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Foods that drive inflammation in the body

Updated: Apr 15

Food is information for our body cells, it either helps to fight inflammation or feed inflammation in the body. We need to know that not all food sold in the grocery store is food- edible and nutritious.

What are inflammatory foods?

As a consumer it's important to have the knowhow how to shop for your groceries, how to make the best choices for your own health and your family's health. Here are a few guidelines, if you want to shop mindfully in the grocery store:

  • a simple first tip to follow is to purchase single ingredient food products: vegetables, fruits, plain fish, plain meat, eggs, raw nuts and seeds, legumes (beans, lentils), extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil etc. Avocado does not come with a food label.

  • a second good rule to follow is to always read the product label:

    • if the label has ingredients you don't recognise as food, don't buy it- your body does not know either what to do with it, how to digest it and will do what it can to protect you (cause inflammatory response to the foods). Ingredients to avoid: shortening, sodium nitrates, sodium nitrites (in processed meats- bacon, sausages, ham), MSG (monosodium glutamate), artificial colours (red 40, blue 1, yellow 5 etc), guar gum (in ice creams, salad dressings, non-dairy milk products, sauces, soups), carrageenan (in almond milk, ice cream, vegan cheese), sodium benzoate (in pickles, fruit juice, salad dressings, condiments), xanthan gum (in sauces, salad dressings, soups, syrups), artificial flavours, yeast extract etc.

    • foods are listed in the ingredients list based on their amounts in that produced food, so if the sugar is listed first, that product contains the most sugar etc.

      • check the sugar content in the packaged food. On the product label, first check the grams of sugar. Then if there is any fibre listed, subtract the fibre amount from the sugar amount. Only then you get the sugar amount in that food. And remember 4g of sugar equals 1tsp of sugar. A tub (for example 370g of wild strawberry Greek yoghurt can have 11g of sugar per 100g, which makes it around 33g of sugar for the tub, which is 8 tsp of sugar per the yoghurt tub, if you ate the whole tub at once).

    • the longer the ingredients list, the better to put that food back to the shelf, especially if majority of the ingredients listed are unrecognisable.

Inflammation is at the root cause of every chronic degenerative disease, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis etc. We all have some level of inflammation, important is that we keep our inflammatory levels in the body under control. Keeping inflammation in check, helps to make sure, our pathogens load is low and chances to get infections is low. Chronic inflammation does not happen over night, but is developing over months or years of practicing inflammatory lifestyle. When inflammation gets out of control from the food we eat, from stress, environmental toxins- then we drive up inflammation in the body where we affect different parts of our body systems, including:

  • the digestive tract (digestive problems, constipation, bloating, diarrhoea, heartburn)

  • the brain and nervous system (brain fog, anxiety, depression, poor memory)

  • the immune system (causing in the long-run autoimmunity- IBS, Multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, skin conditions)

  • the detoxification system (including kidneys, liver, gallbladder, lymphatic system)- causing waste buildup in the system, swelling, frequent rashes

  • the endocrine system (affecting thyroid, adrenal glands, sex glands- thinning of hair, dry skin, weak nails, mood swings, low sex drive, irregular periods

  • the blood sugar/insulin system (managed by pancreas, liver and cellular insulin receptor sites. Inflammation here can cause unstable blood sugar, which could lead to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, weight gain)

  • the structural and musculoskeletal system (joins, muscles, connective tissue)- inflammation can cause joint pain, muscle pain, fibromyalgia, joint stiffness.

Apart from the ingredients to avoid listed above, below are foods you want to avoid in your diet in order to keep the inflammation at bay:

Sugar, artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup

You are really supposed to have not more than a teaspoon of sugar in your blood stream at all times. When your sugar goes up too high in your blood- it starts to damage tissues and cause oxidative stress. Sugar is rusting you from the inside out, accelerating the ageing process. High blood sugar also throws out a lot of insulin, which is a fat storage hormone- so it stops fat burning process in your body. You can read more about the sugar and different forms of sugar from this post, also what natural sweeteners can you use instead to bring sweetness to your diet.

Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, suclarose, acesulfame K, saccharin etc, are all disruptive to your microbiome, killing good bacteria in your gut. They are very often added to protein powders, protein bars, sugar-free candies, chocolates etc.

High-fructose corn syrup increases the risk for fatty liver disease. Fructose does not cause the insulin increase in the blood, but goes straight to the liver, where liver needs to metabolise it- it increases your LDL cholesterol level, your triglycerides, uric acid levels, blood pressure.

Refined seed oils, vegetable oils

The oils you want to avoid in your diet are cottonseed oil, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, palm oil. You can find these in many different foods, especially processed foods. They are very high in omega-6 oils, driving up inflammation in your body on a cellular level. You do need omega-6 fats, but the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 oils should be around 1:4, whereas in many of the western diets it's 1:15.

Better oils you want to consume are extra virgin olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, extra-virgin coconut oil, linseed oil, camelina oil. You can read my post about healthy fats here.

Trans fats

Avoid also trans fats, processed /hydrogenated vegetable oil or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (these are artificially made fats), which promote inflammation. All fats we consume they get into our cell membranes, which are important for our hormonal health. Poor fats lower our resistance against viruses and also cause insulin resistance. Trans fats can be found in baked goods (cookies, pies, doughnuts, potato chips, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough, french fries etc.)

Processed meat

Processed meat is any meat that's smoked, salted, cured, canned, dried in order to enhance its flavour and extend shelf life. This includes bacon, salami, cured ham, beef jerky, ham, sausage etc.

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates, which are carbs with fibre not present, like white flour, white pasta, fruit drinks, white rice, white bread, pastries are known to cause inflammation in the gut and joints aside from having been stripped from vital vitamins and minerals.

Focus on consuming whole foods, with some examples below, to help lower inflammation in your body:

  • Vegetables: broccoli, beets, cabbage, asparagus, bell peppers, sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, garlic, cucumber, onions, ginger, etc.

  • Fruits: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, limes, lemons, oranges, pears, apples, pomegranates, watermelon, etc.

  • Legumes: white beans, black beans, kidney beans, Azuki beans, pinto beans, lima beans, chickpeas, lentils

  • Mushrooms: shiitake, porcini, medicinal mushrooms etc.

  • Nuts: walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecan nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts

  • Seeds: hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds

  • Whole grains: quinoa, buckwheat, millet, brown rice, black rice, amaranth

  • Healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, ghee, avocado oil, MCT oil, grass-fed butter (if lactose is tolerated). Note that fats have different smoking points, so best to enjoy extra-virgin oils (extra-virgin olive oil, extra-virgin coconut oil, extra-virgin avocado oil) raw and use avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee for cooking

  • Dairy: kefir, goat milk, goat cheese, Greek yogurt, raw milk (if you are not lactose or casein intolerant). Better to focus on goat's milk products as it's better tolerated.

  • Fish: wild-caught salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring

  • Meat: grass-fed beef, lamb, venison, wild game

  • Poultry: organic chicken, turkey, duck, goose

  • Eggs: cage free organic

  • Herbs and spices: basil, rosemary, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, paprika, cumin, black pepper, oregano, clove, thyme etc.

  • Natural sweeteners: stevia, raw honey, dates, monk fruit, maple syrup

  • Condiments: apple cider vinegar, mustard, balsamic vinegar, coconut aminos

  • Beverages: water, green tea, kombucha, bone broth, kvass

Of course, it depends on your health, where your body is with inflammation at the moment. If you are suffering from bloating, gas, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhoea, sinus, skin issues, seasonal allergies, dust allergy- you might want to consider doing an elimination diet for 3 weeks to really calm the body down and then re-introduce different food groups at a time to understand how your body reacts and what foods cause reaction.

If you feel stuck with your digestive issues, skin issues, joint pain and want support from a health and nutrition coach, who can help and guide you through the elimination diet and uncover other lifestyle factors that could influence your health, don't hesitate to reach out to me. Book a free 50min health history session, after what I would be able to tell you how and where I can help and support you around your health goals.


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