Inflammation is an essential part of the body’s healing system. It helps your body defend itself against foreign invaders and accelerates the healing process when you are injured or sick. But chronic, sustained inflammation can be extremely harmful to the body.
Chronic inflammation is linked to a wide range of health problems. They include acne, asthma, sinusitis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, interstitial cystitis and even cancer.
Interestingly, the foods you eat can have a major effect on inflammation in your body. While some foods fight inflammation, there are some that actually can lead to inflammation.
Here are the some foods that make inflammation in your body worse.
1. Refined Carbohydrates
Anything made of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, bagels, breakfast cereals and so on, can lead to inflammation in the body.
Refined flour does not have the slow-digesting fiber and nutrients, which means your body digests such foods quickly, leading to a spike in blood sugar. This in turn causes a pro-inflammatory response.
A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that high-glycemic index carbohydrates increase the activation of an inflammatory marker nuclear factor-kappaB in mononuclear cells of young, lean healthy subjects.
Another study published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that older adults who consumed the highest amount of high-glycemic index foods were 2.9 times more likely to die of an inflammatory disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
A 2014 study published in Mediators of Inflammation reports that intake of excessive refined carbohydrates and scarce micronutrients increases inflammatory mediators and insulin resistance in prepubertal and pubertal obese children, independently of central adiposity.
Instead of refined carbohydrates, opt for high-fiber, unprocessed carbohydrates that are healthy. The best sources of these foods are oatmeal, quinoa, barley, brown rice and other whole grains.
2. Refined Sugar
Your regular table sugar can also cause harm because it supplies excess amounts of fructose, which can cause inflammation in the body. It is even linked to increased risk of conditions like metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes.
A 2011 study published in PLOS ONE reports that sucrose counteracts the anti-inflammatory effect of fish oil in adipose tissue and increases obesity development in mice.
A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that sugar-sweetened soda consumption is associated with an increased risk among women of seropositive rheumatoid arthritis, which is an inflammatory disease.
A 2016 study published in Cancer Research reports that when mice were fed high-sucrose diets, they developed breast cancer that spread to their lungs. This is due to the inflammatory response to sugar.
When one talks about sugar, it is not just the refined sugar that you add to your tea or coffee. In fact, sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks and punches as well as pastries, desserts and candies are some of the major sources of dietary sugar.
Instead of sugar, opt for natural sweeteners like stevia, honey or blackstrap molasses to flavor beverages and foods modestly.
3. Trans Fats
Trans fats increase the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins or LDL) in the body, while lowering the level of the ‘good’ cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins or HDL). At the same time, these harmful fats cause inflammation in the body.
Intake of trans fats can lead to high levels of inflammatory markers, such as interleukin 6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and C-reactive protein (CRP).
A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that dietary fatty acids can modulate markers of inflammation.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Nutrition reports that consumption of trans fatty acids is related to plasma biomarkers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. The study suggests that higher intake of trans fatty acids could adversely affect endothelial function and increase the risk of cardiovascular problems.
Another study published in 2011 in the Journal of Lipid Research highlights the harmful effect of industrially produced trans fat on markers of systemic inflammation. Researchers found that in overweight, older women, partially hydrogenated soybean oil increased inflammation significantly more than palm and sunflower oil.
As trans fats are mostly found in deep-fried foods, fast foods and commercially baked goods, try to avoid them completely. Instead look for alternative products that contain no trans fats. Also, look for healthy oil options, such as olive oil or coconut oil. When purchasing processed or packed foods, steer clear of items that list “partially hydrogenated oil” as one of the ingredients.
4. Common Cooking Oils
Common vegetable cooking oils as well as seed oils used in many homes and restaurants are very high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fats. A diet consisting of a highly imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes inflammation and leads to inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
This is one reason why such oils are considered pro-inflammatory agents.
A 2015 study published in International Urology and Nephrology highlights the influence of polyunsaturated fatty acids on urologic inflammation. The study says that pro-inflammatory mechanisms of omega-6 fatty acids are associated with disease progression, and emphasizes the importance of the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
In a study published in 2016 in Lipids, rats who consumed an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 20:1 responded with much higher levels of inflammatory markers as compared to those who consumed a ratio of 1:1 or 5:1.
Change your cooking oil to extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3s.
5. Red Meat & Processed Meat
Red and processed meats are also pro-inflammatory agents that you should avoid to reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases.
Red meat contains a molecule called Neu5Gc that humans don’t naturally produce. Once ingested, the body develops Neu5Gc antibodies that ultimately trigger a chronic inflammatory response.
A 2016 study by researchers at the University of California – Davis Health System and and Xiamen University School of Medicine notes that Neu5Gc, a non-human sialic acid sugar molecule common in red meat can contribute to chronic inflammation.
It is also a source of arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that produces a number of inflammatory compounds.
Processed meat contains more advanced glycation end products (AGEs) than other meats. AGEs, which are known to cause inflammation, are formed by cooking meats at high temperatures.
A 2004 study published in Cardiovascular Research reports that AGEs are an important biochemical abnormality that accompanies diabetes mellitus and, likely, inflammation in general.
Another study published in 2014 in the journal Meat Science reports that red and processed meat consumption is associated with a higher incidence of colorectal cancer. Inflammation plays an important role in the development and progression of colorectal cancer.
Avoid red meats like beef, lamb and pork as well as processed meats like ham, sausage and salami.
Excess alcohol intake can cause a number of health problems, including some that may affect your joints. This is mainly because it is a pro-inflammatory agent.
It primarily causes inflammation of the esophagus, larynx (voice box) and liver. If not controlled in time, the chronic inflammation can lead to tumor growth and give rise to cancer.
A 2010 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology reports that chronic alcohol use impairs not only gut and liver functions but also multi-organ interactions, leading to persistent, systemic inflammation and ultimately to organ damage.
Instead of alcohol, opt for a refreshing and thirst-quenching glass of pure, filtered water or a warm cup of green or ginger tea. If you do drink, limit your consumption to no more than one alcoholic drink a day.
7. Artificial Additives
Artificial food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) are pro-inflammatory agents as they trigger inflammatory responses.
MSG is commonly added to fast foods, soup mixes, and salad dressings as a flavour enhancing food additive. However, it not considered healthy as it triggers important pathways to chronic inflammation.
Similarly, artificial sweeteners are associated with joint pain and inflammation. They also increase the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.
Instead of artificial additives, switch to anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as to flavour our food. Similarly, opt for natural sugar substitutes instead of the artificial ones.