There's been a lot of buzz in recent years about the benefits of eating an anti-inflammatory diet, which is perhaps why kale, beets, and turmeric are having such a major moment right now. But while some foods appear to be natural inflammation fighters, others seem to do the complete opposite. If you're looking to optimize your health, you'll want to steer clear of these five foods that can immediately cause inflammation in your body.
Before getting into which foods are the worst offenders, it's worth noting that there are different kinds of inflammation in the body. Acute inflammation, like when your body reacts to a cut or a burn, can actually be a good thing because it's helping the body heal, according to Kellyann Petrucci, ND, in an interview with MindBodyGreen. But chronic inflammation is when the inflammatory process goes on too long and puts your immune system into overdrive, according to Live Science.
Left unchecked, the latter can be an accelerant for diseases. "Chronic inflammation can cause and worsen certain conditions like arthritis, inflammation of the heart, kidneys, and large intestine, and possibly cancer," Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD, CDN, tells Romper.
One research article published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2001 described the effects of ongoing inflammation as such: "If genetic damage is the 'match that lights the fire' of cancer, some types of inflammation may provide the 'fuel that feeds the flames."
So, to avoid "fueling the flames" of disease, here are some foods you'll want to limit or avoid all together.
1. Sugary Beverages
If you have a serious soda habit, it can be hard to imagine forgoing the fizz. But, there's one good reason to skip these sugary drinks — the added sugars in them can increase inflammation, which leads to various chronic diseases.
A study published in the American Journal of Nutrition found that woman who drank more than one 'sugar-sweetened soda' — defined as regular cola, caffeine-free cola, and other sugar-sweetened carbonated soda — were 63 percent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory disease.
What's more, another study published in Diabetes Care found that those who drank more than one 'sugar-sweetened beverage' a day— including soft drinks, fruit drinks, iced tea, and energy and vitamin water drinks — had a 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to those who drank just one sugary drink per month.
2. Processed Meats
Since we're heading into BBQ season, many Americans are looking forward to firing up the grill again. But you might not want to reach for the wieners and brats just yet. Processed meats, like hotdogs, sausage, bacon, and beef jerky, have also been linked to inflammation and disease.
A study published in the Critical Reviews In Food Science & Nutrition found that diets high in red and processed meats were linked to an elevated risk of colon cancer. While there were several reasons cited for this, one was a higher inflammatory response.
In addition to colon cancer, processed meats are also associated with an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stomach cancer, according to Healthline.
If you like to enjoy a nightly glass of wine, many would argue that it's actually a healthy habit. But when your alcohol intake exceeds that, you could be causing your body's inflammatory response to go into overdrive.
Research published in Alcohol and Alcoholism, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that women who drank more than three glasses of alcohol per day had higher systematic markers for inflammation that those who drank only one glass a day.
What's more, chronic alcohol consumption is associated with many different kinds of cancers, including stomach, liver, colon, and breast cancer, according to Medical News Today.
With so many candy-friendly holidays and celebrations throughout the year, it's hard to think about eschewing the sweets (ahh Cadbury mini eggs!), but sugar is another "food" linked to inflammation, and ultimately cancer.
A 2016 study published in Cancer Research found that "dietary sugar intake has a significant impact on the development of breast cancer." The body's inflammatory response to sugar was one proposed mechanism to explain these findings.
The mice in the study who were given Western-diet-levels of sucrose, ( i.e. common table sugar) were found to have increased tumor growth and metastasis compared to those on non-sugar diets.
So, if you were looking for another reason to skip that sugary treat tonight, reducing your risk of breast cancer seems like a pretty powerful one.
5. White Bread (& Other Refined Carbs)
But in terms of inflammation, not all carbs are created equal. Whole grains are considered a key part of the Mediterranean Diet, which in essence is an anti-inflammatory diet, according to Harvard Medical School.
But refined carbs, like white bread or white pasta, are not your friend when it comes to inflammation, according to Schapiro.
One study published in Mediators of Inflammation found that a high intake of refined carbs decreased the body's ability to fight inflammation, and increased one's risk factor for developing insulin resistance — a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes, according to WebMD.
If a life without bacon, wine, or white pasta seems like a dismal prospect, simply eating less of them could be a good place to start.
"I’d keep high inflammatory foods in moderation, but probably less than once a week. If you are someone who is prone to inflammation or already has an inflammatory condition, then its best to avoid these foods as much as possible," advises Schapiro.
Plus, you can balance out some of the inflammatory foods by eating more anti-inflammatory ones. Schapiro suggests incorporating more blueberries, broccoli, nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios), olive oil, salmon, green tea, ginger, spinach, chia seeds, tomatoes, and avocados into your diet to help keep inflammation in check.