In the past week I’ve been asked by 4 different people about inflammation, what foods aggravate it and which foods help it. As a runner I’m constantly trying to reduce inflammation and as a health coach I work to help my clients reduce their inflammation. Some inflammation is a good thing, in the case of injury or illness it cues the body to start healing. Chronic inflammation, however, can lead to or be a sign of serious health problems.
Chronic inflammation is the root of many diseases as the infographic above shows. While culprits such as environment, stress and sitting on your butt too long can contribute to inflammation, the main cause is often diet. This week I’m going to focus on foods that aggravate inflammation.
Highly Processed Foods – Foods that are highly processed often have trans-fats which promotes inflammation, raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. Manufacturers are allowed to list 0 trans fat if there is less than 1% in the ingredients. Sneaky, huh? Partially hydrogenated oils listed in the ingredients is your red flag, otherwise you could end up consuming quite a bit of trans fat this way.
Sugar – Sugar is biologically hard for our bodies to break down, especially when we eat it in large quantities. Too much of the sweet stuff causes poor memory, swelling, pain, and breaks down collagen in your skin (hello, premature aging and wrinkles!). Check your food labels, 4 g of sugar equals one teaspoon.
Dairy – Dairy can be hard to digest, especially for the lactose intolerant. Despite the marketing by the dairy board you do not really need 3 servings a day. Unpleasant side effects include swelling, gas, diarrhea or constipation.
Highly Refined Carbohydrates – Bagels, pizza, white rice and packaged baked goods quickly turn to sugar when broken down and the body needs to get rid of that sugar quickly; triggering an inflammatory response. Skip the breads and empty carbohydrates in favor of whole grain choices, like brown or red rice, quinoa or barley.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids – You want a healthy balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Too many Omega 6’s, found in seeds and the oils extracted from them, can cause inflammation. These oils are commonly found in processed snacks and fast foods. Choose olive oil or coconut oil when cooking and eat foods such as salmon and walnuts, which are rich in Omega 3’s.
Alcohol – Alcohol is sugar and it irritates the body. Yes, a glass of wine can be beneficial to the heart but recommendations are 1 glass per day for women and 2 for men, less if you have an existing health condition.
Coffee – I know coffee is delicious and has some health benefits and it can trigger the stress hormone cortisol causing inflammation. Acidic beverages can also irritate the GI tract and cause swelling. Choose teas, preferably green, when possible. If you must drink coffee, and I know many of you love it, do not drink it on an empty or full stomach. Eat, digest a bit and then enjoy your coffee.
Artificial Sweeteners – They are hard for the body to digest, cause gas and can exacerbate sweet cravings. Our bodies also see them as a foreign substance and may attack itself. Learn to enjoy foods without extra sugar or use natural sweeteners sparingly.
Carageenan – Carageenan is extracted from red seaweed and used as a thickener in many foods. It sounds healthy enough but is undigestible, increases inflammation and has been linked to many GI diseases.It’s found in low-fat milk, yogurt, almond, coconut and some soy milks, some ice cream, creamers and deli meats.
The upshot? Read your labels and make the best choices you can. Limiting the amounts you consume of these foods can leave you feeling and looking better. Next week I’ll share foods that reduce inflammation.
Is your diet causing inflammation? Need help in getting it back on track? Send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can set up a time to speak. Not in my area? That’s what Skype, Google Hangout and the phone are for!