Foods That Cause Inflammation

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kevin Aister DO

Apr 21, 2020

Inflammation is a physical process that your body uses to fight pathogens and repair injured tissues. Sometimes, however, inflammation can become a problem. Sustained, chronic inflammation can have a damaging effect on a number of the body’s systems. This kind of inflammation may be implicated in a range of conditions, from minor problems like allergies to more severe and potentially life-limiting diseases.

You can reduce the levels of inflammation in your body through various means. One of the most effective for many people is adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. This kind of diet is high in anti-inflammatory foods (leafy green vegetables, fresh fruit, oily fish, and other healthy choices) and low in foods that produce inflammation.

Processed meat

In moderation, lean meat may safely be consumed as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. Processed meat, on the other hand, should be omitted. This includes foods like hot dogs, sausages, and burgers made from mechanically recovered meat. Ham and bacon may also produce an inflammatory effect, as can smoked meats in general. If you still want to eat ham or bacon, look for unsmoked organic products that are made without additives — especially dyes. Choose lean cuts that have undergone the least amount of processing.

Unhealthy fats

Some fats are necessary for a healthy diet, as they help your body to obtain critical fat-soluble vitamins. Too much fat, or fat of the wrong kind, can be a cause of inflammation and other health problems.

Fats to avoid include hydrogenated oils or trans fats, such as those found in margarine and other non-dairy spreads. Commercially available fried foods are often very high in trans fats. Note that baked goods and other prepared foods may also be very high in these substances and need to be avoided. Many seeds and vegetable oils like canola and soybean are also unhealthy and inflammatory. Instead, choose healthier oils like sunflower, olive, or coconut oil.

Sugars and refined carbohydrates

People have always consumed carbohydrates. Our paleolithic ancestors would have enjoyed carbs in the form of ripe fruit, certain roots, and whole grains. Carbohydrates are a natural part of your diet. Unfortunately, in their refined form, carbs can be a problem. Not only do refined carbohydrates raise levels of inflammation in the body, they also contribute to other health issues like obesity and tooth decay.

To reduce inflammation, you should try to cut out white flour and processed starches altogether. Switch white flour for flour made with whole grains and try to avoid sweet things. Remember that although brown sugar is often marketed as a health option, it’s not much better than white sugar or corn syrup.

Cutting out sugar and refined carbs can be a little tricky. As well as the obvious sources like table sugar, sugary drinks, candy, and pastries, sugar can sneak into sauces and other prepared foods — often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. For this reason, you’ll need to read the ingredients when buying prepared foods, sauces, and packet mixes. Foods made from scratch are often more healthy, as well as being more flavorful.

When cooking, you may need to tweak some of your recipes to cut down sugar. For example, you could stop sweetening your pasta sauce with sugar and instead add a grated carrot for a sweeter flavor. Instead of baking with white flour and sugar, experiment with tasty no-bake recipes that use naturally sweet ingredients like fruit.

Sweetened drinks

It’s common for people to overlook sugar consumed in beverages. These can be a significant source of sugar and other inflammatory substances. It’s generally a good idea to avoid all kinds of soda, regardless of whether you usually drink a diet or regular varieties. Even if you don’t quit altogether, however, you should cut out sodas that contain sugar or corn syrup. Instead of soda, drink plain water or inflammation-reducing teas and infusions.

As well as altering your diet, you can reduce inflammation through other lifestyle changes. Getting plenty of rest, taking moderate exercise, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco can all help reduce levels of inflammation and help you enjoy a better quality of life overall.

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