Popular Foods That Increase Inflammation, Say Dietitians

Inflammation is the first domino in a cascade of reactions in the body that leads to chronic disease. Inflammation is driven by lifestyle factors: what we eat, how we move, how much we sleep, and how stressed we are.

Over time, these lifestyle factors can create elevated levels of inflammation in the body such that it manifests through health conditions like elevated blood sugar, blood pressure, and high cholesterol. There are some foods that are known offenders. These tend to be highly processed foods that are either high in sugar or high in fat. Here are a few to keep in mind, and for even more healthy tips, be sure to check out our list of 112 Most Popular Sodas Ranked by How Toxic They Are.

1

High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

corn syrup

This sticky substance is more sinister than one might initially think. While corn syrup itself has been around for decades, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was specifically manufactured to be more shelf-stable. While the modifications were a win for the food manufacturer; they weren't so great for our health.

High-fructose corn syrup is digested and absorbed via the liver and produces fats that get widely distributed throughout the body. Overconsumption of HFCS leads to insulin resistance and weight gain over time.

Lisa Andrews, RD says "a diet high in high fructose and fat may lead to fatty liver and glucose intolerance, along with inflammation and oxidative stress."

Some research suggests that fructose triggers inflammatory changes at the cellular level. This reaction is highly dependant on the dose, and HFCS is one of the most potent sources of fructose in our food system!

2

Trans Fat

fried foods

Trans fat, otherwise known as partially hydrogenated oil, is a known contributor to inflammation and directly correlated to risk for chronic disease. Similar to HFCS, trans fat was created to make products more shelf-stable. While the food industry benefited from its shelf-saving qualities, our health did not.

A diet that is high in trans fat is associated with an increase in inflammatory markers. These hydrogenated oils particularly increase vascular markers, leading to an increased risk for cardiovascular conditions like a heart attack or stroke.

Fortunately, trans fats are on their way out. Regulations from the FDA in 2019 have made it challenging for food manufacturers to use trans fats. Read more here to understand where trans fats may still be lurking in our food system.

3

Omega-6 Fats

vegetable oil

Omega-6 fats are found in plant-based sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). PUFAs are found in fats like soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and vegetable oil are all PUFAs. On their own, these foods are not all bad. However, a diet that is high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats is inherently inflammatory. The ratio of omega 3 in relation to omega-6 can actually improve inflammatory markers as omega-3 is inherently anti-inflammatory.

Nicole Stefanow, M.S., RDN, says, "although all omega fatty acids are part of a healthy diet, not all omegas are created equal. Omega-6 fatty acid helps support proper cell function throughout our bodies, but too much omega-6 from vegetable oils like soy, corn, and sunflower may contribute to inflammation and inflammatory-related diseases. Inversely, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fatty fish and seafood, have been linked to decreased inflammation and the conditions associated with it."

Related: Should I Eat Omega-6s?

4

Alcohol

whiskey

While many of us recognize alcohol as a toxin, we rarely think about the implications when we want something boozy. However, alcohol is a potent driver of systemic inflammation. The inflammatory response from alcohol begins in the gut during digestion, but further exacerbates matters by impairing the body's ability to regulate systemic inflammation.

To make matters worse, alcohol affects nearly every system in the body from the brain to the kidneys. Here are the Secret Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol, Says Expert.

5

Refined Flour

white bread

Processed foods certainly have a reputation for increasing inflammation, and refined flours are one of the greatest culprits. Refined flours are specifically high in simple carbohydrates. When compared to their high-fiber, complex carb counterparts, a diet high in refined flour is associated with a rise in blood sugar, weight gain, and increased risk for chronic disease. 

Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes says, "refined flour is milled and stripped off the bran, germ, and nutrients such as fiber. Research suggests that refined flour may increase the inflammatory gut bacteria and increase the risk of obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. Refined grains/flour can also cause spikes in blood sugar and increase in an inflammatory response."

Choosing high-fiber carbs is best for long-term health, weight loss, and reducing inflammation. Consider these low-carb options to start reducing inflammation!

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