakfast.
- Lunch: Open-faced sandwich of mashed avocado on a slice of whole-wheat bread. Sprinkle with olive oil, chopped tomatoes, salt, and pepper.
- Dinner: Make grilled salmon sprinkled with olive oil, lemon, and pepper. Add brown rice and a leafy green salad. For dessert, try a wedge of dark chocolate or some inflammation-fighting berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
Every little healthy choice you make adds to less inflammation and risk of health problems in the future. If you’re unsure what healthy foods to eat or avoid, you can follow the Mediterranean Diet. One of the most nutritious lifestyle diets emphasizes eating lots of plants, lean like poultry, whole grains, and olive oil.