We all experience some degree of inflammation from time to time. It’s our body’s natural reaction to foreign invaders such as microbes, allergens, pollen, or chemicals. This is actually one way our body works to protect us and keep all systems running smoothly.
However, when inflammation gets out of control or becomes chronic, our bodies suffer the consequences. Cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease have all been linked to chronic inflammation.
The best way to avoid inflammation is to prevent it altogether, and one of the most efficient ways to achieve this is by following an anti-inflammatory diet. By avoiding certain food that are known to cause inflammation and focusing on those that work against it, we can keep our bodies in tip top shape!
Here are 9 foods to avoid when you’re eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
1. Refined Sugars
This one seems tough at first because there is refined sugar hiding in so many foods! Even a seemingly innocent jar of pasta sauce can be loaded with sugar. But refined sugars–and you can spot these on nutrition labels because they end in “ose” (eg sucrose, fructose, glucose)–are known to trigger inflammatory messengers called cytokines.
Don’t fear naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit, as they’re paired with dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. It’s when the sugars are refined and stripped of all of those things to become a source of pure energy (and sweetness) that we get into trouble.
2. Saturated Fats
Saturated fats can not only raise blood cholesterol levels, they also trigger inflammation in our adipose (fat) tissue. In addition to being a well-known risk factor for heart disease, a diet high in saturated fat is also believed to exacerbate arthritis inflammation. Sources of saturated fat include red meat, cheese and other dairy products, eggs, and butter.
3. Trans Fats
Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, are known to cause inflammation. Trans fats are most commonly found in processed foods, fast food, fried foods, shelf-stable pastries, cookies, and crackers, and in some brands of margarine.
Some people who suffer from chronic joint pain due to inflammation find relief when avoiding foods that are high in gluten, such as wheat and barley. In particular those who have been diagnosed with Celiac disease should avoid gluten as it can cause an autoimmune response.
In addition to being high in saturated fat, dairy products contain casein, which is the main protein found in milk and cheese. Casein is also used in a lot of commercially prepared foods, and is known to cause inflammation in some individuals.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG for short, is a flavor-enhancing food additive that can be found in fast foods, salad dressings, deli meats, soup mixes, and seasoning blends. MSG can not only trigger chronic inflammation, but it can also have a detrimental affect on the liver.
7. Refined Carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, cereal, crackers, white rice, or refined potato products such as French fries are known to cause inflammation when consumed in excessive amounts. As these foods are generally quite high on the glycemic index, they stimulate the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products, which in turn cause an inflammatory response.
I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but yep, alcohol also has a detrimental effect when it comes to inflammation. As alcohol is a burden to the liver, excess consumption can weaken the liver and cause inflammation. It’s definitely something to be consumed in moderation.
9. Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are actually healthy and we need them for vital functions, but when the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 acids gets out of whack, it can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory compounds. The problem is that in our typical western diet, we tend to consume way more Omega-6 than Omega-3. Omega-6 is found in oils such as corn, grapeseed, soy, peanut, safflower, and sunflower.
Like Omega-6 fatty acids, many of the foods listed here aren’t inherently harmful or even unhealthy, with the exception of trans fats, MSG, and refined sugars. The problem is when we over-consume them, and don’t balance them out with healthy foods that fight inflammation.
Increasing the proportion of fruits and vegetables in your diet, eating foods rich in omega-3’s such as fatty fish, walnuts, and chia seeds, and eating healthy whole grains can all help to keep your health in balance and combat inflammation.52