Feeling Swell? 6 Inflammatory Foods to Cut from Your Diet

August 15, 2018

Feeling Swell? 6 Inflammatory Foods to Cut from Your Diet

Last week, we shared our top 5 anti-inflammatory foods to add to your plate. And while incorporating those foods is a great start on your way to a healthier lifestyle, cutting down on food that causes inflammation is the first place is just as important.

Fighting chronic inflammation? Try swapping out these 6 food types:

1. Refined Sugar

You’ve probably heard this before but it’s worth repeating: Cut out high-fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars from your diet. The average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar daily! All this sugar contributes to cancer growth, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and more.

And it’s inflammatory. Why? Refined sugar, such as the aforementioned high-fructose corn syrup, spikes blood sugar and insulin levels really quickly. When your blood sugar spikes like this, production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (a substance secreted by cells that causes inflammation) goes up.

What to eat instead:

You can still have sweets on an anti-inflammatory plant-based diet. Just switch from refined sugars to whole food sweeteners like dates, date paste, date syrup, pure maple syrup, mashed bananas. Get some more whole food sweetener tips here.

2. Dairy

Cheese isn’t just addictive, it’s one of the top sources of saturated fat in the American Diet. Studies show saturated fat sets off fat tissue inflammation in the body. The more saturated fat we eat, the bigger our fat cells get, and the more systemic inflammation we’ll experience.

Full-fat milk is also linked to inflammation as it messes with our gut microbiome and decreases the number of good bacteria that normally keeps our body’s inflammation in check.

What to eat instead:

Swap your cheese for nut cheese (try this quick and easy recipe) and definitely stock up on nutritional yeast. Found in the spice aisle, nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that gives dishes a delicious nutty and “cheesy” flavor. It's great for sprinkling on pasta, salads, soups, and popcorn.

What about Alfredo sauce or Mac and Cheese? There's a dairy-free solution for both: our Mama’s Mac Sauce.

Finally, swap out your glass of milk with a plant-based version: soy, oat, almond, cashew, coconut, rice.

3. Refined Carbohydrates

Worried carbs will make you overweight or diabetic? Keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal!

Refined carbohydrates — the ones found in processed and packaged foods like white pasta, crackers, cakes, cookies — don't have their fiber and nutrients intact. Without the fiber, they spike our blood sugar rapidly so just like with refined sugars, pro-inflammatory cytokine production increases.

And those who eat refined grains instead of whole grains appear to produce more PAI-1 in the blood, one of the key inflammatory markers, so be sure to avoid those refined carbohydrates!

What to eat instead:

Limit white rice or choose brown rice or another whole grain (such as quinoa, millet, or farro).

Swap out white pasta for whole grain or brown rice pasta.

Buy or make breads that have 100% whole wheat and limited or no added salt/sugar.

Make oatmeal for breakfast instead of sugary cereal.

4. Meat

The keto diet may be all the rage these days, but studies show that meat, especially red meat and processed meat, elevates the C-reactive proteins, which are biomarkers for inflammation.

Red and processed meat contain large amounts of Advanced Glycation End-Products or AGEs. When meats are grilled or cooked on other forms of dry heat (as often is the case with processed meat) the AGE levels skyrocket. In high levels, AGEs are harmful and spark inflammation, which can lead to several serious diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, and certain types of cancer.

What to eat instead:

Make plant-based foods the center of your plate instead of animal products. Explore our healthy recipes for hearty plant-based mains.

Don’t want to cook? No problem. MamaSezz will cook and deliver ready-made plant-based comfort foods to your door. Browse meals.

5. Trans Fat and Saturated Fat

A totally fat-free diet is not only unhealthy, it’s also more or less impossible; nearly all natural food contain some fat, and that’s not a bad thing. Our bodies rely on fat to store and release energy, grow cells, maintain healthy skin and other tissues, regulate certain bodily processes, transport fat-soluble vitamins, and even promote proper brain and nerve functionality. What we’re trying to say is that not all fat is bad.

However, there are some fats that you’re better off cutting from your diet: trans fats and saturated fats. Trans fats are not found in significant quantities in natural foods, and because of that, our bodies don’t know how to properly break them down. Instead, we react to trans fats as we would any foreign object in the body: with an inflammatory response. Similar to trans fats, saturated fats have been connected with inflammation in white adipose tissue (energy-storing fat tissue), and have been shown to “short circuit” the immune response, leading to increased inflammation.

What to drink instead:

The major problem with both saturated and trans fat is not that we consume it; it’s that we consume far to much of it. As such, simply cutting back on foods that contain these fats can have a noticeably positive effect. These foods include margarine, cookies, cream, french fries, donuts, whole milk, and ice cream. In many cases, low trans fat and low saturated fat options may be available, so be sure to be checking your nutrition labels.

5. Alcohol

Like meat, too much alcohol also raises C-reactive proteins. The more alcohol we consume, the higher our C-reactive proteins. Excessive alcohol consumption has also been shown to change our intestinal lining, which means bacteria can get into our bloodstream and — you guessed it — cause inflammation.

What to drink instead:

If you want to keep it simple, reach for a good old-fashioned glass of water. Or spice up your glass by adding some fresh slices of fruit or berries.

You can also pour yourself a cup of tea — preferably green tea as it’s packed with inflammation-fighting antioxidants.

Looking for something a little more decadent? Try this warming and anti-inflammatory Turmeric Latte.


Interested in the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet?

Replacing these 6 food types is only the beginning. By adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and focusing on foods that fight inflammation, you’ll be lowering your risk of developing inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and many cancers (including prostate and bowel cancer).  

Make a change in your diet! Discover how Carolyn Kaufman healed her MS symptoms and lost 145 pounds by focusing on anti-inflammatory foods. Read her story here.


By Ali Brown

Ali is a nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.