As we get older, our bodies don’t always keep up. Muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be, skin gets looser, and joints aren’t as flexible we’d like them to be. The modern diet, filled with inflammatory foods, doesn’t help much either.
As they say: “The body ages much faster than the mind”. Nothing is more true when it comes to your joints. Years of daily wear and tear (and a few injuries) can make your joints ages before their time. This translates to chronic pain, mobility issues, and swelling.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation, according to Web MD “ is a process by which the body’s white blood cells and substances they produce protect us from infection with foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses.”(2) Chronic inflammation occurs when the immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there are no invaders to fight off. This lead the body to attack its own tissues.
Arthritis, an inflammatory condition of the joints, is characterized by:
- Swollen joint that’s sometimes warm to the touch
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Loss of joint function
Inflammation occurs when white blood cells release chemicals that increase blood flow to the site of infection or injury. This makes the area tender, swollen, and hot. In a healthy body, the extra blood promotes wound healing. However, when inflammation occurs in a healthy joint, cartilage slowly breaks down in response.
Inflammation and Disease
Although inflammation is part of your body’s natural healing system, too much of it isn’t great.
In fact, systemic inflammation is the root cause od many health conditions, including Alzheimer’s, heart attacks, Type 2 diabetes and much, much more. Cytokines and C-reactive protein (CRP) are the two main compounds responsible for all this damage (3).
Other inflammatory diseases include (4):
- Lung issues
- Bone problems
- Heart disease
- Anger disorders
So what causes inflammation, you may ask. Well, lack of sleep, stress, dehydration, smoking, drinking alcohol and gut bacteria imbalance are all contributing factors. But the main cause -and the most easily reversible- is eating an inflammatory diet (5).
Top 13 Inflammatory Foods
Here are the top foods that affect inflammation that you should avoid at all cost. If you have an inflammatory diet, learn how to change it below!
Excessive sugar intake causes tooth decay and increases your risks of obesity, inflammation and chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Sugar also feed bad bacteria and cancer cells, giving your immune system a hard time. Because it’s excessively acidic, sugar directly causes inflammation too (6).
Find them in: Sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks and punches. Sweets like pastries, desserts, candies and snacks, and other processed foods are an issue too.
Substitute: Opt for natural sweeteners like maple syrup, agave, honey, or blackstrap molasses. If your sweet tooth bothers you every day, snack on some fresh berries or all-natural dried fruits for fix your craving.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Processed sugars and sweeteners trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines.
Find them in: sweets and processed foods.
Look out for corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, golden syrup, maltose, sorghum syrup and sucrose.
Substitute: Skip out the artificial stuff and go for all-natural sweets like dates and honey.
To keep the calorie count low, opt for stevia instead of Splenda.
Vegetable cooking oils are used in many homes and restaurants have very high omega-6 fatty acids and dismally low omega-3 fats. Excess consumption of omega-6s triggers the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals that wreak havoc on your body (8).
Find them in : Polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as grapeseed, cottonseed, safflower, corn and sunflower oils. Plus, they’re present in soy, peanut, and vegetable oils. These oils often appear processed foods, baked goods, fast food, and fried foods.
Substitute: macadamia oil, extra virgin olive oil, or avocado oil. When in doubt, the best oil to cook with is coconut oil.
4. Trans Fats
Trans fatty acids are notorious for their double whammy effect: they increase the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol while lowering levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol. They also increase inflammatory response. In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health warned about the dangers of trans fat in the early 1990s (9).
Saturated fats aren’t much better: “several studies have shown that saturated fats trigger adipose (fat tissue) inflammation, which is not only an indicator for heart disease but it also worsens arthritis inflammation.” (10)
Find them in: Deep fried foods, fast foods, commercially baked goods and those prepared with partially hydrogenated oil, frozen foods, margarine and/or vegetable shortening.
Substitute: Look for alternative products that contain no trans fats, and that do not have partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening in the ingredients list. When in doubt, assume that all commercially prepared foods contain trans fats unless stated otherwise.
5. Dairy Products
As much as 60% of the world’s population cannot digest milk. In fact, many researchers think that being able to digest milk beyond infancy is abnormal, rather than the other way round.
Milk is also a common allergen that can trigger inflammatory responses, such as stomach distress, constipation, diarrhea, skin rashes, acne, hives and breathing difficulties in susceptible people (11).
Plus, hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics fed to cattle make their way into milk too, compounding the problem (12).
Find them in: Apart from obvious milk products like butter and cheese, foods with hidden dairy content include breads, cookies, crackers, cakes, cream sauces, protein powder, and boxed cereals.
Milk is an allergen, so it usually explicitly appears on food labels.
6. Non-Organic Meat
Commercially produced meats are feed with grains like soybeans and corn, a diet that is high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids but low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. They are also loaded with antibiotics and hormones to keep them free from infection and speed up reproduction. Recently, studies have found that chicken sourced from certain countries contain alarming levels of arsenic.
Find them in: Unless otherwise stated, most, if not all, beef, pork and poultry you can find in the supermarkets and restaurants come from feedlot farms.
Substitute: Free-range organic meat from animals that are fed a natural diet grass and vegetables.