Inflammation is not always a bad thing. It is our body’s immune system response to fight off bacteria and heals wounds.
Anything that irritates the body will cause inflammation in our body’s attempt to heal itself.
Inflammation becomes a problem when it turns chronic. This means it lasts for months or even years.
Chronic inflammation can become self perpetuating. This means more inflammation is created to deal with the existing inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can lead to asthma, arthritis, atherosclerosis[1,] obesity[2,] and even cancer[3.]
One of the causes of inflammation is a low intensity irritant that constantly aggravates the body. This irritant can come from the food you eat.
There are many foods that can irritate your body. Some of these foods can have no effect on certain people but make others very sick.
I’ve taken the most inflammatory foods and divided them into 2 categories: Foods you should avoid because of the other negative effects and the foods you should limit because of their potential benefits.
Foods to Avoid:
Why it’s bad: When discussing the most inflammatory foods, sugar has to be on the top of the list.
Sugar is known to cause a bunch of health problems. Some of these include increased obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Too much sugar can cause your body to release too many small proteins called cytokines[4.] These are necessary for immune function but they can go out of control. If your body releases too many cytokines, it can lead to a dangerous condition called a cytokine storm [5.]
What to avoid: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what foods have sugar in it. If it is sweet, it’s either sugar or an artificial sweetener (which I will discuss later.)
If you look at an ingredient list, any product with white refined sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup or any other fancy name is still the same thing.
These include sodas, juices, candies, cakes, sauces, jams, cereals, canned/ dried fruits, ice cream and the list goes on and on.
What to do instead: Avoid sugary foods. Sugar is highly addictive so it won’t be easy.
If you have a craving for something sweet a piece of whole fruit (not dried or canned) can help to reduce cravings. These have fiber which slows sugar absorption. This means your body does not get overloaded with all the sugar at once.
If you REALLY need something sweet, stevia can offer a sweet alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners.
SweetLeaf is a product that is made from stevia extract.
Don’t confuse it with Truvia, Stevia in the Raw and PureVia which are all highly processed stevia-based products.
As of now the FDA has not approved stevia leaves or crude stevia extracts. They are available as a supplement in nutrition stores, but are not approved by the FDA for the use in food.
Also, who knows what the research on stevia will show 10 years from now. As of now it’s regarded as safe, but that could change.
Although it may be totally safe, I’m gonna cover my butt and say to only use stevia products at your own risk.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Why it’s bad: Just because you are cutting out sugars does not mean that the artificial sweeteners are any better in terms of inflammation.
Some have been linked to cancer  and others can be more addicting than cocaine [7.] Artificial sweeteners in “diet” food and drink products have actually been linked to weight gain [8.]
What to avoid: The five artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA are Acesulfame Potassium (aka Acesulfame-K or Ace-K) (Sunett, Sweet One,) Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet,) Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet’N Low,) Neotame and Sucralose (Splenda.)
These are all chemicals that are foreign to the body. They are in all sorts of “diet” foods as well as most protein shakes and bars.
What to do instead: Drink water instead of diet soft drinks and try to avoid sweet products in general. Try to limit your exposure to artificial sweeteners. They do have less calories, but the less chemicals you put in your body the better off you’ll be.
If you really need something sweet, there is the previously mentioned SweetLeaf which is from the stevia plant.
3. Hydrogenated Oils and Trans Fats
Why it’s bad: Most people know that they should avoid trans fats, aka hydrogenated oils. Although consumption of trans fats has decreased in recent years, they are still in many of the foods we eat.
The reason, they are inexpensive to make and have a long shelf life. Our bodies are not designed to process these synthetic oils and it can lead to an inflammatory response.
Other risks associated with trans fats include coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and obesity.
What to avoid: This list of products containing trans fats is long since they are in a lot of processed foods. It includes margarine, shortening, most peanut butters, baked goods, fried foods, microwave popcorn, chips, non-dairy creamer.
The USDA’s standard for listing something as trans fat free is under 0.5 grams per serving. Most other countries use less than 2% of the total fat as the standard. This might not seem like a lot but it can add up if you eat a lot of servings throughout the day.
What to do instead: Read the labels of the foods you eat. don’t be fooled by the trans-fat free labels.
If you see the word hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, avoid that food.
Instead of using margarine of shortening, use butter or Coconut Oil. Look at the ingredient list on your peanut butter. Avoid processed foods and baked goods. Use heavy cream or half and half instead of non-dairy creamer.
4. Artificial Colors and Flavors
Why it’s bad: I am all for keeping foods as natural as possible and adding colors or flavors is contradictory of that.
Some artificial flavors, like MSG, have been directly linked to inflammation  and some food dyes, like Red #3 (erythrosine) may increase tumors [10.]
What to avoid: They are common in most processed and packaged products.
In addition to the artificial colors and flavors, there are also “natural” flavors that you may want to avoid as well. I am not aware of any health concerns from some of these ingredients. They are just gross.
The red food dye, carmine, is made from crushed cochineal beetles. It is a common ingredient for yogurt, cake, maraschino cherries and many other foods you may have already eaten.
The food additive castoreum is an artificial flavoring ingredient used to substitute vanilla, strawberry or raspberry. It is made from the anal secretions of the North American Beaver. It makes me wonder,who was the first person that discovered this? Disgusting.
Other common ingredients are cellulose and silicone dioxide which are also known as sawdust and sand, respectively.
These “natural” ingredients might not be listed on an ingredient list. A common practice is to list these as natural flavors or natural colors.
What to do instead: Eat real food. Avoid chemicals and processed foods that sit on a shelf. Eat fresh fruits and veggies. Opt for foods that don’t have an ingredient list.
5. Oils High in Omega 6s
Why it’s bad: The average American diet is low in omega-3 fatty acid and high in omega-6 fatty acids. Research shows that this type of diet increases inflammation  and can increase your risk for inflammatory diseases [12.]
The recommended ratio of omega 6s to omega 3s is between 1:1 and 5:1. The modern American diet ranges between 10:1 and 25:1.
What to avoid: Oils that are have omega-6 fatty acid are most polyunsaturated vegetable oils, especially seed oils.
The worst ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 come from safflower, sunflower, corn and cottonseed oils. Other oils to avoid include grape seed, sesame, peanut, soybean, canola and walnut oils.
What to do instead: Olive oil and Coconut Oil are my top two choices as far as replacing the polyunsaturated seed oils. They can be used to cook at low temperatures.
Flaxseed Oil is a good oil to use because it has a high amount of omega-3 oils. It’s not very versatile though. It cannot be used for cooking and must be kept refrigerated.
For cooking Avocado Oil and Macadamia Nut Oil have high smoke points and lower levels of omega-6s so they are less likely to oxidize and turn rancid.
6. Fried foods
Why it’s bad: Most people think fried foods are bad because of the fat content. The problem is not the fat content. It’s the high temperatures the foods are cooked in to make it crispy.
That is not to say that the fat is good. Most of the time, frying takes place with omega-6 vegetable oils or trans fats, which were both previously discussed.
At high heats oils can oxidize. Oxidized oils can have many detrimental health effects [12, 13, 14]
Excessively heating oil can not only oxidize it, but also turn it into trans-fats.
What to avoid: Just don’t eat fried foods. The means take out all chips, French fries, fried chicken, deep fried turkeys, corndogs and any other fried food you can think of.
What to do instead: If you are really craving a crispy treat, try baking it instead. It might not turn out as crispy as something deep-fried, but it will be healthier for you.
Foods To Limit
Why it’s bad: I don’t think too many people will argue that alcohol is bad for you. It is detrimental for muscle growth and can cause liver and kidney damage.
There is some evidence to suggest that light to moderate alcohol use may decrease C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation in the body [15, 16.] Too much alcohol can have the opposite effect.
Too much alcohol can also cause leaky gut syndrome [17.] This is where bacteria to passes through your intestinal lining and can lead to inflammation.
What to avoid: Since everyone has a different tolerance to alcohol, it is best to avoid it as much as possible. This includes things like beer, wine, shots, mixed drinks and anything else that is alcoholic.
What to do instead: Instead of drinking alcohol, have some water instead. It’s not as exciting and you won’t get that “buzz” but you won’t get a hangover either. Water will also hydrate you and won’t have a negative effect on your muscle building.
8. Factory Meats
Why it’s bad: This pains me to write, but all the meat that is so beneficial in terms of protein, can illicit an inflammatory response if the livestock was not raised correctly.
Most meat is raised in a factory and is fed grains like corn and soy. This unnatural diet along with the cramped conditions can make the animals sick.
To prevent them from getting sick and to make them grow faster, they are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. This stuff goes into the meat you are eating. Yuck!
All meat contains the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid. It is especially high in beef and something the body uses to create inflammation. This is not all bad though. Arachidonic acid is both pro and anti-inflammatory in the body.
Studies have even shown that supplementation with arachidonic acid can even decrease inflammation from training [18.]
What to avoid: All the beef, poultry, pork and any other meat you find in a grocery store, unless stated otherwise, is probably raised in a factory. The same goes for meats you find in a restaurant. Factory-raised meats are fattier which means they are more tender and preferable to most people who don’t care about their health.
What to do instead: Grass-fed beef and organic free-range chicken are my top two picks. They are leaner, which unfortunately means they will be tougher, but they usually won’t be full of chemicals.
If you have the option, get meat that was raised in un-cramped conditions and aren’t fed un-natural livestock feed and aren’t pumped full of chemicals.
Why it’s bad: Good cows will make good milk. The thing is that most cows are factory raised, which means most milk and dairy products are full of chemicals.
This can lead to digestion problems for some people. These digestion issues can trigger inflammation.
For some, the sugar, lactose is the issue and for others it’s the proteins from the milk. Whatever the case, dairy intolerance can cause stomach aches, digestion problems and other allergic reactions.
What to avoid: If dairy bothers you then it is best to avoid dairy products. This includes milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, butter and anything else you can think of.
This can also include foods that have dairy in them such as bread, cakes, and sauces.
What to do instead: Some people who are dairy intolerant have experienced less negative side effects with raw milk. This means all the good and bad bacteria has not been killed in the pasteurization or homogenization process.
If the cows are healthy, there should be less of the bad bacteria, but there is still a risk. This is something that is not legal in all states  so you will have to do some research to see where you can find it.
If you aren’t willing to take a chance with raw milk, there is kefir. Kefir is milk that is fermented with grains. This helps to break down some of the lactose and can be easier to digest for someone who is lactose intolerant. It also contains probiotics that can help with digestion.
Why it’s bad: There are some people that need to stay away from wheat altogether because of celiac or a gluten intolerance. There are also people who report feeling better when gluten is eliminated from their diet. If you fall into any of these categories, then you should not be eating wheat.
Like alcohol, wheat can cause leaky gut syndrome in some people. This can lead to chronic inflammation.
When wheat is refined, the processed flour turns into sugar in the body. This means that a piece of white bread can give you the same insulin response as sugar. These refined foods produce advanced glycation end (AGE) products that increase inflammation [20.]
What to avoid: The two biggest wheat products for most people are bread and pasta. These are very simple carbs and are definite no-no’s if you are avoiding gluten. In addition to wheat, barley and rye also contain gluten.
Other common products that have gluten are crackers, beer, cookies, muffins, cakes, and cereals. Oats are a gluten free food but usually contain gluten because of cross contamination.
Some unexpected foods that contain gluten are some candies, fried foods, salad dressings, soy sauce, and imitation fish.
What to do instead: If you are avoiding gluten but not carbs some good alternatives include brown rice, potatoes, quinoa, chia seeds and legumes.
If gluten is not a problem and it’s the AGEs you are avoiding then you can include buckwheat and other whole grains. Whole wheat should still be avoided because the glycemic index is very similar to refined flour.
Almond flour is made from ground up almonds and is a good low-carb, gluten-free substitute for baking.
Wrapping it Up
So those are the most common inflammatory foods. Some of these may have no effect on your body and others will.
If you think a food may be causing you problems the best thing to do is to eliminate it from your diet. Usually the elimination period is about 30 days but it could take longer for some people.
After the elimination period, re-introduce the food. If it causes you problems, it should be something that you may want to eliminate permanently.
If you think this information can help you or someone you know, please share it with them. You can reach me on social media via the MBF facebook group or on twitter.
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