According to statistics from the World Health Organization, about 12.9 million people worldwide died from some form of cardiovascular disease in 2004. Each year, the World Cancer Research Fund estimates that some eight million people died from cancer. Heart disease and cancer, the deadly manifestation of chronic inflammation, are expected to remain as the leading causes of death in developed countries for many years to come.

To shift the balance to your favor, other than incorporating more natural anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, it is also equally important to avoid or cut down on foods which are known to promote inflammation. Here, we look at the foods which set the stage for inflammatory diseases:

SUGARS

Excessive sugar intake causes tooth decay and has been linked to increased risks of obesity, inflammation and chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Recently, it has also finally been proven that sugar, as well as dairy, are the causes of acne.

Sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks and punches are some of the major sources of dietary sugars that many have overlooked. Do you know that drinking a can of Coke is as good as sucking ten sugar cubes? Other obvious sugar-loaded foods to avoid or at least limit include pastries, desserts, candies and snacks. And when you are looking out for sugar in the ingredients list, note that sugar has many names: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, golden syrup, maltose, sorghum syrup and sucrose are some of the creative names used.

GRAINS

A lot of the grains we eat nowadays are refined. They are devoid of fiber and vitamin B compared to unpolished and unrefined grains that still have the bran, germ and the aleurone layer intact. This makes refined grains as good as refined sugars, which are practically empty calories. And like refined sugars, refined grains have a higher glycemic index than unprocessed grains and when they are consistently consumed, can hasten the onset of degenerative diseases like cancer, coronary disease and diabetes.

Products made from refined grains are almost everywhere. The common ones are: white rice, white flour, white bread, noodles, pasta, biscuits and pastries. To make things worse, many products with refined grains undergo further processing to enhance their taste and look, and are often loaded with excess sugar, salt, artificial flavors and/or partially hydrogenated oil in the process. A prime example is boxed cereals which contain substantial amounts of added sugar and flavorings.

GRAIN FED MEAT

Commercially produced meats are feed with grains like soy beans and corn, a diet that is high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids but low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Due to the small and tight living environment, these animals also gain excess fat and end up with high saturated fats. Worse, to make them grow faster and prevent them from getting sick, they are also injected with hormones and fed with antibiotics. The result is one piece of meat which you and I shouldn’t be eating.

Unless otherwise stated, most, if not all, beef, pork and poultry you can find in the supermarkets and restaurants come from feedlot farms.

PROCESSED MEAT

The link between processed meat consumption and cancer is even stronger. In the 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, processed meat has been stated as a convincing cause of cancers of the colon and rectum, and possibly of the esophagus and lungs too. Processed meat includes animal products that have been smoked, cured, salted or chemically preserved.

ARTIFICIAL FOOD ADDITIVES

Some artificial food additives like aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) reportedly trigger inflammatory responses, especially in people who are already suffering from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Only packaged foods contain artificial food additives. If you need to buy them, read the labels carefully and weigh your risks. If you order Chinese takeaways, make sure you have the option to ask for no MSG. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

COMMON COOKING OIL

Common vegetable cooking oils used in many homes and restaurants have very high omega-6 fatty acids and dismally low omega-3 fats. A diet consisting of a highly imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes inflammation and breeds inflammatory diseases like heart disease and cancer.

Polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as canola, grape seed, cottonseed, safflower, corn and sunflower oils. These industrial vegetable oils are also commonly used to prepare most processed foods and takeaways.

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