Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s response to protect itself, maintain immunity, fight infection and heal.
However, when inflammation persists over time or serves no purpose, it can damage your body and causes illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, fatty liver and Alzheimer’s.
When the body’s immune system responds to injury with inflammation there is redness, heat and swelling. On the other hand, chronic inflammation is often silent and occurs without many noticeable symptoms.
If you have high blood sugar or blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides), low energy, are overweight or have heart disease or digestive problems, you probably have some level of inflammation.
While lack of exercise, being overweight, exposure to pollution and stress all contribute to chronic inflammation, what you eat can also have a major effect.
Foods That Cause Inflammation
Here are six foods that can raise your levels of inflammation:
1. Sugar: Sugar, fructose and high-fructose corn syrup (sugary drinks, desserts, candy) increase insulin resistance and uric acid levels, injures blood vessels and contain lots of calories, leading to weight gain.
2. Trans Fats: These fats — found in many processed and deep-fried foods — lower your “good” cholesterol (HDL), increase your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and damage blood vessels.
3. Vegetable and Seed Oils: Oils with high amounts of omega-6 fat, such as corn, soy, sunflower, safflower, canola and peanut, can be healthy in small amounts. But most people use too much, which throws off the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats (fatty fish, flax), leading to inflammation.
4. Refined Carbs: White bread, rice, pasta, chips and snack foods raise blood glucose, contribute to weight gain and inflame your gut.
5. Processed Meats: Sausage, bacon, ham, smoked meats and beef jerky form harmful substances in protein and fat called AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). These are formed by high-temperature cooking as the meat is processed and contribute to inflammation in every cell in the body, leading to detrimental health effects like heart disease and, in particular, colon cancer.
6. Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption causes bad bacteria to move out of the digestive tract into other parts of the body, leading to increased inflammation. While one or two standard-size drinks (5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor) per day have been shown to have some health benefits, too much alcohol is harmful.
Eat This, Not That
In addition to cutting down on inflammatory foods, you can reduce inflammation by eating whole, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods.
Eat plenty of these anti-inflammatory foods:
Brightly colored vegetables like dark green, red, orange and yellow
Fruits, especially berries, tart cherries and grapes
Avocados, olives, olive oil and avocado oil
Whole grains and high-fiber carbohydrates
Omega-3 fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel
Nuts and seeds
Beans and legumes
Dark chocolate (85 percent cacao is best)
Green and white tea (black also has some antioxidants)
Red wine (in moderation)
Spices like ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper and cinnamon
In addition to a healthy diet, be active, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and find ways to lower your stress levels. The good news is that the things you can do to reduce inflammation also improve your overall health, so it’s a win-win!