Foods that increase inflammation are common in Western diets. They make up nearly 70% of the American dish spread. Now, don’t be overly alarmed. Inflammation is a good thing—as well as a bad thing.
Typically, inflammation is your body’s way of fighting injuries or illnesses. So, the next time you have a swell in your elbow or knee, know it’s your body trying to push out foreign material. You see, not every inflammation is dangerous.
However, that’s half of the story. Constant and chronic inflammation is highly harmful to the body. Research upon research has established that a sustained, long-lasting inflammation contributes to diseases, such as heart failure, obesity, and diabetes.
National stats reveal that the cases of patients suffering from inflammatory conditions rose persistently over the past decade. This is mostly attributed to the unhealthy lifestyle choices of most Americans. The average American consumes an excess of foods that increase inflammation everyday.
Studies, experts, and patients blame ignorance for this. I’ll, therefore, be highlighting five of such foods below so that we realize how we destroy ourselves daily.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup & Sucrose
Sucrose (table sugar) and corn syrups high in fructose are the primary sources of added sugar in the Western diet.
Table sugar contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose, while high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contains 55% fructose and 45% glucose. These are alarming facts, considering that it is beyond doubt that these ingredients are the primary causes of inflammation in the body.
A study fed mice sucrose foods for a month, and the results were scary. The rats developed inflammation and, eventually, breast cancer, which extended to the lungs with time. In a similar study, sugar’s inflammatory properties neutralized the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
In more striking research, human subjects were randomly selected and grouped in a clinic. For a prolonged duration, they took either water, milk, regular soda, or diet soda. In the end, participants in the regular diet group had higher levels of uric acid—a major cause of insulin resistance and inflammation.
Also, sugar is dangerous due to its high fructose levels. The body obtains sufficient fructose from vegetables and fruits. It is, however, threatening to derive this from sugar. Fructose is linked to conditions like obesity, cancer, chronic kidney diseases, diabetes, and insulin resistance.
Artificial Trans Fat
These are the most unhealthy fats you’ll ever eat. Trans-fats are created by transforming unsaturated fats into solid forms through the addition of hydrogen. On paper, trans-fats claim to be partially hydrogenated oils.
Many foods contain trans-fat—an example is margarine. Items in the supermarket also contain trans fats to last longer on the shelf. Increased consumption of these fats lead to several health problems, which include obesity and cancer.
Trans fats lower the levels of good cholesterol in the body. What’s more, they limit the uses of the endothelial cells lining the arteries—thereby increasing the risk of heart failure.
Artificial trans fats lead to higher levels of C-reactive Protein (CRP)—a significant inflammatory marker. In a study, women who consumed too much contents of trans-fats had 78% higher levels of CRP. This greatly exposed them to inflammatory diseases. Another study revealed that hydrogenated soybean oil is a significant cause of inflammation in the body.
Avoiding trans fats can be difficult as it is present in nearly every food on a Western diet. Examples include French fries, microwave popcorn, vegetable shortenings, fried fast foods, cookies, margarine, packaged cakes, pastries, and, importantly, every meal with hydrogenated soybean oil as an ingredient.
Vegetable and Seed Oils
Scientists believe that vegetable oils are inflammatory due to their high levels of omega-6 fatty acids. The intake of vegetable oils grew 130% in the 20th century. The corresponding increase in the figures for inflammatory diseases—for example, obesity and heart attacks— is therefore understandable.
The body requires some Omega-6 nutrients, of course, but the levels are too high in our diets. Experts hence recommend increased consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids due to their anti-inflammatory properties. The ideal ratio for both acids is 20:1.
Although there is presently insufficient evidence to declare Omega-6 acids as a critical cause of inflammation, experts advise that you discard them. Why take the risk? Research is still underway to establish clear evidence.
Carbs (Refined Carbohydrates)
Not all carbs are harmful. They do not severely influence inflammation. However, refined carbohydrates reduce the fiber contents of foods. This significantly takes away some benefits of these foods. For example, the ability of fibers to feed beneficial gut bacteria is lost in carbs. Furthermore, fiber maintains blood sugar levels and promotes fullness.
Glycemic index (GI) contributes to inflammation. Yet, refined carbohydrates contain significant GI contents. This increases the level of sugar in the blood. As such, people with high GI intake are more likely to die from inflammatory conditions—for example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A study reported that young men who ate 50 grams of white bread experienced a higher level of an inflammatory marker and blood sugar. Carbs are available as pasta, candy, pastries, sugary soft drinks, cereals, and many more foods.
Although moderate consumption of alcohol benefits the body, an excessive lifestyle does the exact opposite. A study established that alcohol intake directly influences the levels of the inflammatory marker, CRP, in the body. The more alcohol, the higher the CRP level.
Heavy drinking is likely to lead to leaky gut—a condition caused by the movement of bacterial toxins from the colon into the body. As a result, the body experiences widespread inflammation, thereby leading to severe organ damages.
Doctors recommend at most two standard alcoholic drinks for men daily while women are restricted to only one.
There are several foods that increase inflammation in the body. I have, however, highlighted the most common five above. Each of them elicits unique reactions. As well, each has its benefits, meaning that you cannot do away with any totally. You must, however, moderate consumption.