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Inflammation-Washing: A Sneaky New Food Marketing Trend

Are anti-inflammatory foods and products really as effective as their advertising claims? Thanks to widespread inflammation-washing, many might be less helpful as they seem at first glance.

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Right now, fighting inflammation is at the top of everyone’s list. From anti-inflammatory foods and drinks to lotions, oils and creams, products that promise to reduce inflammation are everywhere you look. All of these products tout their health benefits, and it’s easy to be swayed by their claims. But too often, the potential advantages aren’t significant enough or science-supported. 

Anti-inflammatory foods and other products are everywhere – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find a salve or solution. Plenty of companies are practicing inflammation-washing, a trend that’s all about marketing and has little to do with improving your health.

Here’s why inflammation-washing is so prevalent, and how you can spot it in action in stores, online and anywhere else you’re shopping. 

Fighting inflammation is trendier than ever

If you’re worried about inflammation, you certainly aren’t alone. Inflammation is a sneaky chronic condition that can flare up and wreak havoc throughout your body, often without you even realizing it. It’s tied to plenty of health concerns and conditions from autoimmune disorders to cancer to diabetes to heart disease.

So it’s no wonder that so many of us are turning to food, supplements, drinks and herbs to combat inflammation. Unfortunately, this has made anti-inflammatory products trendier than ever before.

According to The NPD Group, inflammation is one of the top trends in foods, ingredients and other substances. Through 2019 and 2020, reducing inflammation was one of the top health concerns among consumers, and many people turned to food to solve inflammation. Turmeric and manuka honey, along with elderberry and moringa, were some of the top ingredients that consumers sought out to prevent or calm inflammation. 

And these fast-growing trends were just what companies capitalized on. As consumer interest in anti-inflammatory items grew, so did the amount of supposed anti-inflammatory products – and claims – available for sale.

Inflammation-washing is all about capitalizing on the newest buzzword

As inflammation became the trendiest ailment in need of a simple solution, increasingly more companies began to capitalize on it. That, in turn, has led to the phenomenon of inflammation-washing.

Inflammation-washing occurs when food and beverage manufacturers – or other brands – tout anti-inflammatory ingredients or benefits in products that may not actually have any positive impact on inflammation. 

These items might include an ingredient or food that can potentially reduce inflammation, but they also include ingredients that cause inflammation. For example, you might find a “healthy” snack bar with packaging that claims it’s anti-inflammatory because it includes turmeric, yet there’s a whole bunch of preservatives listed as ingredients. You might spot an “anti-inflammatory” juice that’s loaded with over 20 grams of sugar. In many inflammation-washing instances, the inflammatory ingredients typically outweigh any actual anti-inflammatory components. 

Brands are now using “anti-inflammatory” as a buzzword to catch consumers’ attention. Unfortunately, this can be purposely misleading. If you’re seeking an anti-inflammatory product, you’re likely going to believe what’s advertised on the packaging. Yet with a closer look, you may find that the exterior labels aren’t completely honest.

How to spot inflammation-washing in the wild

Inflammation-washing is a sneaky, potentially harmful marketing tactic that could lead you to purchase items that you might not buy otherwise. And in eating or using them, you could be doing more harm than good if you are living with chronic inflammation. 

In order to avoid these misleading claims and labels, you’ll want to take all anti-inflammatory products with a grain of salt. If something says it’s great for fighting inflammation, you’ll want to look at its nutrition and ingredients labels to determine if that’s really the truth. For example, anti-inflammatory gummies (like most gummy supplements) often contain added sugars and preservatives to make them taste delicious. 

How can you spot inflammation washing easily? In addition to seeking out inflammation-causing ingredients like sugar and preservatives, keep an eye on saturated fat too. Saturated fat ranks high on the list of inflammation-causing food groups, along with foods that are high in cholesterol. And if a product isn’t clean, it likely contains ingredients that you don’t want to consume for inflammation or your overall health.

It is possible to find genuinely anti-inflammatory products or foods. There are certain foods that have been found to reduce inflammation or include anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin, which is the primary compound in turmeric, is one such ingredient that’s been found to potentially reduce inflammatory markers. Foods rich in resveratrol, like grapes, blueberries and peanuts, may also have a positive effect on inflammatory markers. And you can also try an anti-inflammatory diet

It’s also important to remember that throwing a tiny bit of an anti-inflammatory herbs and spices like turmeric or a pinch of cayenne into a product doesn’t immediately work as a magic cure for inflammation. Regardless of whether or not these good ingredients are paired with inflammatory agents, there is no one product or food that’ll work as a magic anti-inflammatory cure.

To combat inflammation through food, you can give our anti-inflammatory meal plans a try. You can also highlight anti-inflammatory foods in every meal, like protein-rich beans, an anti-inflammatory gut-healing tea or prickly pear cactus. And if you aren’t sure if you might have chronic inflammation, look for these sneaky, little-known signs.