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Six Inflammatory Foods to Avoid

Quick Synopsis

Fighting chronic inflammation? The best way to reduce inflammation is to change what you eat. Here are six of the inflammatory foods to avoid.

The Full Story

Chronic inflammation is a pain (literally). Inflammation is our body’s natural and healthy defense mechanism against injury, but chronic inflammation is not. Chronic inflammation leads to serious health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s disease, IBS, Multiple Sclerosis, and asthma!

The good news is you can reduce inflammation with your food choices. Filling up on anti-inflammatory foods is great, but it's not enough. Cutting down on food that causes inflammation is just as important.

Ready to kick inflammation to the curb? Avoid these foods.

1. Refined Sugar

The average American eats 22 teaspoons of refined sugar daily! The problem? Refined sugar contributes to diseases like cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

And it’s inflammatory as heck. Refined sugar spikes blood sugar and insulin levels quickly. Fast blood sugar produces inflammatory cytokines - a substance secreted by cells that causes inflammation.

Examples of refined sugar:

  • Barley malt
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Confectioner’s sugar (or powdered sugar)
  • Granulated sugar
  • Raw Sugar
  • Turbinado sugar

What to eat instead:

  • Swap out refined sugars for whole food sweeteners like dates, date paste*, date syrup, pure maple syrup, and mashed bananas.

*How to make date paste:

  • Soak 2 cups of pitted dates in 1 1/2 cups of warm water for at least 30 minutes.
  • Drain the water and set aside the dates.
  • Blend dates in a high-speed blender or food processor.
  • Add some of the leftover water to your blended puree and blend until creamy.
  • 2. Dairy

    Cheese isn’t just addictive, it’s one of the top sources of saturated fat in the American Diet. Studies show that saturated causes inflammation in your body's fat tissues. The more saturated fat you eat, the bigger your fat cells will get and the more systemic inflammation you’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.

    Examples of dairy products:

    • Cheese
    • Butter
    • Yogurt
    • Milk and cream
    • Sour cream
    • Ice cream

    What to eat instead:

    • Stock up on nutritional yeast! Found in the spice aisle, nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast with a delicious nutty and “cheesy” flavor. It's great for sprinkling on pasta, salads, soups, and popcorn. Blend it with hemp seeds for extra cheezy non-dairy yumminess.
    • Try non-dairy milk like soy, oat, almond, cashew, coconut, or rice.

    3. Refined Carbohydrates

    Worried carbs will lead to weight gain and diabetes? Keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal.

    Refined carbohydrates don't have their fiber and nutrients intact. Without fiber, they spike our blood sugar rapidly so that pesky pro-inflammatory cytokine production increases (just like with refined sugars).

    And eating refined grains produces more PAI-1 in your blood, one of the key inflammatory markers.

    Examples of refined carbohydrates:

    • White pasta
    • White flours
    • Pastries, cookies, donuts, and cakes
    • Soda
    • Fruit juice
    • Many processed snacks, like crackers made with white flour

    What to eat instead:

    • Choose brown rice over white and try other whole grains like quinoa, millet, or farro.
    • Swap out white pasta for whole grain brown rice pasta.
    • Choose bread that has 100% whole wheat with limited or no added salt/sugar.
    • Enjoy a fiber-rich bowl of oatmeal instead of sugary cereal.

    4. Meat

    The keto diet may be all the rage these days but studies show 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 grilled the AGE levels skyrocket. AGEs are harmful and spark inflammation linked with heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, and certain types of cancer. Yikes.

    Examples of meat:

    • Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.)

    • Red meat (beef, lamb, venison, bison, etc.)

    • Pork (bacon, ham, etc.)

    • Seafood (fish, shellfish, etc.)

    What to eat instead:

    • Make plant-based foods the center of your plate instead of animal products. 
    • Don’t want to cook? No problem. That's what MamaSezz is for!

    5. Trans Fat and Saturated Fat

    A totally fat-free diet is not only unhealthy, but it’s also dang hard. Nearly all natural food contains some fat and 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.

    But some fats are better avoided, particularly trans fats and saturated fats because our bodies cannot break them down.

    We react to trans fats like we would any foreign object in the body - with an inflammatory response. Saturated fats are also linked with inflammation in white adipose tissue (energy-storing fat tissue). They also short circuit your immune response which leads to more inflammation. 

    Americans typically eat way too much trans and saturated fat. Animal products contain cholesterol, which worsens the negative effects of saturated fats making the whole situation dire.

    Eating a whole food plant-based diet helps because trans fats aren't in whole foods. Easy peasy!

    Examples of foods with saturated and trans fats:

    • Margarine

    • Cookies

    • Cream

    • French fries

    • Potato chips

    • Donuts

    • Whole milk

    • Ice cream

    What to eat instead:

    • Try pureed pumpkin instead of butter in your baked goods.
    • Roast chickpeas for a crunchy snack to replace potato chips.
    • Enjoy vegan ‘nice’ cream (made with frozen bananas!) instead of dairy ice cream.

    5. Alcoholic beverages

    Like meat, too much alcohol also raises C-reactive proteins. Excessive alcohol consumption can also change our intestinal lining so bacteria gets into the bloodstream and — you guessed it — causes inflammation.

    Examples of alcoholic beverages:

    • Beer
    • Wine
    • Spirits

    What to sip on instead:

    • Or spice up your glass of water (sparkling or regular) 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.


    By adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and focusing on foods that fight inflammation, you lower your risk of developing inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and many cancers (especially prostrate and bowel cancer).

    Next time you’re meal planning skip over:

    • Refined sugars
    • Dairy
    • Refined carbohydrates
    • Meat
    • Trans and saturated fat
    • Alcohol

    Happy Noshing!

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