6 inflammation-causing foods no one talks about

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There's a five-alarm fire sounding these days about inflammation, and with good reason. Heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, and acne are just some of the possible consequences of too much inflammation in the body.

Related: Your guide to natural sweeteners

According to Nicholas Perricone, M.D., the pioneering nutritionist and dermatologist (who wrote the book on anti-inflammation eating), our bodies actually depend on temporary inflammation to help fight off sudden injuries or infection. But when that inflammation becomes chronic, "the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells, and the process that ordinarily heals becomes destructive."

Related: Is the 80/20 diet actually a diet?

Like so many health issues, the main culprit is too much sugar, which is why you've probably heard the sweet stuff singled out—as well as other well-known offenders, like dairy, booze, and trans-fat-filled fried foods. But inflammation can sneak up on you via lots of seemingly innocent foods. Here are six surprising sources you might want to approach with caution. —Amanda Benchley

6 inflammation-causing foods no one talks about
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6 inflammation-causing foods no one talks about
1. Agave

Despite its (questionable) rep as a worry-free sweetener, agave is ultimately still full of sugar—with a fructose content of up to 90 percent. “Sugar suppresses the activity of our white blood cells, which makes us more susceptible to infectious disease (colds, the flu, and so forth) as well as cancer,” explains Dr. Perricone. Plus, sugar overload can cause collagen fibers to lose their strength, making skin “more vulnerable to sun damage, wrinkles, and sagging,” he adds.

2. Frozen yogurt

Froyo has two potential inflammatory culprits: sugar and dairy. Milk can boost insulin levels and male hormones, and it’s a common allergen, which means it can trigger inflammatory reactions (anything from diarrhea to hives). But not all frozen yogurts are created equal, says Andrew Weil, M.D., director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the College of Medicine, and an anti-inflammatory evangelist. “Some frozen yogurts contain the milk protein casein, which may increase inflammation,” he explains. “Others contain specific probiotics that may actually reduce it.” (And some frozen “yogurts” contain no dairy at all and use coconut milk.)

3. Barley and Rye

These healthy (and delicious) grains don’t cause the same sugar spike that refined carbs do, but they can spark inflammation in some people. Why? The short answer is gluten. If you’re at all sensitive to it, and especially if you have Celiac disease, consuming barley or rye (in food or booze form) can cause your tissues to flame up. Go easy on these grains, especially if you are already feeling ache-y or having joint pain—two possible indicators of inflammation.

4. Seitan

Sure, you love the chewy, meat-like texture, but there’s a reason why this veggie staple is known as “wheat meat”: It’s made entirely from wheat gluten. And when it comes to inflammation, gluten “can trigger the immune system, causing inflammation in the intestinal tract,” explains Melissa Wood, nutritional health coach at The Morrison Center in New York City. And that can mean IBS, constipation, or bloating for some people.

5. Peanuts

Like milk, peanuts are a common allergen—and allergies set off a broad inflammatory response in the body while it struggles to fight off the foreign agent. Plus, peanuts are prone to molds and fungus, which can also result in inflammatory reactions, says Wood. So you may want to pass on the peanuts, and instead opt for raw organic almonds or other tree nuts and butters, she advises.

6. Seasoning mixes

Short-cut seasoning mixes may add an easy flavor burst to black bean tacos and salad dressings, but according to Wood, they usually contain artificial coloring (which can disrupt hormone function and lead to inflammation), and a big scoop of sugar. To get the same taste without all the bad stuff, she recommends a combo of cayenne pepper, sea salt, cracked pepper, and apple cider vinegar that you make yourself. (Or here’s a healthy recipe for taco seasoning.)


Related: Why Splenda is worse for you than sugar

This post was originally published on November 4, 2013, and updated on August 25, 2015.

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Notable people with Alzheimer's
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Notable people with Alzheimer's
This file photo dated 04 November, 1991 shows US President Ronald Reagan giving a speech at the dedication of the library bearing his name in Simi Valley, California. He was US president from 1981 to 1989 and retreated from public life after it was revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. (Photo by J. David Ake, AFP/Getty Images)
In this Jan. 28, 2013, file photo, Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt smiles as a banner is raised in her honor before an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee seniors Cierra Burdick and Ariel Massengale were part of the last class of Lady Vols to play for Pat Summitt. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)
Glenn Campbell performs during The Goodbye Tour at the Ryman Auditorium on January 3, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ed Rode/Getty Images)
Picture dated 18 May 1991 of US actor Charles Bronson during the 44th Cannes film festival, southern France. Bronson died 30 August 2003 in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia. (Photo by Gerard Julien, AFP/Getty Images)
American painter Norman Rockwell, 75, poses in his Stockbridge, Mass., studio on Feb. 12, 1977. (AP Photo)
Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson in posed action, May 8, 1947. (AP Photo)
Abigail Van Buren, the 71-year-old advice columnist, was in Seattle to address the fall meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association, Sept. 28, 1989. (AP Photo/Robert Kaiser)
Actor Peter Falk on March 10, 1989 at his home in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Undated file photo of American actress and film star Rita Hayworth.(AP Photo)
392653 01: Actor Burgess Meredith performs in the television show 'The Twilight Zone.' (Photo Courtesy of Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images)
Actress Estelle Getty of "The Golden Girls" is shown at Trumps Restaurant in West Hollywood Jan. 29, 1986. (AP Photo/Steve Dakes)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 31: Actor James Doohan recieves his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame August 31, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

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