Preventing chronic inflammation is an important aspect of staying healthy. And to do that, it'd probably help to understand what exactly inflammation is.
For starters, not all types of inflammation are bad. Acute inflammation is a reaction that protects your body from infection. This type of inflammation occurs when you cut your finger or you're fighting a cold, and the reaction means your body is working to heal itself.
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When inflammation persists, however, chronic inflammation develops — this is the type of inflammation you want to avoid as much as possible. Over time, chronic inflammation wreaks havoc on your body. The condition is associated with heart disease, diabetes, dementia, depression, cancer and arthritis, among others, as explained by Health Harvard Publishing.
Diet plays a significant role in the development and prevention of chronic inflammation. You can reduce your risk by filling your plate with more plant-based foods (whole grains, legumes and vegetables), antioxidant-rich foods (berries, tea, avocados) and omega-3s (salmon and tuna).
The Mediterranean Diet (which is rich in plants, antioxidants and omega-3s) has an anti-inflammatory effect, according to a December 2016 Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets study.
While there are several anti-inflammatory foods out there, there are also some that promote the condition. Try to steer clear of the following inflammatory foods whenever you can.
1. Processed Meats
Processed red meat like hot dogs, sausage and, yes, breakfast's beloved bacon, are all pro-inflammatory.
A body of research, including a large July 2012 study in Diabetes Care, continues to show that processed red meat leads to increased levels of inflammation in the body and is associated with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
In this specific study, researchers found that eating even small amounts of processed red meat (less than 2 ounces) increased C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, a marker of inflammation.
2. Added Sugars
Taking in too many added sugars — which are found in regular soda, candy and baked goods — can increase chronic inflammation in the body, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Added sugars are not the same as natural sugar, like the kind found in fruit.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories or 25 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories or 36 grams) for men.
Sticking to these recommendations can be easier if you're more aware of where added sugar lurks, like in some condiments, yogurts and bread.
3. Refined Carbs
Refined carbohydrates can be found in foods like white bread, white rice and crackers. Other sources include cookies, doughnuts, cupcakes and pastries.
When describing carbohydrates, "refined" means that it's not a whole grain — the grain has been processed, with the bran and germ, which contains most of the food's fiber, removed.
This lack of fiber is believed to be one of the reasons refined grains are pro-inflammatory. Whole grains have been associated with lower inflammation markers while refined grains are tied to elevated inflammation, according to a January 2010 study in Nutrition.
4. Trans Fats
This type of processed fat has been cut from much of our food supply because of its detrimental effect on heart health. Both experimental and observational studies have shown that trans fatty acids are pro-inflammatory as well, according to an older May 2006 study in Atherosclerosis Supplements.
The Food and Drug Administration began banning trans fats in our foods back in 2015, and although a large portion of it has been reduced, you may still find some in products like margarine, fried food, microwave popcorn and frozen pizzas, per the Mayo Clinic.
5. Too Much Alcohol
It doesn't take much to drink "too much" alcohol. Excessive alcohol use is defined by the CDC as drinking 8 or more drinks per week for people assigned female at birth (AFAB). For people assigned male at birth (AMAB), heavy drinking is considered 15 drinks or more per week.
Drinking is considered excessive for women at four drinks in a day (five drinks for men) and eight drinks over the course of a week (15 drinks for men).
One of the harms of overdoing it with alcohol is inflammation in the gut and liver. Over time, this evolves into chronic inflammation that affects most of the body, according to a March 2010 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.
- Health Harvard Publishing: "Understanding Acute and Chronic Inflammation"
- Diabetes Care: "Meat Consumption and Its Association With C-Reactive Protein and Incident Type 2 Diabetes"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "Consumption of Red Meat and Whole-Grain Bread in relation to Biomarkers of Obesity, Inflammation, Glucose Metabolism and Oxidative Stress"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Sweet Danger of Sugar"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- Pharmacognosy Research: "Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research"
- The Journal of Nutrition: "Whole and Refined Grain Intakes Are Related to Inflammatory Protein Concentrations in Human Plasma"
- Mayo Clinic: "Trans Fat is Double Trouble for Your Heart Health"
- therosclerosis Supplements: "Trans Fatty Acids – Effects on Systemic Inflammation and Endothelial Function"
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Alcohol"
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Alcohol, Inflammation, and Gut-Liver-Brain Interactions in Tissue Damage and Disease Development"
- Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets: "The Immune Protective Effect of the Mediterranean Diet against Chronic Low-grade Inflammatory Diseases"
- CDC: What is excessive alcohol use?