Inflammatory responses in the body are very much natural. In fact, inflammation is essential in the complex process of healing and protection when we experience tissue damage. In other words, inflammation is a sign that your body is protecting and healing itself. Therefore it only makes sense that foods that induce inflammatory responses are a matter of concern.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to many serious illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, several cancers, migraines, dementia, and most notably, heart diseases. For those who are unaware of this, cardiovascular illnesses are the leading cause of death in the world. According to the WHO (World Health Organization) there were approximately 17.5 million deaths due to heart related illnesses in 2012. That accounts for 30% of deaths around the world.
But fret not. A seemingly endless body of research suggests that we can reduce our risk of developing these illnesses by altering our lifestyles. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to dive into how important it is to take care of your body, as the reasons are nothing short of obvious. But it is necessary to know how to take care of your body and how to avoid these deadly diseases. Step one: avoid these foods.
A disproportionate sugar intake can have a list of consequences. It is believed to heighten risks of type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and inflammation. Not to mention it degrades your teeth. Other research indicates that sugars can worsen or even cause acne. Sugar can seem almost impossible to avoid since just about everything has sugar in it. But in terms of moderation and/or avoidance, high sugar products like sodas, fruit drinks, candies, pastries, etc. should be monitored. Some healthy substitutes for sugar include stevia, honey, and blackstrap molasses. And while sugars found in sweet treats is something to avoid, natural sugars in organic fresh and dried fruit are not a matter of the same concern. Fruits supply the body with natural antioxidants, vitamins, and fibers that can only be found in natures juicy snacks.
2. Common Cooking Oils
Many cooking oils used in homes and businesses contains high levels of omega-6 fatty acids with very poor omega-3 acids. This type of imbalance can trigger inflammatory reactions and eventually cause one of the many disorders and illnesses listed earlier. Not surprisingly, these oils are often used to prepare processed foods. It’s best to avoid or moderate intake of polyunsaturated vegetable oils like cottonseed, safflower, corn, sunflower oils, and grape seed. Extra virgin olive oil and macadamia oil are great healthy alternatives, as their omega 6 to 3 ratios are much more balanced. Macadamia oil actually has a 1:1 ratio and contains oleic acid which is healthy for the cardiovascular system.
3. Trans Fats
Trans fats are sneaky little buggers. Not only do they raise levels of unhealthy cholesterol, but they also suppress levels of “healthy” cholesterol. A steady diet of trans fats can assist in developing obesity, chronic inflammation, and a dangerous resistance to insulin. This can lead to more serious illnesses. Trans fats are almost, if not, just as common as processed sugars. They can be found in abundance in fast food, processed goods, deep-fried foods, foods prepared with partially hydrogenated oil, margarine, or vegetable shortening. It’s important to keep in mind that a label reading “0 trans fats” doesn’t necessarily mean it is free of trans fats. US law allows products with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat to be labeled free of them. To make sure you’re actually avoiding trans fats, check the ingredients to see if partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening was used in preparation. If yes, toss it.
4. Dairy Products
According to researchers, the ability to digest milk after infancy is abnormal. It is actually believed that some 60% of people cannot digest milk. Therefore it isn’t uncommon for milk to cause inflammation. In some, dairy products can cause stomach aches, diarrhea, constipation, rashes, hives, acne, and respiratory stress. The number of dairy products and the goods that contain them is endless. Butter and cheese can probably be found in 9 of the 10 foods you can name off the top of your head. These foods include cookies, breads, cereals, cakes, crackers, and many, many more. Those sensitive to milk can substitute it with Kefir and unsweetened yogurt in moderation. The lactose and proteins found in the milk are broken down by yeasts or bacteria, allowing easy digestion and little to zero irritation.
5. Feedlot-Raised Meat
Meats produced by commercial suppliers typically have a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids and lacking in omega-3. Along with an excess of inflammatory acids, close living quarters reduce opportunity for exercise, causing the animals to gain extra weight riddled with saturated fat. And to top it all off, they’re given artificial supplements to promote a speedier growth. Just about every bit of commercial meat you buy has gone through this process unless marked differently. Now I’m not going to say that meat should be completely cut from your diet. So a healthier option for meat eaters is free range animals fed organic foods with more omega-3 acids. Free range animals have the opportunity to actually move, making their meat leaner and healthier with lower levels of saturated fat.
6. Red Meat and Processed Meat
According to researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, red meats such as beef, pork, lamb, etc., contain a molecule called Neu5Gc that isn’t naturally produced by the human body. Coincidentally, the body is resistant to this molecule and responds with inflammatory defenses. This inflammation can subtly linger in many people, eventually giving way to cardiovascular illness or cancer. In 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund announced that processed meats are likely common causes of a number of cancers in the colon, rectum, and quite possibly the lungs and esophagus. Processed meats are not healthy in any sense and should be avoided. Red meats however are not as harmful. Lean, organic cuts of red meat in moderation is not dangerous, so making red meat part of a meal 1 or 2 times a week won’t hurt. Better choices and substitutes include poultry, fish, and vegetables. To help avoid contaminants, it’s usually safer to cook meat using moist methods like boiling or stewing.
Constant prolonged alcohol consumption can do a lot more than get you in trouble with the law. It is also known to trigger inflammation and/or irritation of the esophagus, liver, and voice box. This prolonged inflammation can lead to tumor growth in parts of the body with chronic inflammation. I want to emphasize the idea of moderation here. Even as I type, I have a beer at my side. A drink every once in a while won’t kill you. But overindulgence has its consequences. An obvious substitute for alcohol would be a cup of water. Perhaps a cup of ginger, natural juices, or jasmine green tea (which has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties).
8. Refined Grains
Many grains that are consumed today are refined grains. Refined grains lack fiber and vitamin B, making them about as healthy as processed sugars (as mentioned earlier). When consumed regularly, the heightened glycemic index in the refined grain can encourage the development of cancer, coronary disease, diabetes, and more. These grains are found in just about everything we eat including rice, flour, bread, pasta, pastries, chips, crackers, you name it. Along with refined grains being used as an ingredient, most of these products are processed more to meet commercial standards and expectations. It’s virtually impossible to avoid processed grains. The most effective method would really be to grow your own. Note that there is some controversy over the term “whole grain”, so some labels may not be fully accurate.
9. Artificial Food Additives
Common additives such as aspartame and MSG are believed to cause inflammatory reactions. The only foods you need to watch for additives in are packaged goods. This does include foods served at restaurants. Cutting artificial additives from your diet isn’t necessarily an easy task. So if all else fails, decorate your food with spices and sweeteners with anti-inflammatory properties.
This article is not meant to scare you. It is meant to inform you. I cannot stress enough how much moderation plays a role in this subject. There is no need to be afraid of these foods. But there is certainly the need to know what they’re capable of doing to your body when you overindulge. Watch yourself for inflammatory symptoms after trying new foods or foods you may be sensitive to. It could save your life!
Unfortunately, these facts and findings will not stop many people from taking these things out of their diet. But that doesn’t mean something can’t be added to someones diet to make these inflammatory foods less harmful! Here are some anti-inflammatory foods that you can add to your normal dishes.
Fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna can help fight inflammation when enjoyed a few times a week. Boiling, baking, or stewing are the healthiest methods of preparation.
Avocado is not only delicious, but has anti-inflammatory properties and is a healthy source of natural monounsaturated fats. 5-7 daily servings of natural fats is recommended.
Greens with darker leaves like broccoli, collards, and kale improve resistance to inflammation a bit better than lighter colored greens. A serving or two a day should suffice in helping avoid swelling and inflammation.
Turmeric has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years and is popular in Indian cuisine. It has been used to treat toothaches, bruises, rheumatoid arthritis, and joint swelling. Just a pinch of it in your dishes provides the consumer with its medicinal characteristics.
Walnuts contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant attributes as well as essential nutrients like omega-3, copper, manganese, and molybdenum. About an ounce of walnuts is a recommended daily intake.
Adding bell and/or hot peppers can greatly improve your resistance to inflammation. The active ingredient, capsaicin, is used in some ointments to fight pain and swelling. However, peppers can trigger the opposite reaction in some people. If you notice new or increased symptoms of inflammation after adding peppers to your diet, perhaps they are not for you.
Extra virgin olive oil can help with weight loss, lower cholesterol, and diminish inflammation. There are studies however that imply that these properties are only found in oil made from the first pressing of the olives.
Gingerols (the anti-inflammatory properties found in ginger) can both reduce and prevent pain and swelling by hindering the formation of inflammatory compounds. It is a common remedy for arthritis sufferers and can be incorporated into your cuisine in a number of ways.
In addition to fighting inflammation, beets are also a good source of vitamin C. They are often enjoyed grated into salads or stews.
Cruise down to your local Asian market and pick up a container of this stuff. It’s cheap, widely available, and has many health benefits; among them, of course, anti-inflammatory attributes.