Certain foods and nutrients cause inflammation – or at least promote it. Consumed in excess and regularly, they would even increase the risk of developing chronic diseases and could worsen the symptoms of pre-existing pathologies. What are they? Why do they promote inflammation? Should we avoid them or reduce their consumption? Let’s take a look at the foods that most often cause inflammation.
But what exactly is inflammation?
Inflammation is a normal defensive reaction of our immune system when attacked by pathogens. The inflammatory process is characterized by a series of chemical reactions that create oxidative stress and result in the production of free radicals.
However, if they are produced in excess, these free radicals are harmful to health. They accelerate the aging of the body and increase the risk of suffering from certain chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and arthritis. The inflammation then becomes chronic. Several factors allow inflammation to take hold in the body. Food is one of them. Certain foods and nutrients are known to promote this inflammatory condition.
Foods that cause inflammation
Foods with a high glycemic index
These foods are generally high in refined carbohydrates and low in fiber. These foods trigger hyperglycemia, which increases the production of inflammatory cytokines (substances that regulate immune functions) and promotes oxidative stress.
Among the foods with a high glycemic index, we find carrots (when cooked), turnips, beer, or even baked potatoes (mash, fries, baked).
Eating too many added sugars, found in sodas, sweets, and ordinary baked goods, can increase chronic inflammation in the body. Added sugars are not the same as natural sugars, as they occur in fruits.
It is recommended to limit the intake of added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories or 25 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories or 36 grams) for men.
Cooking food at a very high temperature will release newly formed compounds produced under the effect of heat. These are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heterocyclic amines, carboxymethyllysine, or even acrylamide.
These toxic substances promote inflammatory processes. We must therefore vary the way we cook and avoid as much as possible overcooked foods.
This concerns all meats except poultry. It is advisable not to eat too much meat because meat contains a fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which is known to be pro-inflammatory. They also contain a lot of iron, a pro-oxidant mineral salt.
Ideally, our protein intake should come 50% from plant sources and 50% from animal sources (meat, fish, egg, dairy products).
Artificial trans fats
Almost everyone agrees that artificial trans fats are the most unhealthy fats you can eat. These are created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats. The hydrogen allows them to become a bit firmer. Trans fats are often indicated on food labels as “partial hardened oil” on the ingredients list. For example, trans fats are found in margarine and are used, among other things, for baking fast food, chips, and bakery products.
These trans fats are often added to, for example, margarine and to processed foods to make them last longer.
In contrast to the natural trans fats contained in meat, among other things, artificial trans fats are a cause of inflammation.
Omega 6 fatty acids
Omega 6s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for our body, but today they are consumed in excess compared to omega 3, which is just as important. Among the omega 6 fatty acids, we find linoleic acid, a precursor of arachidonic acid that is known to be pro-inflammatory.
The more omega 6 you consume, the more you promote inflammation. These fatty acids are found in olive, sunflower, grape seed and sesame oils, and in certain nuts such as almonds.
Palm oil helps pass a bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) through the blood. LPS are known to induce inflammation. This compound is present on the membrane of certain bacteria present in our intestine. When they die, LPS passes into our blood where it is taken care of by our immune system which considers it a pathogen thus causing inflammation.
This process of facilitating the passage of LPS into the blood by palm oil is proof that our diet can disrupt our microbiota and cause inflammation.
Where is palm oil found? Almost everywhere, unfortunately! To know if a food product contains palm oil, read the label carefully.
Excessive consumption of alcohol
Moderate alcohol consumption can promote health, this is especially true in the case of red wine. However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious problems. Too much alcohol leads to too high a CRP value in the blood. The level of CRP indicates the presence of an inflammatory process or infection in the body.
People who drink too much can develop intestinal problems. Think of a leaky, porous intestine. This condition leads to inflammation that in turn leads to organ damage.
To prevent this, alcohol consumption should be limited to two standard drinks per day for men and one for women. For example, a glass of red wine.
A diet rich in artificial sweeteners can lead to inflammation and consequently to conditions like glucose intolerance, metabolic diseases, and even diabetes.
Some researchers believe that certain bacteria in our intestines respond to artificial sweeteners, by secreting chemicals that cause an inflammatory reaction. This makes it more difficult for your body to deal with sugar.
About 10% of the population suffers from hypersensitivity to gluten, which often occurs in the form of severe joint pain. Stimulated by gluten to which it is hypersensitive, the mucous membrane of the intestinal wall no longer plays its role as a protective barrier and becomes permeable to everything. This also applies to molecules that are seen as hostile by the immune system.
Result: the immune system reacts and provokes inflammation. In case of persistent joint pain, you would do well to follow a gluten-free diet for three months to see if the pain goes away.
If that is the case, then you should avoid all the foods that contain wheat, barley, and rye: bread, pasta, cereals, pizzas, sandwiches, pastries, pancakes, breaded products and cakes, cookies, semolina, beer, and many industrially prepared dishes that contain gluten as a binder.
Why should you avoid foods that cause inflammation
A pro-inflammatory diet can be particularly harmful:
- For overweight or obese people as it increases pre-existing generalized inflammation. People who are overweight already suffer from generalized low-grade inflammation, which is chronic inflammation. Eating pro-inflammatory foods accentuates this inflammation.
- For people with osteoarthritis. These patients suffer from acute joint inflammation and generalized low-grade inflammation. As with overweight people, a pro-inflammatory diet will accentuate the symptoms of the disease such as pain and functional discomfort.
- Eating too many pro-inflammatory foods also increases the risk of certain diseases such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease, in which chronic inflammation and excess oxidative stress are involved.
Taking care of your diet is, as we know, a way to protect yourself against certain diseases. While the foods and nutrients mentioned in this article are implicated in inflammatory processes, they should not be removed from our diet. It’s all about moderation and balance. Do not consume them in excess and prefer anti-inflammatory foods (omega 3, whole grains, pulses, herbs, and spices…).
Erica is an experienced nurse working in the central Florida area. She focuses on subjects related to pregnancy and infant health. She is a mother of two with hobbies ranging from dancing to playing the piano.