Inflammation is a natural process the body uses to protect itself. Sometimes, however, the body increases inflammation for reasons not related to your health. Your diet and other lifestyle factors can increase inflammation in your body. Learn more about which foods to avoid to reduce inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s natural process for protecting itself from damage. This damage can come in the form of viruses or bacteria, damaged tissues, or infections. Inflammation helps alert the body to these problems and then protects the body while the problem is active. Your tissues will stay inflamed until homeostasis is restored.
Short, temporary inflammatory episodes are called acute inflammatory responses. A long-term state of inflammation is called chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation occurs when your body is no longer able to maintain homeostasis. To put it another way, the body can no longer regulate its inflammation response. When the inflammatory state becomes chronic or excessive, that’s when the body’s tissue becomes damaged. When inflammation remains and damaged tissue develops, diseases can develop.
In recent decades, the number of chronic disease cases has increased. Research shows a connection between prolonged inflammation and the development of some of these chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s diseases, heart diseases, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Traditional treatment relies on prescription medicine, but more doctors and researchers are turning toward lifestyle treatments and changes to help their patients find relief and experience fewer symptoms. Specifically, researchers are trying to determine what effects different foods may have on inflammation.
While research into the relationship between food and inflammation is still relatively new, we do know some foods impact your body’s natural inflammation response. Some foods fight inflammation and help ease it. Some foods have anti-inflammatory effects. Though chronic inflammation is not caused by one lifestyle factor alone, certain diet choices are associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers and instances of chronic disease. If your goal is to eat in a way that decreases inflammation, try to avoid the following food groups or diet pitfalls:
Eating too many calories
When you consume more calories than your body requires, your body will store that extra energy in adipose tissue. Adipose tissue is made up of fat cells. Smaller fat cells, which are found in lean indivdiuals without excess fat, promote homeostasis. Enlarged fat cells promote inflammation. When more enlarged fat cells are present, the adipose tissue secretes pro-inflammatory molecules.
Eating too many carbohydrates
Eating fewer foods that are low in fiber and high in starches and sugars has shown to decrease inflammatory markers in the blood. In addition, a diet high in carbohydrate-rich foods is associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. Diets rich in refined carbs are thought to stimulate pro-inflammatory molecule production. Recommended daily carbohydrate intake is 45 to 65 percent of total calories.
Low-fiber, high-starch foods to eat in moderation include: white bread, russet potato, pretzels, saltines, refined-flour pasta.
Trans fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat. Trans fats are found in manufactured cooking oils and processed oil products like margarines. Diets high in trans fats may increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, lower your HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
In addition, research suggests trans fats may induce an inflammatory response in your cells. In studies, trans fats pass through blood vessels twice as fast as other forms of fats. That causes them to clump together and bind to your artery’s walls.
Foods that contain trans fats should be avoided. These include: potato chips, French fries (unless the fast food chain has switched to a non-hydrogenated oil), margarine, microwave popcorn, non-dairy creamers, shortening, crackers, packaged snack cakes, and frozen dinners.
A large and growing body of evidence points to the pro-inflammatory effects of saturated fatty acids. Eating foods high in sat fats can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke and lower good cholesterol levels. In addition, a diet high in saturated fats may contribute to metabolic syndrome.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends less than 10 percent of your total daily calories come from saturated fats. Foods high in saturated fats include dairy, red meat, poultry with skin, and lamb.
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are similar to the most well-known omega-3 fatty acids; they are both essential fatty acids, which means that the human body cannot produce them. They must be acquired through dietary sources. When eaten and broken down in the body, these fatty acids produce molecules that signal the body to produce varying effects. Omega-6 fatty acids produce pro-inflammatory signaling molecules. Though they are necessary to health, the average American consumes considerably more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3.
Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids include vegetable oil, mayonnaise, corn chips, fast foods, and pastries.