6 Foods That May Contribute to Inflammation

Limit your intake of these foods that may contribute to inflammation and chronic illness.

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Avoiding foods that may contribute to inflammation can help to determine which foods in your diet are problematic.

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Dairy: Conventionally raised dairy cows consume feed laden with pesticide residues and genetically modified soy products. As a result, conventional dairy products can contribute to the load the body’s immune system must process and eliminate (or store if the body is unable to eliminate the toxins).

If you are concerned about calcium intake, turn to the many nondairy sources of calcium, including fortified soy, rice, oat, almond and other nut milks. The body absorbs only about 30 percent of the calcium contained in dairy products. If you find you don’t react to dairy and want to include it in your diet, I suggest consuming only organic dairy products.

Meat: Commercial eggs, beef and pork are included on the list of foods to avoid because of the acidifying nature of the animal protein. Pork and beef are high in arachidonic acid, which promotes inflammation. Some organic beef is allowed but should be eaten sparingly. Instead, eat lots of wild-caught, cold-water fish (three to four times a week) and organic chicken and turkey. Organic eggs that are free of hormone and pesticide residues and that come from free-range chickens are allowed, but they should not be eaten every day because of their animal-protein content.

Sugar: Refined sugar causes many abnormal reactions in the body and should be avoided by all individuals. Sugar depresses the immune system and doesn’t offer any nutrients. Prolonged high-sugar diets contribute to high levels of glucose, insulin and cholesterol, all of which increase heart disease risk, insulin resistance and diabetes risk.

Allergens: Avoid shellfish and peanuts because many people have allergies to them. Peanuts also grow an aflatoxin on their surface, which has been shown to increase the incidence of cancer in some individuals; peanuts must be processed carefully to avoid production of this substance. Corn is another common allergen. Conventionally grown corn has usually been subjected to heavy bombardment with pesticides.

Wheat: Wheat is worth discussing because our standard diet has gone wheat-crazy: One might have cereal, toast or pancakes for breakfast; a sandwich for lunch; and then pasta or pizza for dinner. The typical family may consume wheat three times daily. Today, wheat is not what it was 100 years ago. Many nutrients are removed in the refining and processing of wheat. Ongoing research suggests our immune systems may react poorly to the gluten in modern wheat, producing inflammation.

Citrus: Citrus fruits (except lemon) may increase inflammation; they also tend to aggravate arthritis symptoms. It isn’t clear why citrus triggers inflammatory joint symptoms in some people but not others; however, in many people with rheumatoid arthritis, one or more of the “foods to be avoided” will worsen their condition. Again, this doesn’t mean all these foods are necessarily bad for everyone. Just as a bee sting can cause an extreme reaction in one person and not in another, these foods may cause joint pains in some individuals but not others.

Remember that eventually you may begin to consume these foods again to see if you react to them. For example, if you reintroduce peanuts and don’t react to them negatively, eat them, just not every day. (One of the key features of a healthy diet is variety.) Knowing our food reactions is helpful in treating and preventing chronic disease. Interestingly, a person may find that they react to non-organic corn, but not to organic corn.

These notes offer more details on a few of the foods referenced in the chart found in Prevent Illness with the Anti-Inflammatory Diet, in which you can learn more about managing inflammation