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Top 5 Foods That Cause Inflammation


Inflammatory foods can contribute to chronic inflammation, a harmful and persistent state that can lead to various health issues. Understanding the impact of these foods on your body and identifying ways to reduce their consumption is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being. In this article, we discussed different types of foods that cause inflammation, their health risks, and how to adjust your lifestyle to combat inflammation.

What are Inflammatory Foods?

Inflammatory foods are dietary items that can trigger or worsen inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a normal physiological process, essential for healing and defending the body against injury and infection. It involves the activation of the immune system, which sends white blood cells and other chemicals to affected areas to protect and repair damaged tissues.

While acute inflammation is a beneficial response to injury or infection, chronic inflammation is a harmful state that can contribute to various health issues. Inflammatory foods can exacerbate this condition by promoting an overactive immune response, leading to ongoing inflammation even when there is no injury or infection present.

Identifying and reducing the intake of high inflammatory foods can help minimize the risk of chronic inflammation, thereby promoting overall health and well-being.

Health Risk of Inflammatory Foods

The consumption of inflammatory-causing foods has been linked to numerous negative health consequences. By increasing chronic inflammation, these foods can heighten the risk of developing various chronic diseases.

Research has shown that chronic inflammation is a common factor in numerous prevalent conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. One notable study published in the journal Nature Medicine, provides a comprehensive review of the relationship between inflammation and common chronic diseases (*). This study analyzes the relationship between inflammation and chronic disease and concludes that they are more closely linked than we previously knew.

Additionally, most inflammatory foods are calorie-dense and low in nutritional value, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Obesity itself is a risk factor for numerous chronic diseases and can further exacerbate inflammation in the body (*). By making healthier food choices and reducing the intake of inflammatory foods, you can not only lower your risk of chronic disease but also manage your weight better.

Types of Foods That Cause Inflammation

While there are many categories of food that can cause inflammation, the following food groups are the most commonly consumed in a typical western diet.

foods that cause inflammation

Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates are found in processed foods made from grains. During refinement, the outer bran and inner germ layers are removed from the grain, leaving only the starchy endosperm. This process removes nutrients and fiber, leading to a higher glycemic index and a lower nutritional value.

A meta-analysis of fifteen studies found that a diet high in refined carbohydrates was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, partially due to inflammation (*).

Another study showed that a pro-inflammatory diet, including refined carbohydrates, was associated with higher levels of inflammation markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) (*).

Some of the most common sources of refined carbohydrates include white bread, pasta, pastries, cookies, cakes, sugary cereals, and snack foods.

When choosing carbohydrate foods, opt for whole grains over refined carbohydrates, as they are higher in nutrients and fiber. Opt for whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and quinoa to reduce inflammation and improve overall health.

Processed Meats

Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or adding chemical preservatives. Examples include sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and deli meats. Processed meats have been linked to chronic inflammation and several health issues.

A meta analysis of fifteen studies found that consumption of processed meats increased the risk of colorectal cancer, partly due to the inflammatory effects of these meats (*).

Research also shows a positive association between processed meat consumption and increased inflammation markers, including CRP, and the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (*).

Try to limit processed meat consumption and choose lean, unprocessed meats like chicken, turkey, and fish. Plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, and tofu are also good alternatives for reducing inflammation.

Fried Foods

Fried foods are cooked by submerging them in hot oil or fat, typically at high temperatures. This cooking method can produce harmful compounds including bad fats such as trans fats and can also increase the calorie content of foods, contributing to inflammation and other health issues.

Regular consumption of fried foods has been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease, partly due to inflammation (*).

Some of the fried foods to limit in your diet include french fries, fried chicken, doughnuts, onion rings, and other deep-fried snacks. Additionally, when preparing meals, choose healthier cooking methods, such as baking, grilling, or steaming.

Sugar Sweetened Beverages

Sugar-sweetened beverages are drinks that contain added sugars, such as soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks. These beverages are a significant source of added sugars and empty calories in the modern diet, contributing to inflammation, obesity, and other health issues.

A 2009 study showed that women who consumed higher amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages had an increased risk of coronary heart disease due to the pro-inflammatory effects of these drinks (*).

Replace sugar-sweetened beverages with healthier options like water, herbal tea, or unsweetened coffee. For a boost in flavor and nutrition, infuse water with fruits or herbs for a delicious taste without the added sugars.

Excessive Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption is defined as drinking more than the recommended moderate levels, which is generally two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Excessive alcohol intake has been linked to inflammation and a wide range of health issues, including liver disease and cardiovascular problems (*).

Excessive alcohol consumption has also been associated with increased levels of inflammation markers, including CRP and interleukin-6 (IL-6), among older adults (*).

Stick to moderate alcohol consumption levels and consider having alcohol-free days to reduce your risk for chronic inflammation. You can also try opting for non-alcoholic beverages like sparkling water, herbal tea, or mocktails when socializing or dining out.

How to Adjust Your Diet to Reduce Inflammation

To maintain healthy inflammation levels or lower high inflammation levels, try making the following changes to your lifestyle.

Consume Anti-inflammatory Foods

Include a variety of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet to help reduce inflammation. These foods are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that help combat inflammation. Examples of such foods include:

  • Fruits: Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), cherries, oranges, and grapes.
  • Vegetables: Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens), broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Spices and herbs: Turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and rosemary.

Limit Pro-inflammatory Foods

Reduce the consumption of foods that are known to increase inflammation. Look at the list of inflammatory foods to avoid above and ensure that they make up only a small portion of your diet to minimize your risk of increased inflammation levels.

Maintain a Healthy Weight and Lifestyle

Obesity and being overweight can contribute to chronic inflammation (*). Adopting a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that supports a healthy weight can help reduce inflammation. Additionally, consider implementing other lifestyle changes to your schedule such as:

  • Regular exercise: Engage in moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling, to help reduce inflammation and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get adequate sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night, as poor sleep can contribute to inflammation.
  • Manage stress: Practice cortisol-reducing techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises to help lower inflammation levels.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods, limiting pro-inflammatory foods, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce inflammation and its associated health risks. By making these adjustments to your diet and daily routine, you can take a proactive approach to promoting better health, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, and improving your overall quality of life. Remember that every individual is unique, and it is essential to find a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that works best for you to optimize your health and reduce inflammation.

11 References

Furman D et al. Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. 2019 December 5

Ellulu M et al. Obesity and inflammation: the linking mechanism and the complications. 2016 March 31

Fan J et al. Dietary glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and stroke mortality: a systematic review with meta-analysis. 2012 December 20

Shivappa N et al. Associations between dietary inflammatory index and inflammatory markers in the Asklepios Study. 2015 February 2

Larsson S et al. Meat consumption and risk of colorectal cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. 2006 December 1

Woudenbergh G et al. Meat Consumption and Its Association With C-Reactive Protein and Incident Type 2 Diabetes. 2012 June 12

Cahill L et al. Fried-food consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease: a prospective study in 2 cohorts of US women and men. 2014 June 18

Fung T et al. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. 2009 February 11

Gao B et al. Inflammatory Pathways in Alcoholic Steatohepatitis. 2019 February

Mukamal K et al. Alcohol consumption and inflammatory markers in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. 2004 March

Hildebrandt X et al. Cell death and inflammation during obesity: “Know my methods, WAT(son)”. 2022 September 29


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