Inflammation is at the root of most diseases, and diet is largely what causes it. If you’re one to consume a Standard American Diet or even a vegan diet for that matter, you’re likely consuming these foods that cause inflammation and weight gain.
Inflammation isn’t always bad, mind you. Our bodies naturally inflame when the body is injured or ill. This may manifest as swelling, redness, heat, as well as pain and discomfort. Like when you stub your toe, that immediate pain you feel is the body working in action to help fix whatever just happened. It is a normal and effective response that facilitates healing.
Unfortunately, chronic inflammation is a different story and is largely caused by diet, stress, lack of exercise, smoking, pollution, and lack of sleep. It can be seen in those with leaky gut syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, and irritable bowel disease. It can also play a part in asthma and diabetes where the body continuously tries to heal tissues but fails.
As for weight gain and its connection to inflammation, inflammation makes our weight control hormone (leptin) to be less effective, which therefore causes weight gain. Thus, the two often come hand in hand.
10 Foods That Cause Inflammation
As for the foods that contribute to inflammation, here are the ten worst offenders:
1. Refined Sugar
Sugar, found in soda, baked sweets, candy, and snack bars, all increase levels of glucose in our bodies, which we often cannot process quickly enough. This increases levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body, increasing levels of inflammation in the body.
Studies have reported that sugar consumption in the diet causes inflammatory processes to become more active in humans. Dietary sugar promotes de novo synthesis of free fatty acids (FFA) in the liver, which according to the lipotoxicity theory, would produce FFA metabolites that may trigger inflammatory processes and reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation .
Sugar also suppresses the immune system, making your body more susceptible to diseases and infection.
Satisfy your body’s natural need for glucose by eating fresh, ripe organic fruit, or opting for natural sugar sources that are rich in alkalizing minerals like maple syrup, coconut sugar, and yacon syrup.
2. Vegetable Oil
Vegetables oils from corn, canola, soybean and safflower and all the products that contain them (yes, even vegan items like “butter” spreads), are high in omega-6 fats (the bad ones, not the good ones like those found in evening primrose oil).
The body needs a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, but many people currently consume more 6’s than 3’s. This imbalance can contribute to chronic inflammation.
Currently, the Western diet provides a 6 to 3 ratio between 10:1 and 50:1.
Excess consumption of omega-6s can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals. And while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, scientists have hypothesized that eating too much omega-6 counteracts these beneficial effects.
So a diet with a lot of omega-6 and not much omega-3 will increase inflammation, while a diet high in omega-3s and low in omega-6 will reduce inflammation. Making sure these levels are in check is a crucial step in fighting inflammation.
Instead of vegetable oils, opt for healthier, anti-inflammatory oils like avocado, coconut, olive and sesame oil.
3. Dairy Products
All dairy products are high in saturated fats, which are naturally inflammation-causing.
Large observational studies have shown direct associations between plasma saturated fatty acid status with markers of low-grade inflammation in both overweight and lean adults, and children .
In addition, as summarized in a recent review, activation of numerous genes related to inflammatory pathways has been documented in a number of clinical trials in humans following the consumption of saturated fatty acids.
Dairy products contain lactose and casein proteins, both common allergens. When an allergen interacts with the immune system, it promotes the release of inflammatory neuropeptides, thereby triggering a cascade of unfavourable reactions in the body.
There are plenty of dairy product alternatives out there such as plant-based milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. For example, oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and cashew milk.
4. Wheat, Rye, and Barley
These wheat-containing grains all contain a common allergen – gluten.
When gluten enters the body, particularly in gluten-sensitive people, it responds by firing up the immune system and setting off an inflammatory cascade.
The resulting effects of gluten sensitivity range from body pain to mucus production (runny nose, coughing up mucus), and tiredness.
According to gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, “No human being completely digests gluten.” And for those who are gluten-sensitive, “undigested gluten triggers the release of zonulin” (12).
Zonulin is a protein that helps to regulate the “leakiness” of the gut. It’s responsible for opening and closing the spaces, known as the intestinal tight junctions (“tight junctions”), between the cells lining the digestive tract. Gluten just so happens to trigger the release of zonulin in Celiac patients, as well as those who are gluten-sensitive.
When our gut becomes leaky, a host of health problems can result. Instead of keeping undigested food particles safely in one place for excretion, these particles leak into the bloodstream and trigger body-wide inflammation.
5. Fried Foods
Fried foods are another major trigger for inflammation, which can become chronic if consumed every day.
Fried foods contain high levels of inflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are formed when anything is cooked to high temperatures, smoked, dried, fried, pasteurized, or grilled.
6. Refined Flour
Refined flour, in other words, anything that is white and not whole-wheat, has been stripped of slow-digesting fibers and nutrients, which means your body breaks down these items very quickly. This will spike insulin levels, resulting in a pro-inflammatory body response.
7. Red Meat
When we consume red meat, a chemical called Neu5gc is produced. This chemical spurs cancer progression and produces an inflammatory response in the body.
8. Processed Corn
Corn is in so many products. You really need to be careful to avoid this one. There are a variety of corn derivatives like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and corn oil. Eating corn in these refined forms spikes blood sugar and as we have seen above, spiked blood sugar leads to an increased insulin response, which creates a major inflammatory response.
9. Artificial Chemicals and Additives
Anything artificially created, like chemicals and additives in foods, are not recognized by the body. They are foreign, and so naturally, the body needs to defend itself from these synthetic compounds, which means an inflammatory immune system response.
10. Trans Fats
Trans fats, aside from causing cancer, also create low-density lipoproteins, which feed inflammation. Trans fats are found in hydrogenated oils and many processed foods.
Foods That Fight Inflammation
You can fight inflammation by slowly ditching the foods above, and incorporating the 10 foods below. Remember that inflammation is also caused by stress, lack of sleep, pollution, smoking, and lack of exercise (as mentioned below), so it isn’t just diet you need to focus on. Practice stress-reduction techniques, go to sleep earlier, quit smoking (if you do), and start walking if you’re not active.
1. Turmeric: one of the best anti-inflammatory foods out there. It’s active ingredient, curcumin, inhibits the activity of COX-2 and 5-LOX, two enzymes involved in the inflammatory response. Curcumin also blocks inflammatory pathways and prevents inflammatory proteins from triggering pain and swelling.
2. Blueberries: high in antioxidants, which prevent oxidative stress and inflammation. Promote the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines in the body, which leaves us with lower levels of inflammation in the body.
3. Dark Leafy Greens: kale, collards, spinach, romaine, you name it! All amazing inflammation fighters, rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules.
4. Avocado: contain polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFAs) and phytosterols, which provide our bodies with anti-inflammatory benefits.
5. Watermelon: incredibly alkalizing, watermelon helps buffer the acid intake from a high-acid diet (namely, a high-inflammatory diet).
6. Hemp Seeds: contain an ideal ratio of omega’s 3 and 6. Omega-6 fats contain GLA, which works in the body as an anti-inflammatory, decreasing inflammation and helping people suffering from inflammatory-related diseases.
7. Medicinal Mushrooms: medicinal mushrooms like shiitake mushrooms contain high-molecular-weight polysaccharides (HMWP), which improve immune function and help battle inflammation.
8. Ginger: similar to turmeric, ginger is an anti-inflammatory healing root that boosts the immune system and breaks down the accumulation of toxins in the body.
9. Beets: high in antioxidants, beets help fight to repair cell damage caused by inflammation. They are also high in inflammation-fighting potassium and magnesium.
10. Pineapple: contain the inflammation-fighting enzyme called bromelain. It helps regulate the immune response that often creates unwanted inflammation in the body.