10 surprising foods that can cause inflammation

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

26 February 2018

1. Vegetable oils

Seed oils like sunflower and safflower are some of the most popular cooking oils out there, however, if you suffer from an inflammatory condition like arthritis or IBS, it might be worth reconsidering your options. This is because not only are such oils heavily processed – hardly surprising but stay with me here – but also because they contain unhealthy amounts of omega-6.

Hold on a second – aren’t omega 6 fatty acids healthy? Well, yes, they do play a big role in supporting proper brain function and development as well as maintaining bone health and metabolism, but too much of anything can be a bad thing. 

It’s always recommended that your diet consists of a healthy balance of omega 3 and omega 6 – whereas excess omega 6 can sometimes promote inflammation, omega 3 can help to reduce inflammation. The problem is that most diets consist of an unhealthy ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 which is where problems can arise. Again, not all omega 6 fatty acids have pro-inflammatory influences but those found in vegetables oils certainly do!

Our suggestion: Instead of vegetable oils why not opt for healthier alternative like olive oil or coconut oil? These nutritious oils are rich in healthy fats and can even help to ease inflammation – an added bonus!

2. Peanuts

Peanuts are a common snack and, although many are aware of the dangers of salted peanuts, unsalted peanuts are still very popular, with peanut butters often being added to smoothies for an extra dose of protein.

However, even if you’re not allergic to this common allergen, peanuts do contain aflatoxins. What are aflatoxins?  Well, they are a family of toxins produced by two different species of mould – yuck! These toxins are considered to be carcinogenic and can stimulate an inflammatory reaction – not ideal.1 

Our suggestion: Unfortunately, many healthy foods do contain traces of aflatoxin, including figs, nuts and quinoa! However, if it’s an extra protein kick you’re after, why not try chia seeds instead? They’re rich in protein, fibre, calcium and contain a happy balance of omega3 and omega 6 fatty acids!

3. Agave

Agave nectar is often a favoured substitute for honey by vegans and considered to be healthier than sugary syrups. This might not technically be true though – a more natural option, yes, but agave is almost completely fructose – sugar derived from fruit.

While fructose is naturally found in fruit and should exist in our diets, the problem again comes from excess and process. In most cases, the fructose present in our diet isn’t being derived from fruit but from refined foods, which is a problem as fructose can still be stored as fat – not good news for your waistline! It can also trigger inflammation so, unless your fructose is coming directly from fruit, it might be best to keep an eye on your intake and ditch the fructose.

Our suggestion: If you’re using agave syrup to add some sweetness to your porridge or smoothie, why not swap for cinnamon? Cinnamon is a natural sweetener with none of the sugar and it can even work as an anti-inflammatory!

4. Flavoured waters

If you read my blog ‘8 unexpected drinks that are bad for your health’, you’ll already be aware of my issue with flavoured waters. While many turn to them as a healthier alternative to fizzy drinks, sometimes they can contain almost as much sugar and are full of artificial sweeteners – not good news for those sensitive to inflammation!

Flavoured waters aren’t the only culprit – bottled smoothies also contain their fair share of sugar too and energy drinks are a whole other problem, which I cover in my blog ‘Are sports drinks really better for you?

Our suggestion: If plain water isn’t to your taste why not infuse it with some fresh fruit? Infuser bottles are extremely affordable and readily available in outlets like Wilko’s and most high-street supermarkets.

5. Seasoning mixes

Who doesn’t like fajitas or enchiladas? They’re delicious dishes full of vibrant flavours however, most of these flavours do come from a packet. Seasoning mixes might seem like a great way to add some kick to your meals but, unfortunately, they could also be upsetting inflammatory conditions like IBS and fibromyalgia.

This is because, hidden in these powders, there is normally a whole host of artificial colours, flavours and added sugars. This can be a big problem – firstly, because sugar is definitely not going to ease your inflammation, and secondly, because these artificial ingredients can upset your body’s immune system and disrupt your hormone function.

Our suggestion: If you’re looking to season a soup, why not try our Herbamare Seasoning Salt? This seasoning is 100% natural and free from artificial flavours and preservatives. Instead, it’s prepared using sea salt and extracts from 12 organically grown vegetables, including iodine-rich kelp!

If you prefer a spicier kick, we even have our own Herbamare Spicy Seasoning! However, when it comes to dishes like fajitas or chilli, you could try making your own seasoning using dried herbs and spices which are easily available at your local supermarket.

My Top Tip:

Our Herbamare Spicy contains a blend of organic herbs and vegetables with added chilli and black pepper for a spicy kick! Ideal for sprinkling over soups or adding to curries or dhal.

"All my family use the Herbamare range but this one is my personal favourite."


Read what other people are saying about Herbamare Spicy.

6. Processed soy foods

When people think processed foods, they often think of meat by-products, forgetting that vegan and vegetarian options like soy burgers or soy sausages are often heavily processed too and can be just as culpable when it comes to inflammation.

This is because processing soy can sometimes lead to the formation of toxins like lysinoalanine and nitrosamines which can impair your cells, triggering an inflammatory response.

Our suggestion: Instead of relying on processed soy, why not make your own vegan burgers from scratch? You can find plenty of simple recipes here that are absolutely packed full of flavour – my personal favourite happens to be the Quinoa & Black Bean Mexican Burgers!

7. Brunch bars

Feeling a bit peckish but know better than to reach for chocolate? Cereal or ‘brunch’ bars have really taken off in the last few decades, with consumers becoming more conscious about the health ramifications of crisps and chocolate.

However, this booming industry of healthfood snack bars isn’t quite what it seems and sometimes that healthy snack you’re munching on that claims to be under 100 calories contains almost as much sugar as an actual chocolate bar.

Those that aren’t teeming with sugar, do contain artificial sweeteners to make them more palatable… I’m sure you can see how this would be less than ideal for regulating any inflammatory symptoms!

Our suggestion: Instead of relying on shop bought snacks, why not make your own? Homemade energy balls and snack bars are simple, surprisingly quick to make and often a more affordable option. Why not try our Cinnamon & Chia Seed Energy Balls or our Easy No Bake Orange Oat Bars?

8. Seitan

Another favourite with vegans and vegetarians, seitan is prepared using wheat protein and, similar to soy burgers, can be extremely processed. This isn’t a good option if you have a sensitive stomach, are sensitive to wheat or gluten, or suffer from IBS as it can upset symptoms.  

Even if you don’t have any allergies or intolerances, shop-bought seitan can also be high in sodium and full of unwanted additives and fillers2,  which can still promote inflammation and negatively impact your blood pressure.

Our suggestion: Many turn to seitan because it provides a rich source of protein without being high in calories. If you’re looking for an alternative doesn’t contain the same amount of gluten or sodium, you could try tempeh. Tempeh is prepared using fermented soybeans, imbuing it with many probiotic benefits, as well as nutrients like manganese and magnesium.

9. Cereal

Here at A.Vogel we definitely adhere to the old adage that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, so it’s important to get it right. While starting the day with a bowl of cornflakes or granola might seem perfectly harmless, if you’re prone to inflammation, your cereal might not be as innocent as it seems.

This is because most cereals are packed full of added sugar, corn starch and refined grains. According to the British Heart Foundation, a 60g bowl of granola with fruit contains around 12% of your recommend daily allowance!3 

Our suggestion: Not all cereals are created equal so it might be an idea to get a bit savvier when reading the labels. As I explain in my blog ‘The truth about artificial sweeteners’, sweeteners can often hide in your food, disguised by misleading names. The shorter the ingredients list, the better! If you’re looking for an alternative to your usual breakfast cereals, I’d highly recommend our Spiced Two Ways Porridge!

10. Sugar-free

If something claims to be ‘sugar free’, ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’, don’t take it at face value. The idea of sugar-free snack bars or cola might seem too good to be true – and most of the time it is! Instead of sugar, many of these ‘sugar free’ products will contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener. As I discuss in ‘The truth about artificial sweeteners’, since aspartame is not natural your body might not know how to deal with it and will sometimes trigger an inflammatory reaction.

Instead, have a look at the ingredients list. Is it full of strange long words you don’t understand? Then it’s probably better to put it back on the shelf!

Our suggestion: If you’re after sugar free snacks or low fat biscuits, you’re probably better off making them at home rather than seeking them out on the supermarket shelves. At least this way, you know exactly what is going into them rather than hoping for the best.

(Origianlly published 26/02/2018, updated 30/04/19)




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