In some cases, however, inflammation can become chronic. Instead of serving a useful purpose, this type of inflammation can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
Chronic inflammation plays a role in a wide variety of illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and even heart attacks and cancer. One way to help combat the inflammation is to pay attention to what you eat.
How Foods Affect Chronic Inflammation
Some foods have been found to increase inflammation while others may help reduce it. If you have chronic inflammation, talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes. He or she will take your unique circumstances into account—including your age, weight, other health conditions, and any medicines and supplements you take—before making a recommendation.
Foods to Avoid
In particular, you may want to avoid the following foods:
- Refined Carbohydrates: Foods with highly refined carbohydrates include white bread, chips, pastries, candy and sugary sodas. These types of carbohydrates quickly turn to glucose, which triggers an insulin response to control blood sugar levels. Extra sugar molecules attach to a variety of proteins, or that cytokines, that injure blood vessel walls and can trigger inflammation.
- Red Meat and Processed Meats: Avoid or limit grain-fed meats and processed meats such as hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meats, and pepperoni. The flesh from grain-fed animals tends to contain an imbalance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. Studies indicate that excessive amounts of Omega 6 fatty acids are inflammatory, while Omega 3s reduce inflammation.1
- Sugar-Sweetened Drinks: Sodas and sports drinks in particular contain a lot of sugar, which deserves special mention here. We’ve already discussed the role sugar plays in inflammation, but these kinds of drinks pack a hefty punch: a 12-oz can of cola, for example, contains 39g of sugar, a 20-oz bottle contains 65g, and a 1-liter bottle, 108g. According to the American Heart Association, the maximum daily sugar intake for men is 37.5g (about 150 calories, or 9 teaspoons). For women, it’s 25g (about 100 calories, or 6 teaspoons)2, yet the average intake is over 70g per day.3
- Highly Processed Foods: Fast foods and “instant” packaged foods usually contain artificial ingredients like preservatives and emulsifiers which have been linked in animal studies to increased inflammation and metabolic syndrome.4
- Saturated Fats: Saturated fats from fatty meats and dairy products can trigger inflammation. Avoid pizza, cheese, and full-fat dairy products.
- Foods with MSG: Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) is used in many foods to enhance flavor. It’s often found in soy sauce, prepared Asian food, and prepared soups. However, research indicates that MSG can cause a variety of health problems, including liver inflammation, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
- Alcohol: Too much alcohol can increase levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a signal of inflammation, so if you’re going to drink, do so in moderation.
- Trans Fats: Trans fats can trigger systemic inflammation. They’re found in fast food, fried foods such as French fries, and baked goods such as doughnuts and cookies. Trans fats are also found in most stick margarines.
- Nightshade Vegetables: Although a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (as opposed to a high carbohydrate diet) is considered healthy, certain vegetables in the nightshade family, including potatoes, tomatoes, certain peppers and eggplant contain inflammation-inducing alkaloids which have been linked to inflammatory diseases like arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Foods to Add
You may also want to eat more of the following foods, which have been linked to a reduction in inflammation:
- Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which protect your body against the effects of free radicals. These molecules may play a role in diseases and also promote inflammation.
- Spices: Many herbs and spices – including ginger, garlic, and pepper – have compounds that are thought to reduce inflammation.
- Fish: Fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation. They can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which also helps avoid inflammation.
- Nuts: Nuts such as walnuts, peanuts, and almonds can reduce inflammation.
- Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate may help slow the production of molecules involved in inflammation. Try to pick a variety that doesn’t have a lot of added sugar.
Improving Your Inflammation – and Overall Health
Foods that you may want to avoid to control inflammation generally also contribute to weight gain and other health problems. By making some changes that can help reduce your inflammation, you’re also likely to improve your overall health, avoid chronic diseases, and maintain a healthy weight.
2 “Heart and Stroke Encyclopedia – sugar intake.” http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Encyclopedia/Heart-Encyclopedia_UCM_445084_Encyclopedia.jsp?levelSelected=3&title=sugar%20intake. Accessed April 7, 2016.
3 “Sugars 101.” http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Sugar-101_UCM_306024_Article.jsp#.VxZ4wvkrLIU. Accessed April 19, 2016.
4 Chassaing B, Koren O, Goodrich JK, et al. Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature. 2015;519(7541):92-