Many of us are aware of anti-inflammatory medications, but what about pro-inflammatory foods? Many people suffer from mild to chronic inflammation and studies show that our lifestyle choices, including the food that we eat, affect our health, how we feel and our body’s ability to heal. Aside from eating more natural anti-inflammatory foods, it is also important to avoid or reduce pro-inflammatory foods, which will increase inflammation, increase pain from the inflammation and may even raise the chance for long-term disease.

The consumption of junk foods, high-fat meats, fast foods and fried foods increases inflammation in the body, which is partially due to the unhealthy fats used in preparing and processing these foods, particularly trans fats and saturated fats. Several studies show that saturated fats trigger inflammation, with pizza, cheese, red meat and dairy products being the biggest sources. Trans fats are found in most processed, seen on the label as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and are best avoided as they are difficult for the body to process and can trigger an inflammatory response.

Processed meats such as lunch meats, hot dogs and sausages contain chemicals such as nitrites, which are linked to increased inflammation and chronic disease. Processed foods also often contain flavour enhancers, such as MSG, which can trigger chronic inflammation for many people.

Refined products including white flour products, white rice, fries and many cereals are high-glycaemic foods, breaking down quickly into sugar, which increases insulin levels and creates inflammation. Processed corn, which is found in many foods as high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and corn oil, also causes a spike in blood sugar, increasing insulin and an inflammatory response in the body.

High amounts of sugar in the diet has been linked to an increase of AEGs (advanced glycation end products, which causes inflammation, and research suggests that processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Aside from the everyday typical use of sugar in tea/coffee, cakes and cookies, sugar is found in almost all processed foods including breads, meats and sauces, and goes by many names, such as fructose, sucrose and sucralose. It is best to avoid using any artificial sweeteners, such as Aspartame, Saccharin, Splenda, Acesulfame-K and Neotame, as they have all been linked to many side effects.

Vegetable oils, such as safflower, peanut, corn, rapeseed and soybean, which are found in most processed foods today, do not come from vegetables but are extracted from seeds. These oils are highly processed and contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, which are unstable and oxidize easily in the body, causing inflammation. Vegetable oils also contain a higher ratio of Omega 6 fatty acids to Omega 3 fatty acids, causing an imbalance in the body and promoting inflammation.

Whole fruits and vegetables are important for their vitamins, minerals, and natural antioxidants. However, some vegetables like potatoes (not including sweet potatoes and yams), tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, pimentos, paprika, and cayenne could actually increase pain from inflammation that is already in the body. These vegetables are part of the nightshade family of plants, containing a chemical alkaloid called solanine, which commonly triggers pain in some people. Although there aren’t any formal research findings that back the claim about nightshade plants, many people report great relief from the symptoms of pain and inflammation when eliminating them from their diet. Green and sprouted spots on potatoes usually reflect high alkaloid content and should always be carefully removed. Removing nightshades will not usually benefit anyone not suffering from chronic pain.

If suffering from any type of inflammation, it is helpful to reduce and limit foods that promote inflammation, whilst also increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet. Replace polyunsaturated vegetable oils with extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, and eat a diet that is rich in omega-3s. Replace refined products with whole grain products and use anti-inflammatory healing spices, such as turmeric, ginger and red pepper. Reduce refined sugar and sweeteners and consume less or avoid sugar-sweetened processed foods and drinks. Switch to sweeteners that are higher in naturally occurring fructose, such as stevia, malted barley and honey.

Tina Sayer, Contributing Editor

Tina is a Wellness and Parenting Coach, writer and poet. Apart from her coaching, she delivers motivational speeches and workshops on Wellness and Parenting. She is passionate about healthy living and caring for our animals and planet. Much of her spare time is spent in nature with her dogs, and as a mother and nurturer. Tina has been a loyal volunteer with the Recovery Road Support Project for many years and is now a Contributing Editor to Bloom in Wellness.