14 Inflammatory Foods Making You Fat
By Olivia Tarantino
Are you setting yourself up to fail with these foods?
You cut calories, you fit in time at the gym, and you never eat after 8 p.m., but you still can't deflate that spare tire hanging around your tummy. What gives? For starters, your body might be fighting against your weight loss efforts.
Why would you do that, body?! Well, it's not really your body's fault. It's what you've trained it to do. And that could be because you've been filling it up with these irritating, weight-inducing foods. First, a little intro: Inflammation is a natural, protective part of the body's immune response that alerts you to a potentially-harmful invader or process. However, it only acts as a beneficial response in low doses. When you constantly put your immune system in a state of attack, you build up levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers and the resulting state of chronically being inflamed—ultimately causing weight gain, drowsiness, skin problems, digestive issues, and a host of diseases, from diabetes to obesity to cancer.
It's not just stress, lack of sleep, or injury that causes problems. As we mentioned earlier, research has proven that a significant contributor to chronic inflammation comes from what we eat. The following foods might be staples in many of our diets, but each of them provokes an inflammatory response, whether it's because they're foreign to our immune system, are eaten in excess, or are full of inflammatory nutrients. If your weight-loss efforts have plateaued before you've reached your body goals, make sure you've kicked these pesky foods to the curb. And once you do, start healing your body with these 20 Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Weight Loss!
Common culprits: Soda, snack bars, candy, baked sweets, coffee drinks
Bet you could've guessed this one. According to a review in the Journal of Endocrinology, when we eat too much glucose-containing sugar, the excess glucose our body can't process quickly enough can increase levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines. And that's not all. Sugar also suppresses the effectiveness of our white blood cells' germ-killing ability, weakening our immune system and making us more susceptible to infectious diseases. A simple swap is subbing out harmful high-glycemic foods (which spike and crash blood sugar) for low GI alternatives, like whole grains and foods with healthy fats, protein, and fibers. A study in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that on an equal calorie diet, overweight participants who ate a low-GI diet reduced levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein whereas participants on a high GI diet did not. Sugar isn't only added to obvious products like candy bars and sodas. It's also lurking in these 16 Surprising Foods With Added Sugar.
Common culprits: Many packaged, processed foods from protein bars to whipped spreads
Once we became aware of the artery-clogging ill effects of trans fats, manufacturers switched to injecting their products with or frying their foods in vegetable oils such as soy, corn, sunflower, safflower, or palm oil—which wasn't much better. That's because these vegetable oils have a high concentration of the inflammatory fat, omega-6, and are low in the anti-inflammatory fat, omega-3. In fact, Americans are eating so many vegetable-oil-laden products that the average person has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 20:1 when it should be 1:1.
Common culprits: Fried foods like french fries, fried chicken, fish sticks, chicken tenders, onion rings, processed meats
Another issue with these vegetable-oil-fried and processed foods is that they contain high levels of inflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs), compounds that form when products are cooked at high temperatures, pasteurized, dried, smoked, fried, or grilled. Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that when people cut out processed and fried foods that have high levels of AGEs, markers of inflammation in their body diminished.
Common culprits: Pizza, white bread, crackers, pasta, pretzels, flour tortillas, white rice, breakfast cereals, bagels
Refined wheat flours have been stripped of their slow-digesting fiber and nutrients, which means your body can break down the foods made from this ingredient very quickly. The more quickly your body digests glucose-containing foods, like these carbs, the faster your blood sugar levels can spike, which also spikes your insulin levels—a compound associated with a pro-inflammatory response. A Journal of Nutrition study found that a diet high in refined grains showed a greater concentration of the inflammatory marker, PAI-1, in the blood. On the other hand, a diet rich in whole grains resulted in a lower concentration of the same marker as well as one of the most well-known inflammatory biomarkers, C-reactive protein (CRP). Find out more about these detrimental starches in our exclusive report, The 22 Worst Carbs in America.
Common culprits: Milk, cheese, yogurt, butter
While a moderate intake of yogurt can actually help decrease inflammation with its gut-healing probiotics, dairy is also a source of inflammation-inducing saturated fats. On top of that, studies have connected full-fat dairy with disrupting our gut microbiome, actually decreasing levels of our good gut bacteria which are key players in reducing inflammation. And lastly, dairy is a common allergen, with about 1 in 4 adults having a difficulty in digesting milk, whether it's lactose intolerance or a sensitivity to its casein proteins. Either way, any type of allergen can trigger inflammatory reactions through the release of histamines. If you feel particularly bloated after a few blocks of cheese, you might consider cutting dairy from your diet.
P.S. Don't worry about not getting enough calcium if you cut out dairy: A 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal found no correlation between fewer bone fractures and dairy consumption. Instead, check out these 20 Calcium-Rich Foods That Aren't Dairy.
Common culprits: No-sugar-added products, no-calorie "Diet" soft drinks
A 2014 study published in Nature found that artificial sweetener consumption in both mice and humans enhances the risk of glucose intolerance by altering our gut microbiome. Researchers also found an increase in bad gut bacteria that have previously been associated with type 2 diabetes. When our bodies can't metabolize glucose properly, it can lead to a greater release of inflammatory cytokines, as is the case with sugar and refined carbs. On top of that, artificial sweeteners disrupt the composition of our gut microbiota by decreasing levels of the good bacteria Bacteroides, which are known to help release anti-inflammatory compounds. Find out where your favorite sweetener lies on our exclusive report, Every Popular Added Sweetener—Ranked!
Common culprits: Breakfast cereals, beverages, processed foods containing fruit, candy, ice cream
Artificial means not found naturally in nature. And that means your body usually doesn't have a way to process it. Ingredients like artificial coloring—which are made from petroleum (oil)—have been implicated in a host of health issues, from disrupting hormone function, to causing hyperactivity in children, to tumor production in animal studies. And a meta-analysis in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that our immune system attempts to defend the body from these synthetic colorants, which activates the inflammatory cascade. Another study by researchers at Georgia State University found that additives like emulsifying agents used to thicken foods can disrupt the bacterial makeup of the gut, leading to inflammation and weight gain in animals. The evidence in humans is sparse, but your best bet would still be to steer clear of these ingredients, and stick to their natural counterparts.
Common culprits: Burgers, pizza (& cheese), candy, chips, full-fat dairy
We may have just absolved saturated fats of their connection to heart disease, but that doesn't mean they're out of the woods just yet. That's because multiple studies have connected saturated fats with triggering white adipose tissue (fat tissue) inflammation. This white tissue is the type of fat that stores energy, rather than burns energy like brown fat cells do. And as your fat cells get bigger with greater intakes of saturated fats, they actually release pro-inflammatory agents that promote systemic inflammation, according to a review in the journal Expert Review of Cardiovascular Therapy.
Conventional Grain-Fed Meats
Common culprits: Beef, chicken, pork
Because cattle, chicken, and pigs didn't evolve on a grain-fed diet, many producers have to load up their animals with antibiotics. These drugs not only keep the animals from getting diseases in cramped feedlots or getting sick from their unnatural diet, but they also help them (and us) gain weight faster. Altogether, this means we're eating meats that are higher in inflammatory saturated fats, have greater levels of inflammatory omega-6s from the corn and soy diet, and our body thinks it's in a constant state of attack due to ingesting leftover levels of antibiotics and hormones. Even worse, when we grill meat at high temperatures, it creates inflammatory carcinogens. Besides limiting red meat to under three days a week, make sure you pick up lean cuts of grass-fed beef for your protein. This healthy source provides more healthy saturated and trans fats as well as inflammation-fighting omega-3s. And you can also add a bit of lemon juice to your meats—the acid acts as an antioxidant, protecting you from the harmful carcinogens producing during grilling.
Common culprits: Bacon, hot dogs, bologna, sausage, jerky
Processed meats are the worst of both worlds. They're typically made from red meats high in saturated fats, and they contain high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), inflammatory compounds that are created when these processed meats are dried, smoked, pasteurized, and cooked at high temperatures. Not to mention the fact that these sometimes "mystery meats" are injected with a slurry of preservatives, colorings, and artificial flavorings that also register as foreign attackers to our immune system.
Gluten from Store-Bought Bread
Common culprits: These worst, store-bought breads
Many of the breads on the market can go from flour and yeast to baked bread in just a few hours. But this shortening of the period of fermentation causes a decrease in the amount of starch and gluten the yeast typically can pre-digest for us. Without the assistance in digestion, it can be harder for our bodies to digest the bread's gluten, causing inflammation in the lining of your intestines. Experts believe this could be one reason for the rise in gluten sensitivity among Americans. Another theory is that modern strains of wheat contain a super starch known as amylopectin A, which has been shown to have inflammatory effects. Either way, store-bought breads should be a pass if you've been struggling to lose weight. We are, however, giving bakery-made sourdough the green light; Sourdough bread is one of the surprising fermented foods that provides healthy probiotics to help heal your gut—key in helping to reduce inflammation!
A Second Round of Alcohol
Common culprits: Beer and wine
While some research has shown a drink a day can actually lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein (CRP), too much alcohol actually has the opposite effect. That's because the process of breaking down alcohol generates toxic by-products which can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body's immune system. On the other hand, the flavonoids and antioxidants found in wine—as well as the probiotics in beer—might actually contribute an anti-inflammatory effect, according to a study published in the journal Toxicology. We can't say it enough, "Everything in moderation!" Here are 23 more reasons you should consume alcohol in moderation!
Trans Fat Foods
Common culprits: Margarine/shortening, baked goods like doughnuts, cookies, muffins, non-dairy coffee creamers, frozen pizza, frosting, microwave popcorn, crackers
Because manmade partially hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats, do not occur naturally in foods, our body doesn't possess an adequate mechanism to break them down. And when our body senses an unknown, foreign object, it can stimulate an inflammatory response. According to the Mayo Clinic, these trans fats can cause inflammation by damaging the cells in the lining of blood vessels. And a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who ate foods high in trans fat also had higher levels of markers of systemic inflammation, like interleukin 6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP). Because the FDA's guidelines allow products with less than 0.5 grams of trans fats to claim 0 trans fats, be sure to read labels and look out for products with partially hydrogenated oils—like almost all of Dairy Queen's blizzards.
Common culprits: You know…
Even if you don't know how to pronounce it, you should know what phthalates (thāl-ates) are. That's because many of us are unknowingly eating this class of endocrine-disrupting chemical toxins. Similar to BPA, phthalates are used in plastic food and beverage packaging—and they're not staying there. Just this year, a study made headlines for its finding that people who often ate fast food had dose-dependent higher levels of phthalate metabolites than infrequent eaters. Bad news for all-day-breakfast lovers since a separate study published in Environmental Science & Technology found phthalates to be associated with the CRP marker of inflammation, and another study in Environmental Health connected higher exposure to phthalates with metabolic syndrome, a disease also commonly associated with increased levels of inflammation. If lowering inflammation isn't enough of a reason to ditch the BK, here are twenty more things that will stop happening to your body when you give up fast food.
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