According to statistics from the World Health Organization, about 12.9 million people worldwide died from some form of cardiovascular disease in 2004.
Each year, the World Cancer Research Fund estimates that some eight million people died from cancer.
Heart disease and cancer, the deadly manifestation of chronic inflammation, are expected to remain as the leading causes of death in developed countries for many years to come.
But study after study shows that the risk of heart disease and cancer are modifiable by our lifestyle choices which include the food we choose to eat each day. With every bite we take, we’re either balancing the pro- and anti-inflammatory compounds in the body, or tipping the scale to one end.
To shift the balance to your favor, other than incorporating more natural anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, it is also equally important to avoid or cut down on foods which are known to promote inflammation. Here, we look at the top ten foods which set the stage for inflammatory diseases:
Pro-inflammatory Agent: Excessive sugar intake causes tooth decay and has been linked to increased risks of obesity, inflammation and chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Recently, it has also finally been proven that sugar, as well as dairy, are the causes of acne.
Find them in: Sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks and punches are some of the major sources of dietary sugars that many have overlooked. Do you know that drinking a can of Coke is as good as sucking ten sugar cubes? Other obvious sugar-loaded foods to avoid or at least limit include pastries, desserts, candies and snacks. And when you are looking out for sugar in the ingredients list, note that sugar has many names: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, golden syrup, maltose, sorghum syrup and sucrose are some of the creative names used.
Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Got a sweet tooth? Opt for natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, or blackstrap molasses to flavor beverages and foods modestly. Natural sugars found in fresh or dried fruits and fruit preserves with no added sugar are also great choices. Not only do they give you the sweetness you crave, fruits also supply you with vitamins, antioxidants and fibers that you won’t find in sugary foods and drinks. Dates, figs, persimmons, kiwis, tangerines and various types of berries are some of the natural healthy snacks you can sink your teeth into.
2. Common Cooking Oils
Pro-inflammatory Agent: Common vegetable cooking oils used in many homes and restaurants have very high omega-6 fatty acids and dismally low omega-3 fats. A diet consisting of a highly imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes inflammation and breeds inflammatory diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Find them in: Polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as grape seed, cottonseed, safflower, corn and sunflower oils. These industrial vegetable oils are also commonly used to prepare most processed foods and takeaways.
Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Replace your omega-6-saturated cooking oils with macadamia oil, extra virgin olive oil, or other cooking oils with a more balanced omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ratio. Macadamia oil, for instance, has an almost one-to-one ratio of omega-6:3 fats, and it is also rich in oleic acid, a heart-healthy, monounsaturated fatty acid.
3. Trans Fats
Pro-inflammatory Agent: Trans fatty acids are notorious for their double whammy effect: they increase the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, while lowering levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol. But that is not all they can do. They have also been found to promote inflammation, obesity and resistance to insulin, laying the ground for degenerative illnesses to take place.
Find them in: Deep fried foods, fast foods, commercially baked goods and those prepared with partially hydrogenated oil, margarine and/or vegetable shortening. Note that items that list 0g trans fats on the label may still contain some amount of these toxic fats. This is because in the US, the government allows items containing less than 0.5g of trans fats to be declared as trans-fat free. Commercially prepared peanut butter is one good example. Your best bet is to read the ingredients list and make sure partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening is not used.
Inflammation-dousing 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.