From Whole30 to Paleo to GAPS, elimination diets with the goal of helping people reduce general inflammation are all the rage - and it's no surprise: General inflammation has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, depression, and even cancer, so any diet that eliminates sources of that inflammation is going to help. But which foods should you cut from your diet? Functional medicine expert Amie Valpone, HHC AADP, has the answers.
Valpone, the best-selling author of "Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body," first encountered functional medicine after ten years of suffering chronic health issues from Lyme disease to PCOS to chronic candida to deadly c-diff colitis. After delving into research on the mind-body connection, Valpone restored herself to perfect health – and now she’s sharing what she learned.
The 13 Toxic Inflammatory Foods to Remove from Your Diet Right Now
We're all familiar with acute inflammation, like swelling around a cut or bruise. But while this sort of inflammation helps our bodies to heal, most Americans today are plagued by chronic inflammation, stemming from habitual or environmental factors that we encounter every day: stress, pollution, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor diet.
While it’s true that eliminating certain inflammatory foods from your diet can lead you to better health, there’s certainly a balance to strike: after all, eliminating too many things can lead you to feelings of deprivation, which often results in throwing caution to the wind and eating everything you’re not supposed to!
For Valpone, there are 13 critical inflammatory foods to eliminate if you want to start feeling better without feeling deprived.
It's probably no surprise that gluten is on this list: while only about 1 percent of the population actually has Celiac disease, a 2016 study found that a different but related protein called amylase-trypsin inhibitors caused inflammation even in people without Celiac.
Cutting out gluten (and amylase-trypsin inhibitors) not only means cutting bread, pasta, and beer from your diet but also some processed foods including soy sauce. Be sure to read labels carefully to ensure that gluten isn't sneaking its way onto your plate.
Dairy is another food that very commonly causes inflammation.
"We are perhaps the only mammal on Earth that willingly and purposefully drinks the milk of other animals," Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior dietician at UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, tells SELF Magazine.
Research has linked the consumption of dairy to the increased risk of certain types of cancer including breast cancer and prostate cancer. In addition, pasteurizing milk converts lactose into beta-lactose, which can spike blood glucose levels; when glucose levels are elevated over a long period of time, this can lead to general inflammation and metabolic disease.
Fermented dairy like yogurt tends to be less problematic, but Valpone recommends omitting it for at least three weeks before attempting to add it back into your diet.
While soy was a popular health food for years, it turns out that it may not be the superfood we once thought it was. Not only is most soy produced in the U.S. genetically modified, but soy – especially unfermented soy – is linked to a number of health issues. The goitrogens in soy can interfere with thyroid health, and studies have linked soy's phytoestrogens to disrupted endocrine function and increased risk of breast cancer.
Corn has long been a staple food for Native Americans, but it can also be inflammatory, given its high sugar content.
“Corn is not a vegetable,” writes Paleo guru Mark Sisson on his blog, Mark’s Daily Apple. “We are perplexed as to when corn entered the American dietary lexicon as a veggie, because it’s a grain – and a really unhealthy grain at that. Corn is the most sugary, starchy, empty grain there is.”
When corn was being consumed as a staple food amongst indigenous communities, it was soaked in lye first; this process, known as nixtamalization, makes the B vitamin niacin and other nutrients more available for assimilation.
While nixtamalized corn is more nutritious than plain corn on the cob, for the purposes of Valpone’s 21-day reset, you’ll want to abandon all corn, including corn syrup and corn starch.
The data surrounding caffeine and inflammation is very mixed. While quite a few studies have actually linked coffee to anti-inflammatory benefits that reduce the risk of diabetes and lung disease, Advanced Science News notes that there is much we don’t know about caffeine, and "contradictory effects" linking caffeine to general inflammation and chronic diseases are known.
Eggs, like caffeine, can be anti-inflammatory for some and inflammatory for others. According to a 2015 study in Nutrients, the effects of egg consumption can vary depending on whether the person eating them is healthy, overweight, has metabolic syndrome, or diabetes.
Valpone herself notes that she had to cut out eggs for a period of time before being able to add them back to her diet.
“After I'd healed my body and healed my gut, I eat three eggs a day,” she says.
7. Refined Sugar
Not only does refined sugar spike blood glucose levels, it has no added nutrients or benefits whatsoever. Several animal studies, including one from 2011 published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, have shown that a high-sugar diet can lead to obesity, increased gut permeability, and low-grade inflammation, and a 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sugar-sweetened beverages could promote inflammation in otherwise healthy young men.
For the purposes of Valpone's reset, this item also includes sugar substitutes like maple syrup, stevia, honey, and erythritol.
Alcohol is number eight on Valpone’s list, but it may as well be number one when it comes to anti-inflammatory protocols. Not only does quite a bit of alcohol, such as beer, contain gluten, but alcohol is metabolized by the body as sugar.
A 2010 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology reports that “the key inducer” of inflammation, lipopolysaccharide, is “significantly” increased by alcohol.
“Chronic alcohol use impairs not only gut and liver functions, but also multi-organ interactions, leading to persistent systemic inflammation and ultimately, to organ damage. The study of these interactions may provide potential new targets for therapeutic intervention.”
Seafood including fatty fish are often touted for their health benefits, but shellfish might do the exact opposite. One 2004 study found that higher intakes of meat and shellfish led to men developing gout, a form of arthritis characterized by inflammation of the joints due to a buildup of uric acid.
Valpone also notes that much shellfish sold in the United States has been contaminated with heavy metals and should thus be avoided.
Not only are peanuts one of the most common food allergens in the United States, but peanuts can contribute to inflammatory processes even for those who are not allergic. This is due, in part, to an imbalance in the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids; peanuts are high in inflammatory omega-6 and low in anti-inflammatory omega-3.
Peanuts are also inflammatory due to naturally occurring molds that develop on this groundnut: Aflatoxins are commonly found on peanuts and can contribute to inflammation.
11. White Potatoes
White potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, along with eggplant and tomatoes. Valpone does not exclude all nightshades for the purposes of her 21-day reset, though she notes they can be problematic for some.
Potatoes, however, get the ax – and not because they are nightshades. Due to their starchy nature, white potatoes have a very high glycemic index, which means that consuming them regularly can lead to chronic inflammation. For the purposes of this reset, this means getting rid of potato flour and potato starch too.
12. White Flour (Even Gluten-Free)
Valpone also restricts all baked items made with white flour – including gluten-free flours such as white rice flour, coconut flour, and almond flour. This is due to the fact that the naturally occurring fats in the base ingredients have been stripped away, leaving only residue that, according to Body Ecology, can "inflame the lining of the gut and contribute to constipation."
"Flour is never a gut-healthy food — gluten-free or not," explains Body Ecology. "It still feeds Candida and it’s so gummy that it clogs our intestines little by little over the years."
"All white floors turn to sugar in the body, so they are highly inflammatory," says Valpone. "It's like sawdust!"
13. Canned Food
This last item on the list restricts you to whole foods – a choice that was made for a number of reasons.
Firstly, packaged and processed foods can contain a myriad of ingredients ranging from additives to preservatives to hidden sugars. By staying away from packaged foods, you also stay away from these problematic ingredients.
But for some people, staying away from canned food may have more to do with the can itself than the processing.
“If you're dealing with eczema, arthritis, auto-immune disease... you're cutting out everything,” explains Valpone. “The metals from the can leach into the food, so it doesn't matter if it's BPA-free or not, you're still going to be consuming heavy metals.”
What Comes After the 21 Days?
An anti-inflammatory protocol is a process: once the three weeks of the reset are over, you can begin adding some of the inflammatory foods back to your diet in order to determine which – if any – of the foods on this list are still problematic for you.
“It's not that eggs are bad," says Valpone. "It's not that dairy is bad. It's just that in certain people, they're highly inflammatory, because your immune system has been knocked out of whack by stress or toxins or whatever it may be, and you've got to remove that so that the body can heal, and then you can reintroduce it.”
For Valpone, the secret is in learning to listen to your own body.
“I do terrible with beans and grains; I do better with fats and proteins and vegetables. I don't do as great with fruit. But you might do amazing with fruit,” she says. “You have to let people tap into themselves and find their own power and find what works for them. And I think that's what we're all scared to do.”
Confront your fears and listen to your body, and you’ll soon be on the path to total wellness.
Related on Organic Authority
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Catherine Zeta-Jones Swears By
5 Lesser-Known Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Add to Your Diet (And a Few Foods to Ditch!)
Inflammation: The Silent Killer (And How to Outsmart Your Own Body)