By Elissa Goodman
Inflammation is one of those trigger words that you probably automatically associate with “bad.” But when injuries and foreign invaders are present in your body, inflammatory processes act as a defense mechanism to protect and heal you. So, in this sense, you want inflammation to occur! However, you can have “too much of a good thing,” and this idea definitely applies to inflammation.
Inflammation is particularly problematic when it becomes chronic (i.e., lasts for an extended period, and inflammatory markers are flagged). Chronic inflammation can lead to many complications, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, chronic kidney disease, and osteoporosis (which I discuss here). So what can you do to prevent potential inflammation or reduce existing inflammation?
Lifestyle factors play a key role in determining the presence of inflammation. Getting high-quality sleep, exercising regularly, and–no surprise here–eating a healthy, balanced diet are essential to aiding in chronic inflammation. But unfortunately, many commonly consumed foods can easily sneak their way into your diet and may actually be contributing to your risk of inflammation. So, I’ve put together a list of 8 pro-inflammatory foods to be cautious of so you can do your part in preventing your risk of chronic inflammation.
1. Refined grains
Refined grains have been milled to improve shelf-life (e.g., white rice, white bread, white pasta, etc.), which results in nutrient loss. Because the carbohydrates in processed grains are more easily digested due to their lack of fiber, they have a higher glycemic load (i.e., they are more likely to spike blood sugar). Therefore, refined carbohydrates are one of the major dietary factors that impact inflammation.
A simple fix: Opt for unprocessed grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta. They taste just as good as their refined counterparts and are better for you!
2. Natural sweeteners
Natural sweeteners are unprocessed sugars such as honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and coconut sugar. They are often regarded as “healthier” than table sugar because they’re naturally occurring and may contain trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. However, they’re still sugar at the end of the day. Excessive sugar intake of any kind can increase blood sugar levels and cause insulin resistance, leading to an increased risk of inflammation.
A simple fix: Limit your consumption of added sugars. As an even better alternative, reach for naturally sweet fruit containing fiber to help slow digestion and avoid spikes in blood sugar levels.
3. Raw vegetables
This one might shock you because you’re typically told that you can always eat as many vegetables as you want. This is mostly true, but there is a caveat: Raw cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.) are goitrogenic, meaning they might interfere with thyroid hormone activity. And research shows that thyroid hormone imbalances are closely related to increased inflammation and oxidative stress within the body.
A simple fix: Cooking cruciferous vegetables helps reduce their ability to disrupt normal thyroid function, allowing you to reap their amazing benefits without increasing your risk of inflammation.
4. Nut milks
Simple-ingredient nut milks can actually be beneficial in reducing the risk of inflammation in your body. Still, most nut milks on the market are filled with many additives that take away from their healthful properties. These additives include ingredients like carrageenan, vegetable-based oils, and sugars, all of which have been linked to causing inflammation.
A simple fix: Check labels before selecting a nut milk to buy; pick one that lists the nut and water as its only ingredients. Or, better yet, try making your own nut milk!
I love oats, but not all oats are created equally. Unfortunately, many oat-containing products have traces of glyphosate, an active ingredient in top herbicides used in agriculture. Glyphosate is considered a probable human carcinogen, increasing the risk of inflammation.
A simple fix: Seek clean, organic oat products instead. These foods will have minimal to no traces of glyphosate or other herbicides and pesticides that can potentially damage your health.
Supplements are meant to provide extra nutrients you may not be getting from the foods you consume, but many supplements are made with unnecessary fillers (e.g., hydrogenated oils, sugars, etc.) that can promote inflammation.
A simple fix: Only purchase additive-free supplements. I go into more detail about common additives found in supplements here.
7. Highly processed meat alternatives
I hope I’ve made it clear that you should limit the consumption of processed foods, and processed plant-based meats are no exception. Like many of the other foods I’ve mentioned, highly processed meat alternatives almost always contain vegetable-based oils, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are known to be pro-inflammatory, and their effects are only amplified by the additional sugars and artificial flavoring that may be added to the meat alternatives.
A simple fix: Try one of my recipes for a plant-based, whole-ingredient burger, like this Smokey Quinoa-Chickpea Burger!
It’s no secret that excessive alcohol consumption contributes to systemic inflammation. It impairs the gut microbiome and liver function and generally increases the risk for further complications.
A simple fix: Limit alcohol consumption and experiment with creative, flavorful mocktails to spice up your next night in or out.
Finding the right foods to help with inflammation can be difficult, but my S.O.U.P. Cleanse can help ease the confusion! My nourishing cleanse not only provides you with incredible nutrients that support your health goals, but it also helps your body fight against pro-inflammatory triggers. Sign up here and try the cleanse for yourself! You’ll feel amazing both inside and out.