Here's what to avoid—and what to eat instead
Chronic inflammation can contribute to numerous health conditions, ranging from Type 2 diabetes and heart disease to gastrointestinal issues. And not surprisingly, your diet plays a major role when it comes to inflammation, which is why it’s important to know what foods to avoid—as well as which foods can help.
If you currently suffer from inflammation, the good news is that changing your eating habits can make a big difference and help improve your overall health.
Experts agree that our most common indulgences tend to be working against us.
So, what is the worst snack for inflammation? The short answer: anything that combines sugar and vegetable oil. Snacks high in fructose such as candy, pastries, sweet cereals and doughnuts are to be avoided, Jason Sani, nutritionist and Director of Wellness at OHM Fitness, explains. The combination of fructose and vegetable oils is the perfect storm for fat storage and inflammation. Not only do these foods promote inflammation, but they also tend to make you crave more, leading to overconsumption.
A study on lipids in the journal Lipids In Health and Disease found that fructose had the worst effect on CRP (C-reactive protein) which is the cleanest marker of inflammation. Vegetable oils such as soybean oil are loaded with trans fats that fuel inflammation.
Related: How To Reduce Inflammation In the Body, According to Doctors
Examples of these types of snacks include granola bars, flavored yogurt, prepackaged fruits and dried fruits. As you can see, many of these foods appear healthy, but the amount of hidden sugar is actually sky-high, functional nutritionist Pooja Mahtani says.
Sugar can signal to the pancreas to release insulin, a hormone responsible for escorting glucose (or sugar) into the cell. Once glucose has entered the cell, the body can convert it into energy.
However, too much sugar throughout the day can overwhelm the pancreas and disrupt this process. Over time, excess sugar consumption can activate multiple inflammatory pathways in the body and lead to insulin resistance, diabetes and weight gain, Dr. Mahtani adds.
Processed meats such as pepperoni, bacon, deli meats, hot dogs and sausage should also be avoided.
Both red and processed types of meat are high in saturated fat, which can increase inflammation in fat tissue. Processed meats also contain preservatives, added salt and added sugar, Sarah Whipkey, RDN/LD, explains.
One study linked processed meats to a higher inflammatory bodily response, as well as an increased risk of colon cancer. Processed meats are also heavily linked to causing insulin resistance—resulting in a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
Simple carbs hit your bloodstream fast and are found in fruit, sugars, desserts and dairy.
Foods with complex carbohydrates typically have more important nutrients—including starches, fiber and B vitamins—than foods containing more simple carbohydrates, Sani states. There is a time and place for both. Forms of fruit are simple sugar but contain nutrients and fiber that can offset the sugar.
Related: 6 Carbs Dietitians Want People To Eat More of (Yes, Really!)
Skipping snacks may be your best bet.
“I try to encourage people to eat more filling meals and avoid snacks. When you need to snack, try hard-boiled eggs, berries and minimally processed protein snacks with less than 10g of sugar,” says Sani. “Snacks should be smaller forms of meals that nourish the body and regulate your blood sugar. If reducing inflammation and body fat is a goal, it’s safe to say that avoiding or greatly reducing simple sugars and high fructose foods is favorable.”
We need carbohydrates to fuel our bodies/give us energy. But it's the complex carbohydrates (starches and fiber) that our bodies benefit from.
Whole, unprocessed plant-based foods are going to be your best bet, Whipkey explains. What does that look like for snacking? Fruits paired with nut butters, avocado or guacamole on whole grain toast, and veggies and hummus dip.
To keep steady blood sugar levels, always pair your carbohydrates with protein and fat. Protein and fat minimize blood sugar spikes as well as insulin release.
Dr. Mahtani provides some examples of blood sugar-stabilizing snacks:
Hard-boiled egg with hummus
Apple with almond butter
Grain-free crackers with cheese
Turkey and avocado roll-up
Mixed nuts and berries
Greek yogurt (unflavored) with fruit
“Not only do these snacks help tame inflammation, but they also help you stay fuller for longer,” says Dr. Mahtani. "I would call this a win-win!”
Next up: Does Dairy Cause Inflammation? Here's the Scoop on Whether or Not You Should Actually Give Up Yogurt and Ice Cream
Jason Sani, nutritionist and Director of Wellness at OHM Fitness
Lipids in Health and Disease: “Acute effects of feeding fructose, glucose and sucrose on blood lipid levels and systemic inflammation”
Sarah Whipkey RDN/LD
Dr. Pooja Mahtani, a licensed dietitian-nutritionist and pharmacist
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Here's what to avoid—and what to eat instead