Instalment 4: About beverages, and things to try to eliminate from your diet

Drink more of:


Coffee consumption reduces inflammation1 although this is influenced by dose, preparation method, and coffee type. It also reduces inflammation in the brain2. Caffeine does not seem to be involved.

The anti-inflammatory effect may be responsible for the finding that coffee consumption reduces risk of type 2 diabetes3, Parkinson’s disease4, certain cancers5, and dementia6. Coffee also reduces mortality risk7. It may act through reducing insulin secretion8.

Green tea

Tea, especially green tea, has many of the same health benefits as coffee9, and reduces inflammation10, again, possibly through decreasing insulin levels11.

yerba maté and rooibos tea

Yerba maté is a type of bush used to produce a tea that is widely consumed as an energy drink in South America. It has been found to have anti-obesity12 and anti-inflammatory13 effects, possibly because it lowers insulin14.

Rooibos, a well-known herbal tea consumed for centuries, has anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-cancer effects15.

Red wine (resveratrol)

Resveratrol, a substance found in grape skins, is believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects on health of drinking red wine. It’s a polyphenol which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory16, and anti-carcinogenic effects and increases longevity17. It has been shown to lower insulin levels18.

Try to eliminate:

Ultra-processed foods

What are ultra-processed foods? The NOVA food classification system (considered to be the most specific, coherent, clear, comprehensive and workable system) groups foods according to the extent and purpose of industrial processing; ultra-processed foods are typically high- energy-dense products, high in sugar, unhealthy fats and salt, and low in dietary fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. According to Monteiro et al19, “A practical way to identify an ultra-processed product is to check to see if its list of ingredients contains at least one item characteristic of the NOVA ultra-processed food group, which is to say, either food substances never or rarely used in kitchens (such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or interesterified oils, and hydrolysed proteins), or classes of additives designed to make the final product palatable or more appealing (such as flavours, flavour enhancers, colours, emulsifiers, emulsifying salts, sweeteners, thickeners, and anti- foaming, bulking, carbonating, foaming, gelling and glazing agents).”

A report prepared at the University of Montreal20 details the detrimental effects of ultra-processed foods on the health of Canadians. The report’s authors list examples of ultra-processed foods as “carbonated drinks and other packaged sweetened juices and drinks, mass-produced packaged breads, chocolate and candies, cakes, biscuits, pastries, desserts and ice-cream, sweetened breakfast cereals, sweetened and flavoured yogurts and other milk-based drinks, packaged soups and noodles, margarine, as well as many ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat meals and “fast” foods and dishes.”

I will discuss the effects of some of the additives found in ultra-processed foods which contribute to inflammation, under the headings of: sugar, other sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, and fat replacers.


Food manufacturers have found a number of ways to hide the actual amount of sugars added to products. There are at least 56 different names that you will find on lists of ingredients for sugar, including names that are deliberately misleading such as “organic dehydrated cane juice”. In general, additives with names ending in -ose, syrups, or fruit juices (especially if described as evaporated or dehydrated) usually refer to added sugars. In Canada, most manufactured foods are required to have a Nutrition Facts Table which lists the total amount of sugars in grams. Unfortunately, this is the amount in the “serving size” given at the top of the table, forcing you to do a calculation to find the grams of sugar per 100 grams of product, which is the usual way of specifying ingredient quantities and makes it easy to compare different products. Nevertheless, you need to consult this table if the ingredients list contains more than one additive which appears to be a sugar.

Why is sugar important? The two main sugars are glucose and fructose; sucrose, or table sugar, is a compound of one molecule of glucose and one of fructose; less common sugars include maltose, galactose, and lactose. Glucose, when absorbed into the bloodstream, stimulates insulin secretion, and insulin, as discussed above, drives inflammation as well as the conditions of aging such as cancer, diabetes, dementia, and so on.

Fructose, on the other hand, is only ¼ as effective as glucose in stimulating insulin secretion, but is perceived as sweeter. Thus it has been recommended to replace glucose and sucrose as a sweetener because it “should” be less likely to promote obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, that’s not the case. According to Wikipedia “When consumed in excess as a sweetening agent in foods and beverages, fructose has been associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders that are part of metabolic syndrome”21. How fructose manages this remains a mystery.

A recent book by Mark Schatzker, a Toronto-based food journalist, titled “The End of Craving: Recovering the lost wisdom of eating well”22 may shed some light. Schatzker points the reader to research suggesting that when we consume a food or drink where the caloric content is not related to what we would predict from its sweetness (for example, a soft drink sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup) the energy is absorbed but not utilized as fuel; instead, it gets stored as fat; even worse, we will eat or drink more and more in an attempt to get the fuel we need. This is not enjoyment of food; it’s a craving.

Other sweeteners (agave syrup, honey)

While there is lots of evidence that implicates high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a manufactured product, in causing obesity and metabolic syndrome which goes on to become type 2 diabetes, the link remains controversial23, likely because HFCS is so profitable for many companies. Unfortunately, even though they are natural products, honey and agave syrup are high in fructose, and so may cause the same problems as HFCS.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, are food additives that contribute sweet taste with little or no caloric content. Examples are aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, cyclamate, stevia, and sugar alcohols such as erythritol, xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol. It’s been known for a long time that sweet taste on the tongue stimulates insulin secretion, even if no calories are ingested (the so-called cephalic phase insulin release)24. Does this insulin spike contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome, or to inflammation 25?

But it is also possible that these sugar substitutes cause a condition of uncertainty as to the food supply in the people (or animals) consuming them, and this uncertainty results in a craving for calories eventually leading to excessive energy intake, as suggested by Schatzker26 (ch 8).

Fat replacers (fat substitutes)

Schatzker also points out the finding that the substitution of fat in processed foods leads to weight gain, even though the food items themselves have fewer calories27. The mismatch between the sensory qualities of the food (taste, mouth feel) and the caloric content caused by replacing real fats with fat substitutes is believed to lead to food uncertainty, food craving, and overall increased intake, as for sugar substitutes.

So read the ingredient label carefully, and avoid products with descriptors like no fat, low fat, or diet. Shopping carefully, for example in the organic foods section, will lead you to whipping cream which has only cream and possibly yogurt made from only whole milk and bacterial cultures. Good luck!

That’s all for instalment 4. Thank you for reading! And feel free to leave comments or questions!

In instalment 5 I’ll be discussing behaviours that are helpful in controlling inflammation.

  1. Paiva C, Beserra B, Reis C, Dorea JG, Da Costa T, Amato AA. Consumption of coffee or caffeine and serum concentration of inflammatory markers: A systematic review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59:652-663. PMID 28967799
  2. Madeira MH, Boia R, Ambrósio AF, Santiago AR. Having a Coffee Break: The Impact of Caffeine Consumption on Microglia-Mediated Inflammation in Neurodegenerative Diseases. Mediators Inflamm. 2017;2017:4761081. PMID 28250576
  3. Salazar-Martinez E, Willett WC, Ascherio A et al. Coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann Intern Med. 2004;140:1-8. PMID 14706966
  4. Higdon JV, Frei B. Coffee and health: a review of recent human research. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46:101-123. PMID 16507475
  5. Je Y, Hankinson SE, Tworoger SS, Devivo I, Giovannucci E. A prospective cohort study of coffee consumption and risk of endometrial cancer over a 26-year follow-up. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011;20:2487-2495. PMID 22109346
    Schmit SL, Rennert HS, Rennert G, Gruber SB. Coffee Consumption and the Risk of Colorectal Cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2016;25:634-639. PMID 27196095
  6. Eskelinen MH, Kivipelto M. Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S167-74. PMID 20182054
  7. Freedman ND, Park Y, Abnet CC, Hollenbeck AR, Sinha R. Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 2012;366:1891-1904. PMID 22591295
  8. Wu T, Willett WC, Hankinson SE, Giovannucci E. Caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and caffeine in relation to plasma C-peptide levels, a marker of insulin secretion, in U.S. women. Diabetes Care. 2005;28:1390-1396. PMID 15920057
  9. Bhatti SK, O’Keefe JH, Lavie CJ. Coffee and tea: perks for health and longevity? Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013;16:688-697. PMID 24071782
  10. Azambuja JH, Mancuso RI, Via FID, Torello CO, Saad STO. Protective effect of green tea and epigallocatechin-3-gallate in a LPS-induced systemic inflammation model. J Nutr Biochem. 2021108920. PMID 34875388
  11. Mohsenzadeh MS, Razavi BM, Imenshahidi M, Tabatabaee Yazdi SA, Mohajeri SA, Hosseinzadeh H. Potential role of green tea extract and epigallocatechin gallate in preventing bisphenol A-induced metabolic disorders in rats: Biochemical and molecular evidence. Phytomedicine. 2021;92:153754. PMID 34607205
  12. Gambero A, Ribeiro ML. The positive effects of yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis) in obesity. Nutrients. 2015;7:730-750. PMID 25621503
  13. Arçari DP, Bartchewsky W, dos Santos TW et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of yerba maté extract (Ilex paraguariensis) ameliorate insulin resistance in mice with high fat diet-induced obesity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2011;335:110-115. PMID 21238540
  14. Gambero A, Ribeiro ML. The positive effects of yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis) in obesity. Nutrients. 2015;7:730-750. PMID 25621503
  15. Sheik Abdul N, Marnewick JL. Rooibos, a supportive role to play during the COVID-19 pandemic. J Funct Foods. 2021;86:104684. PMID 34422116
  16. Rahal K, Schmiedlin-Ren P, Adler J et al. Resveratrol has antiinflammatory and antifibrotic effects in the peptidoglycan-polysaccharide rat model of Crohn’s disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2012;18:613-623. PMID 22431488
  17. Gruber J, Tang SY, Halliwell B. Evidence for a trade-off between survival and fitness caused by resveratrol treatment of Caenorhabditis elegans. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007;1100:530-542. PMID 17460219
  18. Mendez-Del Villar M, Gonzalez-Ortiz M, Martinez-Abundis E, Perez-Rubio KG, Lizarraga-Valdez R. Effect of Resveratrol Administration on Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Sensitivity, and Insulin Secretion. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2014PMID 25137036
  19. Monteiro CA, Cannon G, Levy RB et al. Ultra-processed foods: what they are and how to identify them. Public Health Nutr. 2019;22:936-941. PMID 30744710
  20. Nardocci M, Polsky J, Moubarac JC. How ultra-processed foods affect health in Canada. Report prepared for Heart and Stroke. Montréal: TRANSNUT, Department of Nutrition, University of Montreal; June 2019. Link to report
  21. Malik VS, Hu FB. Fructose and Cardiometabolic Health: What the Evidence From Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tells Us. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66:1615-1624. PMID 26429086
  22. Schatzker M. The End of Craving: Recovering the Lost Wisdom of Eating Well. Simon and Schuster; 2021:272.
  23. Stanhope KL. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2016;53:52-67. PMID 26376619
  24. Wiedemann SJ, Rachid L, Illigens B, Böni-Schnetzler M, Donath MY. Evidence for cephalic phase insulin release in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Appetite. 2020;155:104792. PMID 32707265
  25. Lin CH, Li HY, Wang SH, Chen YH, Chen YC, Wu HT. Consumption of Non-Nutritive Sweetener, Acesulfame Potassium Exacerbates Atherosclerosis through Dysregulation of Lipid Metabolism in ApoE^-/-^ Mice. Nutrients. 2021;13:3984. PMID 34836239
    Finamor IA, Bressan CA, Torres-Cuevas I et al. Long-Term Aspartame Administration Leads to Fibrosis, Inflammasome Activation, and Gluconeogenesis Impairment in the Liver of Mice. Biology (Basel). 2021;10:82. PMID 33499218
  26. Schatzker M. The End of Craving: Recovering the Lost Wisdom of Eating Well. Simon and Schuster; 2021:272.
  27. Swithers SE, Ogden SB, Davidson TL. Fat substitutes promote weight gain in rats consuming high-fat diets. Behav Neurosci. 2011;125:512-518. PMID 21688890

3 thoughts on “Instalment 4: About beverages, and things to try to eliminate from your diet

  1. Artemis

    Is coffee and tea to be avoided or included?
    You list them under “Beverages to avoid”but then go on to list their anti-inflammatory benefts.

    1. Henry Olders Post author

      Good pickup, Artemis!
      It appears that the Ulysses app I’m using to write these posts, is not updating wordpress correctly. Looks like I’ll have to take it up with the Ulysses developers!

  2. Pingback: Instalment 3: Eat less of certain foods –

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