Are you setting yourself up to fail by eating these inflammatory foods?
You cut calories, fit in time at the gym, and never eat after 8 p.m. So why is it that you still can’t deflate that spare tire hanging around your tummy? Consider this: your body might be fighting against your weight loss efforts because you’re eating too many inflammatory foods that cause chronic inflammation.
What is chronic inflammation?
You can think of chronic inflammation as your home security system. Before you leave your house every morning and when you’re ready to settle in for the night, you push some buttons and turn the alarm on. In doing so, you’re securing your home and protecting yourself from invaders.
Your body’s inflammation response works in a similar fashion. Your immune system is the home security system and inflammation is the alarm. An alarm—or inflammation—is triggered whenever the system detects an invader. In your body’s case, that invader can be anything from a bruised knee to an allergic reaction to pollen. In a functioning system, your immune system will eventually disarm the alarm.
That’s not the case with chronic, low-grade inflammation. You see, on top of sporadic inflammatory culprits, such as injuries or illnesses, there’s a more insidious perpetrator that’s likely triggering your alarm every day: food.
Foods that cause inflammation are one of the biggest contributors to chronic inflammation.
Research shows that a significant contributor to chronic inflammation comes from what we eat, and you’ll soon find that many of the following inflammatory foods have a place in your diet.
When you eat them daily, you’ll constantly be turning on your body’s alarm system. Because your immune system alarm is never disarmed, over time, this incessant inflammatory response can lead to weight gain, drowsiness, skin problems, digestive issues, and a host of diseases, from diabetes to obesity to cancer.
If your weight-loss efforts have plateaued before you’ve reached your body goals, make sure you’ve kicked these inflammatory foods to the curb and replaced them with their healing counterparts: anti-inflammatory foods.
We found over 40 examples of these foods that cause inflammation and categorized them into 14 different inflammation-causing food groups..Sugar
Common Culprits: Soda, snack bars, candy, baked sweets, coffee drinks
Bet you could’ve guessed this one. According to a review in the Journal of Endocrinology, when we eat too much glucose-containing sugar, the excess glucose our body can’t process quickly enough can increase levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines. And that’s not all. Sugar also suppresses the effectiveness of our white blood cells’ germ-killing ability, weakening our immune system and making us more susceptible to infectious diseases.
How can you cut back on inflammatory sugar? A simple swap is subbing out harmful high-glycemic foods (which spike and crash blood sugar) for low-GI alternatives, like whole grains and foods with healthy fats, protein, and fiber. A study in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that on an equal calorie diet, overweight participants who ate a low-GI diet reduced levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein whereas participants on a high GI diet did not. Sugar isn’t only added to obvious products like candy bars and sodas. It’s also lurking in these foods with added sugar.
Common Culprits: Mayonnaise, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, crackers, bread, potato chips
Once we became aware of the artery-clogging ill effects of trans fats, manufacturers switched to injecting their products with or frying their foods in vegetable oils such as soy, corn, sunflower, safflower, or palm oil—which wasn’t much better. That’s because these vegetable oils have a high concentration of the inflammatory fat, omega-6, and are low in the anti-inflammatory fat, omega-3. In fact, Americans are eating so many vegetable-oil-laden products that the average person has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 20:1 when it should be 1:1.
Common Culprits: Fried foods like french fries, fried chicken, fish sticks, chicken tenders, onion rings
Another issue with these vegetable-oil-fried and processed foods is that they contain high levels of inflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These are compounds that form when products are cooked at high temperatures, pasteurized, dried, smoked, fried, or grilled. Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that when people cut out processed and fried foods that have high levels of AGEs, markers of inflammation in their body diminished.
Common Culprits: Pizza, white bread, crackers, pasta, pretzels, flour tortillas, breakfast cereals, bagels
Refined wheat flours have been stripped of their slow-digesting fiber and nutrients, which means your body breaks them down very quickly. The more quickly your body digests glucose-containing foods, like these carbs, the faster your blood sugar levels can spike. This also spikes your insulin levels—a compound associated with a pro-inflammatory response. A Journal of Nutrition study found that a diet high in refined grains showed a greater concentration of the inflammatory marker, PAI-1, in the blood. On the other hand, a diet rich in whole grains resulted in a lower concentration of the same marker as well as one of the most well-known inflammatory biomarkers, C-reactive protein (CRP).
Common Culprits: Milk, soft cheeses, yogurt, butter
While a moderate intake of yogurt can actually help decrease inflammation with its gut-healing probiotics, dairy is also a source of inflammation-inducing saturated fats. On top of that, studies have connected full-fat dairy with disrupting our gut microbiome, actually decreasing levels of our good gut bacteria which are key players in reducing inflammation. And lastly, dairy is a common allergen—30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, according to the FDA. Either way, any type of allergen can trigger inflammatory reactions through the release of histamines. If you feel particularly bloated after a few blocks of cheese, consider cutting dairy from your diet.
P.S. Don’t worry about not getting enough calcium if you cut out dairy: A 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal found that high milk intake resulted in higher bone fracture incidences in women. Instead of relying on animal products, you can include more calcium-rich foods that aren’t dairy in your daily diet.6
Common Culprits: No-sugar-added products, no-calorie “diet” soft drinks
A 2014 study published in Nature found that artificial sweetener consumption in both mice and humans enhances the risk of glucose intolerance by altering our gut microbiome. Researchers also found an increase in bad gut bacteria that have previously been associated with type 2 diabetes. When our bodies can’t metabolize glucose properly, it can lead to a greater release of inflammatory cytokines, as is the case with sugar and refined carbs. On top of that, artificial sweeteners disrupt the composition of our gut microbiota by decreasing levels of the good bacteria Bacteroides, which are known to help release anti-inflammatory compounds.