6 Surprising Foods That Cause Inflammation
Updated: Jan 28
Inflammation has been a hot topic in the health & wellness industry lately, and it's pretty easy to find anti-inflammatory diets trending all over the Internet.
People are swearing off certain foods that are known to cause inflammation because it's been linked to diseases and disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, stroke, etc. And when you experience inflammation and deal with flare-ups, you feel swollen, get all red, and feel downright crappy & uncomfortable.
All that aside, it's important to also know that inflammation isn't always a negative thing. It's your body's response to injury and infection and tells your immune system to repair damaged tissue. *I know, most reading this probably don't give a sh*t about that, but it's important to get out there*.
I digress. The problem that can happen is when this inflammatory response repeatedly occurs in places where it shouldn't, such as your gut, which can happen if you regularly eat certain foods.
So, foods to avoid whenever possible, *as always* are highly processed foods.
But here are some foods that probably don't hit the forefront of your mind that you might want to take note of if they're a staple to your diet & you're prone to flare-ups:
Peanuts contain aflatoxins.
WTF are those?—basically, all you need to know is that they're a family of toxins that can stimulate inflammatory reactions. To dumb it all the way down, it means they can cause flare-ups.
I've read up a lot on all the harm that can supposedly come from peanuts...kinda depressing, especially if you LOVE peanuts & peanut butter. So be careful with peanuts in any form, whether you're allergic or not.
Alternative: If you're snackin' on raw peanuts, try swapping those with raw almonds instead.
They may appear to be a healthy option when eating out or picking up in the frozen section at your grocery store, but, not all veggie burgers are created equal. If you’re eating a veggie burger that’s made from real-food ingredients, like veggies, beans, sweet potatoes, etc…that’s great. But a lot on the market are made with highly processed oils, gluten, and other inflammatory ingredients. So, when buying premade, frozen ones, read the ingredients label! And when ordering one at a restaurant, you can always ask your server what’s in the veggie burger (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do this), because a lot of times, they’re full of fillers & oils.
Alternatives: One of the best ones I recommend buying in the frozen section of a grocery store is Dr. Praeger's All American Veggie Burger. It's only 230 calories, and provides 22g protein, 6g fiber, only 10g carbohydrates, and 12g fat. Great macros and solid ingredients for a convenient option!
Another alternative would be to try making your own veggie-inspired burger by grilling a big portobello mushroom and then topping it with some sliced avocado, lettuce, onions, etc.
Low-fat salad dressing
Usually when you see a ‘low-fat’ salad dressing, that fatty flavor is replaced with refined sugar, which can cause flare-ups.
Alternative: make your own by whisking together some lemon juice, Dijon or spicy mustard, a dash of raw honey or pure maple syrup, and a sprinkle of black pepper…that’s my go-to combination for a healthy ‘honey-mustard’ alternative.
A lot of cereals on the market are loaded with sugar—some even list sugar as the first or second ingredient. When you see that, I would highly recommend putting it back on the shelf. If you look at the label below (from a Honey Nut Cheerios box) the ingredients read: “Whole grain oats, sugar…” That means sugar is what the cereal is mostly composed of, second to whole grain oats. Refined sugar, as mentioned before, is a trigger for inflammation.
Alternative: If you love cereal, there’s good news…not all cereals are the same! Great options are Kashi GOLEAN Chocolate Crunch which provides 10g protein & 9g fiber *which we love*, or Nature’s Path Smart Bran which delivers 4g protein & 17g fiber!
Or, if you’re not in love with cereal for your mornings, I never advise against a healthy bowl of overnight protein oats.
This can become a vegan staple as a honey substitution, so if you’re using this a lot and experiencing flare-ups…beware. Agave is really high in fructose, which is the sugar that comes from fruit. While getting fructose from fresh fruits is needed in our diets, the problem comes from an EXCESS amount of it. It’s really hard to overdo fructose just from fruit alone, but agave is almost completely fructose. Excess fructose can cause inflammation, so be mindful if you’re consuming agave regularly.
Alternative: If you’re using agave as a sweetener, try cinnamon instead. Cinnamon is one of my favorite spices/sweeteners and can even act as an anti-inflammatory!
'Sugar-free' foods & beverages
Don’t fall for the ‘sugar-free’ sticker without looking at the label first. Most times, instead of using sugar, these kinds of products will contain artificial sweeteners instead, like sucralose, aspartame, etc. Due to these sweeteners’ unnatural properties, they can trigger inflammatory reactions because our bodies may not know how to respond and even cause unwanted cravings.
Alternatives: If it’s a sugar-free beverage you’re after, make sure you read the ingredients and if the label is full of a bunch of words you can’t pronounce, that’s a red flag to put it back where ya found it. Try a sparkling water with fresh lime or lemon instead. As for sugar-free snacks, I’d recommend making your own so you know what’s going into them, like these easy PB Bliss Balls.
So again, if inflammation is an issue for you, consider reducing your consumption of these foods to reduce your flare-ups, and add some new flare to your diet using the alternatives!