I wanted to share some information that I have been researching these past few months about how diet can affect inflammatory responses in the human body.  There is an epidemic of inflammatory diseases that affect millions of people every day, and many experts point to chronic inflammation as the cause of some cancers and rheumatoid arthritis.  Personally, I have recently been dealing with chronic swelling in my twice injured and surgically repaired right knee.  As an alternative to taking (NSAIDs)- non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs- which can be very harmful to the body, I have been begun an anti-inflammatory diet, which I am happy to say, has been working really well.  I wanted to share some of the research I found in which inflammatory foods to avoid and which anti- inflammatory foods to add to your diet.  The focus of this month’s blog will be on which inflammatory foods to avoid.

The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that some eight million people die from cancer each year. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, about 12.9 million people worldwide died from some form of cardiovascular disease in 2004. Cancer and heart disease, the deadly manifestation of chronic inflammation, are expected to remain as the leading causes of death in developed countries for many years to come.

Study after study shows that the risk of cancer and heart disease are modifiable by our lifestyle choices which include the food we choose to eat each day. With every bite we take, we’re either increasing or decreasing inflammatory compounds in the body.

To shift the balance to your favor, other than incorporating more natural anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, it is also equally important to avoid or cut down on foods which are known to promote inflammation. Here, we look at the top ten foods which set the stage for inflammatory diseases:


Inflammatory Agent: Excessive sugar intake has been linked to tooth decay, increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and chronic inflammation!

Avoid: Beverages like soft drinks, punches, fruit drinks.  Avoid candy, pastries, deserts, and sweet snacks.  Did you know there are 39 grams of sugar in a can of Coke!  Read labels and look for sugar disguised with these names: corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, golden syrup, sucrose and maltose. 

Substitute: Natural sweeteners like Stevia, honey, or blackstrap molasses sparingly. OK to eat natural sugars found in fresh fruit which also supply vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.


Inflammatory Agent: Common vegetable cooking oils used in many homes and restaurants have very high omega-6 fatty acids and dismally low omega-3 fats. A diet consisting of a highly imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes inflammation and breeds inflammatory diseases like heart disease and cancer.

Avoid: Polyunsaturated oils: cottonseed, grape seed, safflower, corn, and sunflower oils- beware these are often used in most processed foods.

Substitute: Macadamia oil, or extra virgin olive oil.


Pro-inflammatory Agent: Trans-fatty acids are notorious for their double whammy effect: they increase the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, while lowering levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol. But that is not all they can do. They have also been found to promote inflammation, obesity and resistance to insulin, laying the ground for degenerative illnesses to take place.

Avoid: Fast foods; deep fried foods; commercially baked goods, anything made with partially hydrogenated oil, or vegetable shortening.  Commercially prepared peanut butter is one good example of foods that add partially hydrogenated oil.

Substitute: Natural peanut butter and foods without the trans-fats.


Inflammatory Agent: Milk is a common allergen that can trigger inflammatory responses like IBS, skin rashes, hives, acne, and breathing difficulties.  As much as 60% of the world’s population cannot digest milk easily.

Avoid: Milk and dairy products like butter and cheese.  Many cakes, crackers, cream sauces and boxed cereals contain milk ingredients.

Substitute: Coconut or almond milk. Kefir,or unsweetened yogurt for those not allergic to milk.


Pro-inflammatory Agent: Commercially produced meats are fed with grains like soy beans and corn, a diet that is high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids but low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Due to the small and tight living environment, these animals also gain excess fat and end up with high saturated fats. Even worse, to make them grow faster and prevent them from getting sick, they are also injected with hormones and fed with antibiotics.

Avoid: Most, if not all, beef, pork and poultry you can find in the supermarkets and restaurants that come from feedlot farms.

Substitute: Organic Free- Range Animals that are fed a natural diet such as grasses instead of grains and hormones contain more omega-3 fats. Having more room to roam freely, they are also leaner and contain less saturated fat.


Pro-inflammatory Agent: Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that red meat contains a molecule that humans don’t naturally produce called Neu5Gc. After ingesting this compound, the body develops anti-Neu5Gc antibodies – an immune response that may trigger chronic inflammatory response. This low-grade, simmering inflammation that won’t go away has been linked to cancer and heart disease.

The link between processed meat consumption and cancer is even stronger. In the 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, processed meat has been stated as a convincing cause of cancers of the colon and rectum, and possibly of the esophagus and lungs too. Processed meat includes animal products that have been smoked, cured, salted or chemically preserved.

Find them in: Common red meats are beef, lamb and pork, while processed meats include ham, sausage and salami.

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: You don’t need to avoid red meat totally, though the same thing cannot be said for processed meat. No amount of processed meat is safe. Replace the bulk of your red meat with organic vegetables, poultry and fish, and relegate red meat to a weekly treat. When you do eat red meat, remember to choose lean cuts and preferably, that of grass-fed animals. To reduce the formation of heat generated food contaminants, it is also advisable not to overcook your meat and use moist heat cooking like stewing and boiling more often than high-temperature dry heat methods such as grilling and frying.


Pro-inflammatory Agent: Regular high consumption of alcohol has been known to cause irritation and inflammation of the esophagus, larynx (voice box) and liver. Over time, the chronic inflammation promotes tumor growth and gives rise to cancer at the sites of repeated irritation.

Find them in: Beers, ciders, liquors, liqueurs, and wines.

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: A refreshing and thirst-quenching glass of pure, filtered water, anyone?  How about a cup of anti-aging and anti-inflammatory Japanese green tea? If you find the idea of swapping ethanol for water or tea implausible, limit your consumption to no more than one drink a day.


Pro-inflammatory Agent: A lot of the grains we eat nowadays are refined. They are devoid of fiber and vitamin B compared to unpolished and unrefined grains that still have the bran, germ and the aleurone layer intact. This makes refined grains as good as refined sugars, which are practically empty calories. And like refined sugars, refined grains have a higher glycemic index than unprocessed grains and when they are consistently consumed, can hasten the onset of degenerative diseases like cancer, coronary disease and diabetes.

Find them in: Products made from refined grains are almost everywhere. The common ones are: white rice, white flour, white bread, noodles, pasta, biscuits and pastries. To make things worse, many products with refined grains undergo further processing to enhance their taste and look, and are often loaded with excess sugar, salt, artificial flavors and/or partially hydrogenated oil in the process. A prime example is boxed cereals which contain substantial amounts of added sugar and flavorings.

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Go for minimally processed grains if you are not gluten intolerant or allergic to grains. If you are an avid bread or pastry maker, invest in a grain mill to produce your own flour. It will be much fresher than the stale grain found in stores. When buying cereals or other products made from grains, don’t take the words on the packaging for granted. Just because the box says whole grains, it does not mean the grains inside are 100% intact. The problem is due to a lack of an internationally accepted definition for the word ‘whole grain’. When in doubt, if it does not look close to its natural state, don’t buy it.


Pro-inflammatory Agent: Some artificial food additives like aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) reportedly trigger inflammatory responses, especially in people who are already suffering from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Find them in: Only packaged foods contain artificial food additives. If you need to buy them, read the labels carefully and weigh your risks. If you order Chinese take-out, make sure you have the option to ask for no MSG. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Besides limiting the consumption of processed foods, use anti-inflammatory herbs, spices or natural sweeteners to add flavor to your dishes instead of relying on food additives. 


Pro-inflammatory Agent: Many people are sensitive to certain foods but are totally unaware of it. Unlike food allergies whereby symptoms usually hit fast and furious, symptoms caused by food intolerance may take a longer time to manifest. Consequently, when symptoms of food intolerance do appear, they are often brushed off as common minor ailments such as tiredness and headaches. But repeated, long-term exposure to food that irritates can cause inflammation and lead to chronic disease.

Find them in: Common food allergens are gluten, milk, nuts, eggs and nightshade vegetables. Contrary to common belief, it is possible to develop an allergy to the foods that you eat often.

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: If you suspect that a particular food may be responsible for your food intolerant response, try avoiding it completely for about two weeks and monitor your reaction. At the end of the abstinence period, re-introduce the food back into your diet. If you are in fact incompatible with it, you should be able to notice the difference in how you feel easily.

Try avoiding the foods listed here in this Blog for two weeks and see how you personally feel.  It has been very helpful for me.  Stay tuned for next month’s blog where I list some of the best anti-flammatory foods that you can and should add to your diet.

If you have any questions about this blog or your health in general, please feel free to contact me at: [email protected]