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12 Foods to Avoid If You Suffer from Inflammation

The right diet can help you manage chronic pain.

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Photography by: Eshma / Getty

When it comes to making lifestyle changes, our diet is often our number one priority. When it comes to managing diseases, it can get a little more complicated. If you were to do a Google search on foods to avoid if you suffer from arthritis, you will find a very restrictive list which can make managing your symptoms all the more stressful. Foods that are good for fighting inflammation are also good for your heart. The body's systems are all connected. 

 

The more fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates your diet contains, the better. Everyone has times when they may want to enjoy a slice of cake or their mom's famous lasagna. If your body can tolerate these foods, then go for it. Listening to your body is essential. If you feel better after a week of eliminating gluten and fried foods, then continue to keep these foods out of your diet. Let the way you feel when you eat a certain food or eliminate it be a reminder, not a punishment. 

 

Your diet can help you manage symptoms of chronic pain that you feel while decreasing inflammation happening in your body that you may be experiencing as a result of arthritis or other inflammatory diseases. Look at your diet and focus on the things you can immediately modify or minimize your intake of. Remember also that it's not always a specific food, it can be an ingredient or category of food that can trigger an inflammatory response. Here are 12 foods that can influence your body's inflammatory response. 

 

Related: 12 Anti-Inflammatory Foods Everyone Should Be Eating (and Drinking!)

 

Artificially Sweetened Drinks

Aspartame is made up of three chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol and is an artificial sweetener found in thousands of foods as well as diet sodas. While it is approved by the FDA, studies on its effects are mixed, and the impact on people with autoimmune disease are unknown. Because it is a foreign substance, your body may respond to it by attacking the chemical which can trigger an inflammatory response. This is something that happens over time. If you drink diet soda daily, this is a great place to start making a change. 

 

Processed Meats

Arthritis is an inflammatory disease, and studies have shown that diets high in saturated fat—typically found in abundance in processed meats—promote inflammation in the body. Look for varieties that are nitrate and nitrite free. If you are eating bacon four days a week, reduce it to two. 

 

Sugary Drinks

Several studies have found that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda or juice, is associated with an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. What's more, regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has also been linked to diseases like obesity, insulin, resistance, and systemic inflammation—all of which have been linked to the development of RA.

 

Trans Fats

This is where paying attention and reading labels carefully comes into play. When you see "partially hydrogenated oils" as an ingredient, this is a trans fat. Like saturated fats, trans fats, which are often found in fried foods, have been shown to trigger systemic inflammation within the body, as shown by increased biomarkers of inflammation like C-reactive protein. The consumption of trans fats is also correlated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and obesity, which are risk factors for RA. 

 

White Bread

The consumption of sugars—found in refined carbohydrate products like white bread—have been found to increase the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), compounds that are linked with inflammation as well as the development of arthritis. Most of us have already transitioned to better-for-you varieties of bread such as whole-grain options that are higher in fiber, multigrain bread with seeds, or even gluten-free bread. Think about switching to open-face sandwiches as an easy way to reduce your bread intake.  

 

White Pasta

The same rules apply here as they do for bread. It's the refined carbohydrates that have been found to increase the formation of AGEs that are linked with inflammation. The good news is that you can still eat pasta! With so many new varieties of bean-based pastas as well as gluten-free options, enjoying marinara and meatballs with your family can still be a weekend tradition.

 

Related: Want to Get Rid of Bloat, Pain, and Fatigue? Try These 9 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

 

Gluten

This is probably the most popular category of "foods to avoid" if you suffer from inflammation. The link between gluten and pain from arthritis is unclear and has not been confirmed by research, but some people believe that their arthritis symptoms worsen after eating a meal containing gluten. However, Celiac disease and certain types of arthritis are both autoimmune diseases, and having Celiac disease leads to an increased risk of developing arthritis. Eaters who are embracing a gluten-free lifestyle have more options than ever; gluten-free pizza crusts, breads, pastas, and more. A word of caution, even though a food is gluten free, it still has calories. If a gluten-free diet has been recommended to you to lose weight (which can lighten the load on your joints), you still have to pay attention to maintain balance in your diet and your portion sizes. 

 

Soybean Oil and Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oils are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. While omega 6 fatty acids are required for normal development and growth, the standard Western diet tends to be too high in them, and excess consumption can trigger the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic inflammatory diseases, including arthritis.

 

Processed Snack Foods

Processed snack foods contain the trifecta of pro-inflammatory ingredients: refined carbs or sugars, trans fats, and vegetable oils. Most chips and crackers are void of nutrients and are often high in sodium. If you are snacking on cheese and crackers, try swapping the crackers out for a piece of fruit. Keeping snacks balanced is as important as keeping meals balanced. 

 

Sugary Treats

The thought of giving up favorite desserts is depressing. But think about how you feel when do you indulge. Do you find that the next day your joints feel a little stiffer? Maybe your energy is a little lagging. It's not about restriction but rather the notion of realization. If you don't feel good when you eat something, don't eat it! Like processed snack foods, desserts often include the heavy hitters for promoting inflammation: sugar and trans fats. 

 

Excess Alcohol

Studies have found that moderate alcohol consumption is fine—and sometimes even beneficial in reducing the risk of arthritis (it's been shown to reduce biomarkers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and TNF-alpha receptor 2), but moderation is key. Plus, alcohol could interact with arthritis medications and end up taxing the liver.

 

MSG

This food additive is often associated with Chinese food but it is also a flavor enhancer that is found in thousands of canned and prepared foods, deli meats, and is also used in fast food restaurants. Research hasn't found a link between MSG consumption and arthritis; however, some people believe that MSG can be a trigger for arthritic pain. 

 

Aim for balance and try to build meals and snacks with a combination of one protein, one carbohydrate, and one fat. This is the formula in my book, The One One One Diet: The Simple 1:1:1 Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. Managing your blood sugar is one of the keys to keeping Type 2 Diabetes at bay. Studies have shown that Type 2 diabetes is associated with chronic, low-grade inflammation and could potentially trigger the progression of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).