Many dieticians and gastroenterologists would call an average American’s diet “pro-inflammatory.” The standard diet in the U.S. is not only low in whole fruits and vegetables, but it is full of red meats and highly processed foods.
Consistently eating this kind of pro-inflammatory diet can lead to noticeable inflammation like skin irritation, swelling, and diarrhea. And over time, chronic inflammation can result in serious conditions like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Many articles and studies claim that certain foods can single-handedly cure or cause inflammation. However, these claims often ignore the fact that inflammation is just one aspect of the human body’s complex and unique biology. To effectively reduce or eliminate chronic inflammation, it’s essential to take a comprehensive approach to your diet and lifestyle.
With that in mind, the team at Jersey Premier Pain has compiled this list of five common types of foods that frequently cause inflammation. As you work to develop healthy and sustainable eating habits, do your best to avoid or cut back on the following types of foods.
Physicians generally recommend consuming no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day. Unlike natural sugars, added sugars contribute to dramatic spikes in blood sugar levels. Excess consumption can eventually lead to metabolic conditions like insulin resistance.
Added sugars are used to enhance the flavor of many commercial foods, so they can be difficult to avoid. Data suggests the average daily consumption of added sugars in the U.S. is roughly 17 teaspoons, nearly triple the recommended daily limit.
If you’re looking to cut back on added sugars, you probably know to avoid things like packaged cookies and candy, but you may not know that added sugars also lurk in “healthy” foods like pre-made salad dressings and granolas. To lower your added sugar intake effectively, opt for foods with less than 4 grams of added sugar per serving and avoid products with sugar or syrup listed among the first few ingredients.
Similar to added sugars, eating too many refined carbohydrates can contribute to chronic inflammation. Refined carbs are present in processed foods that use white starches, such as breads, crackers, French fries, and white rice.
While there’s nothing wrong with carbohydrates themselves, refined carbs contain little nutritional value and break down into simple sugars quickly in the body. This can lead to blood sugar spikes and worsen existing inflammatory responses.
Rather than categorically rejecting all carbs, you can reduce or eliminate refined carbs by replacing them with whole-grain alternatives. Quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, and other whole grains take longer to digest, which reduces the risk of blood sugar imbalances and inflammation.
Our bodies can’t produce omega-6 fatty acids, but we rely on them for bodily growth, development, and energy. This means we need to absorb them from certain omega-6-rich foods like nut oils, sunflower oil, and mayonnaise.
Omega-6s are undeniably essential, and so are other fatty acids like omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in foods like salmon, flaxseed, and walnuts, which are generally considered anti-inflammatory. When you consume too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s, the imbalance of fatty acids can result in chronic inflammation.
To promote a well-balanced diet and reduce inflammation, try eating more omega-3-rich foods and fewer omega-6-rich foods. Use olive oil for cooking, as it tends to be lower in omega-6 than other oils. You can also use sprayable oils to reduce the amount needed to grease baking or cooking pans as well.
Most trans fats are synthetically produced by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, which turns the liquid oil into a solid fat. Hydrogenated fat is more stable than naturally occurring fat, so many manufacturers and restaurants use trans fats to artificially extend the shelf life of commercial baked goods, vegetable oils, non-dairy creamers, and fried foods.
Unfortunately, dieticians believe there is no such thing as a “safe” level of dietary trans fat. Trans fats raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol, which are both changes that can increase inflammation, not to mention your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Food manufacturers have adjusted their packaging as consumers have become wary of trans fats. And disturbingly, product labels can legally describe foods as “free” of trans fats as long as they contain one-half gram or less per serving. The best way to ensure your food does not contain trans fats is to check nutrition labels diligently and avoid products containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. If you can’t avoid these foods, pay attention to the serving size, and limit yourself to one serving per day.
Red or Processed Meats
Red meats come from cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. Processed meats are any meat products that have been salted, cured, smoked, or fermented to add flavor or extend shelf life. Both red meats and processed meats are rich in saturated fats, high levels of which are linked to inflammation, heart disease, and cancer.
You can limit your saturated fat intake by selecting meats with less than four grams of saturated fat per serving, but you may have trouble finding any. The majority of red and processed meats have at least five grams of saturated fat per serving, so it’s often more practical to simply limit the amount of meat you consume overall.
You can significantly reduce your meat consumption by going “meatless” one or two days per week or limiting yourself to one meat-based dish per day. Consider thinking of meat as a more occasional indulgence and substituting vegetables, fruits, and whole grains as dietary staples.
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