5 "Healthy" Foods That Contribute To Inflammation
Kellyann Petrucci, ND, a leading naturopathic physician and nutritionist, is an inflammation expert. This week, we're sharing Dr. Petrucci's expertise in a series on fighting inflammation for optimal health. To learn more, check out her new mindbodygreen course, Beat Inflammation: A 21-Day Plan for Glowing Skin, Long-Term Weight Loss, and Vibrant Health.
Are you battling a weight problem, think you look older than your age, or feel tired and sick all the time? Then I recommend tackling the underlying cause: chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation occurs when your immune system’s switch gets stuck in the “on” position. As a result, it wages a continuous war on your own cells—a war that packs pounds on you (especially around your waistline), ages you quickly, and damages your body.
I believe the best way to combat chronic inflammation is through diet. In my practice, I put patients on an anti-inflammatory diet of high-quality proteins, bone broth, vegetables, healthy fats, fruits, and nuts. This is the natural diet we’re genetically programmed to need, and it helps to put out those internal flames.
But healing chronic inflammation isn’t just about adding anti-inflammatory foods—it’s also about getting rid of pro-inflammatory foods. And while you probably know that sugar and white flour are pro-inflammatory, other culprits may surprise you.
Here are some allegedly “healthy” foods that could actually fan the fire inside you:
1. Whole wheat bread
The sugar in whole wheat bread can ramp up your blood glucose, causing your body to produce higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Sugar also elevates your levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), destructive molecules that feed inflammation.
My advice? Try going grain-free. Your body doesn’t need grains, which is why there’s no daily requirement for them. If you’re not ready to give up all grains, at least avoid those with gluten, which is inflammatory.
2. Soy burgers
I know you've probably heard over and over again that soy is good for you. But in reality, it’s bad news when it comes to inflammation. Consider this:
- Soy extracts suppress iodine uptake and can stimulate the production of autoimmunogens that could put you at risk for autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Children with autoimmune thyroid disease are more likely to have received soy infant formula than children without the disease.
- The processing of soy proteins can sometimes lead to the formation of lysinoalanine and nitrosamines. These damage your cells and contribute to inflammation.
I tell my patients to avoid soy as much as possible. This is tricky because manufacturers put soy in thousands of foods these days—which is another argument for cooking from scratch instead of buying processed foods.
3. Diet soda
Are you trying to lose weight by ditching sugar and switching to artificial sweeteners? If so, you may be doing your body more harm than good.
Research points to artificial sweeteners as culprits in glucose intolerance, which packs on belly fat—and belly fat cranks out inflammatory chemicals. There is also speculation that artificial sweeteners play a role in inflammatory bowel disease. So if you swap out sugar for these sweeteners, you’re simply substituting one pro-inflammatory poison for another.
My suggestion: Learn to enjoy unsweetened tea, water with a spritz of lemon juice, or other natural drinks. Also, sip on “spa water” made from sparkling water flavored with berries and a sprig of mint.
It’ll take time to get over your craving for sugary sodas, but you can break this habit—and you’ll be healthier when you do.
4. Seed oils
You might have heard that seed oils like corn, soybean, sunflower, and canola oil are good for you. However, these oils are heavily processed and they’re frequently rancid even at the time you buy them. Worse yet, they have an unhealthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. They’re high in omega-6s, which are pro-inflammatory, and low in anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
I recommend tossing these oils and substituting healthy fats like olive, coconut, and avocado oils. I also love clarified butter, which is butter with the milk fats removed. Healthy fats like these take off fat—and they lower inflammation as well.
5. Nonfat fruit yogurt
This is the ultimate health food, right? The perfect go-to lunch if you want to take off pounds and make your gut bugs happy?
Well, no. In more than 20 years as a clinician, I’ve found that the majority of my patients don’t tolerate dairy foods (including yogurt) well. Frequently, they don’t discover this until they eliminate dairy from their diet. When they do, symptoms like headaches, skin breakouts, bloating, and a stuffy nose clear up—and that suggests to me that their internal inflammation is dropping as well.
But there are even bigger reasons to avoid nonfat fruit yogurts. These yogurts are often loaded with pro-inflammatory sugar or artificial sweeteners and contain only a tiny amount of actual fruit. And when manufacturers strip yogurt of its fat, they substitute artificial fillers and thickeners—ingredients that are unfamiliar to your body and can promote inflammation.
My recommendation: Switch to plain cultured coconut milk, which gives you the same probiotic power as dairy yogurt. As for dairy in general, try going without it for 21 days and see if you feel significantly better. You may be happily surprised at the result! If you do decide that you tolerate dairy just fine, go for full-fat, which has more nutrition and fewer additives.
The bottom line: To fight inflammation, rethink “healthy.” As you can see from my list above, the very foods that you might have been told are healthy are actually likely to fuel your inflammation.
So instead of loading up on pro-inflammatory grains, artificial sweeteners, unhealthy seed oils, soy Frankenfoods, and nutrient-poor nonfat dairy, give your cells what they crave: natural, unprocessed foods that will crush your inflammation. It’s my prescription for a slimmer, younger, healthier you.