We know that inflammation is at the root of many major diseases. Cancer is perpetuated by inflammation — tumors grow larger as the inflammatory process takes hold. Likewise, the swelling and pain of arthritis, fibromyalgia, even diabetes and obesity have been linked with chronic inflammation in the body. Anti-inflammatory diets are important, as a diet filled with foods that curb inflammation can alleviate symptoms and often reverse disease. Some anti-inflammatory foods include dark leafy greens, purple grapes, nuts, seeds and colorful veggies.
But, have you ever wondered which foods spike inflammation and should be skipped? Here’s our list of the top inflammatory foods:
1. White flour baked goods
“White baked goods make the top of the list because white flour becomes white sugar right in your mouth,” says Julie Daniluk, RHN, author of "Meals that Heal Inflammation." The starches break into sugars immediately; that’s why it raises your blood sugar so fast. When your blood sugar spikes, you end up with inflammation. What’s more, white flour can carry a double whammy because of the gluten content. Some people have a difficult time digesting gluten, and inflammation is the result. “Quite a lot of the population is walking around inflamed,” says Daniluk. To replace white flour goods, try brown rice, amaranth, quinoa and teff, a grain from Africa that’s gaining popularity in gluten-free circles.
2. French fries/potato chips
Are French fries evil? The problem is that frying foods in oil at extremely high temperatures, enough to put a crispy edge on a fry, creates a neurotoxin chemical called acrylamide, reports the National Cancer Institute, which causes inflammation. One way to resolve that problem is to decrease cooking times and bake at lower temperatures. To avoid, bake fries in the oven and look for baked chips that don’t contain oil. Organic baked corn chips are a good substitute if it’s a crunch you’re after.
3. Grilled sausages
Sausages contain nitrates, which have been linked to cancer. (Photo: Shaiith/Shutterstock)
The biggest problem with sausages, and you may as well include bacon here, is the nitrates they contain. We’ve heard of nitrates for years; it’s a cancer-causing chemical that causes inflammation. Worse, we cook animal fats at high temps on the griddle and those black marks that crop up from overcooking, called creosote, are carcinogenic as well. Vitamin C can protect you from nitrates, so if you do enjoy these foods occasionally, Daniluk says to eat an orange alongside them. Either avoid them, bake instead of fry or grill, and try switching to nitrate-free bacon.
In small amounts, alcohol shouldn't cause problems. But alcohol is naturally irritating to our insides, says Daniluk. Drinking too much can allow bacteria to pass through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation, reports US News.
5. Microwave popcorn
The artificial butter flavoring in most popcorn has been linked to inflammation. Daniluk says it’s hard on both the lungs and liver, and her concern is that if the fumes from the steaming bag are known to contain a lung irritant, imagine what it does to your digestive system. It also contains fats from highly processed partially hydrogenated oils being cooked at high temperature, and these transfats are also inflammatory. She suggests old-fashioned air popping.
If you're not opposed to using a microwave, try putting 4 tablespoons of popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag and fold the top over tightly. Microwave for two minutes or until popping slows. Sprinkle with Parmesan and rosemary.
6. Artificially dyed candy
Some researchers believe food colorings, like those found in candy, are responsible for many health conditions. (Photo: Elena Schweitzer/Shutterstock)
Artificial dyes are made from petroleum and gasoline byproducts and may cause disruption within body chemistry and hormone function, which could lead to inflammation. Eight food colorings remain in use in the United States — though with much controversy. Some researchers think they are responsible for everything from ADHD to migraines and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. As an alternative, naturally colored and flavored gummies, lollipops and gums are available at many grocery stores. Naturally dyed candies are made from beets and carrots. Look for candy labels that say "contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives."
This story was originally written in June 2013 and has been updated with the latest information.