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Foods That Cause Inflammation, and the Best Alternatives to Replace Them With

You’ve probably heard of inflammation. It might not sounds like something serious, and more so an inconvenience or a byproduct of a reaction. You may feel it plays no role in your life right now. But inflammation is something everyone should be aware and concerned with, just as you would the quality of your drinking water, or the chemicals in the products you use everyday.

The link between inflammation and many common illnesses

Inflammation at unhealthy levels, has now been linked to a majority of major illnesses, and even for symptoms that may not seem like a big deal, they could be acting as warning signals from your body. Symptoms including frequent brain fog, headaches, fatigue, stiff joints, skin rashes including psoriasis and eczema, digestive troubles, allergies and asthma, belly fat and even depression or anxiety, on a chronic, ongoing basis are often signs of more significant lurking risks. For those who aren’t as fortunate to receive the more mild tempered warning signs of inflammation in the body, things like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes can stir up quickly, causing more radical life adjustments and sometimes too late.

Making the right food choices throughout the day can be a struggle given societal norms at social gatherings, time constraints with busy schedules, the urge to order lunch out with your colleagues, and even the alluring treats ingrained in our culture through celebrations and holidays. Having your own healthier but comparable alternatives on hand can help you make better food choices in these circumstances.

How inflammation presents itself in many forms and all body types

Inflammation, while it can be prevalent with obesity, can also easily take place in all body shapes and sizes. It’s crucial to take note of the things you are eating and drinking regularly and even keeping a food diary where possible if you think you could be experiencing inflammatory symptoms, to assist in slowly identifying foods that could be linked to your ailments. Not everyone will have the same responses to all foods, since we all have slightly different triggers and sensitivities that need to be nurtured and could also be temporarily due to inflammation. Even if you show no signs currently, it’s worth considering the incorporation of more anti-inflammatory dietary choices in your life as a tool of prevention.

For some who have been very accustomed to eating and drinking foods and beverages freely and without concern, making these lifestyle adjustments can be extremely hard. Starting slow by making realistic smaller changes with things you know are could be inflammatory is an option to get you down a healthier path, although sometimes it can be riskier and take longer than more radical adjustments. Meanwhile, if you have the willpower to opt into a diet of whole foods, minimally packages or processed ingredients, and a diet of mostly vegetables with some protein and whole grains, you can count on your diet to help shape a better, healthier role in your life, in the hopes of limiting as much reliance on solutions from the pharmacy.

Common inflammatory food triggers, and alternatives to substitute with

Sugar– Refined carbs and sugar have been routinely observed as one of the leading causes of inflammation in the body. You might be surprised at just how many foods sugar and sugar alternatives including high fructose corn syrup are sneaked its way into. Most people are already aware of soft drinks being a number one culprit. In addition to regular soft drinks, the aspartame in diet alternatives can be even worse. This can be one of the hardest food choices to abandon, but with time, it will prove to be life changing. An alternative to help move away from drinks like these is to switch to natural brands of flavored seltzer waters or even plain club soda with a squirt of lemon, lime, or fruit of your choice.

Dairy– In recent years, dairy has come under the knife as being a major culprit of inflammation. The truth is, for many it can lead temporary symptoms beyond those who suffer from lactose intolerant. New research, suggests it may not implicate everyone the same, and that the inflammation is not necessarily causes by dairy, but can be a product to those with sensitivities. That’s why, if you have any of the classic symptoms of inflammation all around, particularly any digestion or skin issues, it can be worth exploring the effects dairy has on you with a food journal. As an exception, yogurt can often be well-tolerated for those with dairy sensitivities (although not always). Thankfully, the market for alternatives is robust these days with options including almond Milk, coconut milk and even oat milk taking a role where regular milk once stood.

Orange juice– Many juices including orange juice, while they do have nutrients and vitamins and can be ok in moderation, if drinking frequently, the sugar content can add up. It’s estimated that for an adult with a diet of 2,000 calories or less, you should have no more than 50g of sugar in a day, while a glass of orange juice can ring in half of that daily recommended dose of sugar at around 20g. If you can’t bear to part with your morning glass of O.J., try cutting it in half and adding some seltzer water or club soda for a spritz. Or if you have the motivation, try this 10 minute recipe for squeezing your own oranges into a blend for your own juice can also be a better substitute.

Processed Milk Chocolate and Candy– While most regular milk chocolate and a lot of processed candy usually exceeds sugar recommendations and also are disguised with high fructose corn syrup, dark chocolate on the contrary can be a perfect substitute for small sweet cravings. It has been known to contain antioxidant properties as well as flavanols which fight inflammation.

Gluten – The gluten-free craze might seem like a fad, but there is plenty of research to support that gluten sensitivities can implicate health beyond those who suffer with celiac’s disease. A protein known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs),or plat-derived proteins found in wheat, have been shown to trigger immune responses in the gut that can spread to other tissues in the body. Fortunately like dairy, there are plenty of alternatives including brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat and chickpea pastas, flours and grains that can be incorporated in moderation with diet for a complete, wholesome meal.

Soy – Hold the soy sauce – While soy is often toted as a healthy option especially int he vegan world, a lot of soy products can wreak havoc on the body in different ways. Starting with the fact that it is commonly present in the form of soybean oil, used in many GMO foods that are packaged and processed, soy has high levels of β€œisoflavones”, which mimics estrogen, and in higher levels increases in naturally occurring estrogen have been linked to cancer growth and reproductive issues. It is often troublesome to anyone with gluten sensitivity as it is structurally similar on the molecular level and hard for your body to distinguish the difference. On top of this, soy sauce is loaded with an incredibly high amount of sodium beyond the recommended daily intake. A great alternative to soy sauce is coconut aminos, which doesn’t hail in comparison to the high sodium content in soy sauce, and contains healthy aminos, potassium and vitamins while remaining low on the glycemic index.

Alcohol – Most people are already aware that alcohol should be taken in moderation, but beyond the liver, what exactly are the implications of excess alcohol consumption as it relates to inflammation? While red wine is commonly attributes to help with inflammation, it must be used with moderation. Yeast that is part of the process when fermenting wine, beer, and all grain alcohols can commonly attribute to gut implications, an underlying trigger of many inflammatory issues. If you have a hard time opting out of alcohol altogether, your best option would be to stick to smaller limited amounts of red wines with less sugar, or a grain free vodka with a splash of tonic or club soda and a lime.

Eat more of these anti-inflammatory foods to help the fight

So we’ve covered a lot of “food culprits” to this point, and you may be wondering, what is actually good to eat in the fight against inflammation? The good news is, in addition to all the alternatives we recommend above, we have a list of a ton of delicious inflammation-fighting foods well recognized:

Berries including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries




Salmon and oily fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids


Tumeric and Ginger






Kale and leafy greens like collards

Walnuts and almonds

Broths including bone broth, chicken broth and vegetable broths

Olive oil

Avocado oil

Whole Grains

Dark Chocolate

Green Tea

Of course, if you are experiencing an array of digestive issues or food sensitivities, it may be worthwhile to consider sticking temporarily to basic vegetables and proteins that are lower in histamine, until restoring better gut health often linked to inflammation. As always, we recommend talking to your general practitioner as you consider making any drastic lifestyle changes. In a world where we have unlimited food options that implicate our health over time, we also have more abundance than ever of healthy food choices and alternatives to choose from. Making the right choices countless times a day can be one of the hardest lifestyle adjustments you make, but can also yield the greatest rewards to your physical and mental well being, and longevity.

Catherine Rotman