Are These Pro-Inflammatory Foods Making You Sick? A Nutritionist Explains. (2022)

I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it again: Inflammation gets a bad rap. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to believe that all inflammation is harmful, but that’s not the case. As with most wellness-y things, there’s a delicate balance between too much and not enough. When it comes to inflammation, we want just the right amount. However, many of us have too much and chronic inflammation is widespread, thanks, in part, to the Standard American Diet. Given that it’s deficient in produce and contains excessive amounts of low-quality meat, refined grain products, and sugar, eating this way can have numerous adverse effects. These foods create a pro-inflammatory state. While I’m an advocate of enjoying all foods in moderation, there are certain foods to avoid for inflammation. So, let’s dig in.

Edie Horstman

  • Double-certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Nutrition Consultant
  • Are These Pro-Inflammatory Foods Making You Sick? A Nutritionist Explains. (1)

Edie is the founder of nutrition coaching business, Wellness with Edie. With her background and expertise, she specializes in women’s health, including fertility, hormone balance, and postpartum wellness.

What Is Inflammation And Why Do We Need It?

When our bodies recognize a foreign invader—such as a microbe, plant pollen, or chemical—our immune system lights up. This process is called inflammation. Like iron, we need some inflammation in order to be well. Inflammation is a vital part of our immune system. It signals the body to heal and repair. It’s a defender against foreign invaders, like viruses and bacteria. However, too much inflammation isn’t helpful. One of the best ways to decrease inflammation in the body? Eat anti-inflammatory foods. These foods nourish the body on a cellular level and they help avoid unwanted inflammation. From seasonal produce to omega-3 rich fish, there are a variety of ingredients that ward off inflammation.

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Are These Pro-Inflammatory Foods Making You Sick? A Nutritionist Explains. (2)

What Causes Inflammation?

A host of factors cause inflammation. To name a few: Smoking, obesity, alcohol, and chronic stress. From unhealthy lifestyle habits to eating ultra-processed foods, inflammation can quickly spin out of control.

Can Too Much Inflammation Be Dangerous?

Yes. As mentioned, we need some inflammation. You want to meet adequate levels of inflammation to support your body’s immune system. Without inflammation, wounds would take longer to heal and infections could become deadly. However, too much inflammation can be dangerous. When inflammation persists on a daily basis, that’s when it can do harm. In fact, many major diseases have been linked to chronic inflammation.

(Video) ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS | what I eat every week

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How Does Inflammation Affect Your Mental Health?

Growing evidence indicates that inflammation affects how we feel. Said differently: Too much inflammation can negatively affect mental health. In terms of brain health, specifically, too much inflammation is correlated to a variety of mental illnesses. Inflammation is capable of producing depression, anxiety, fatigue, and social withdrawal. Brain inflammation not only damages and destroys brain cells, but it can speed up aging and atrophy of your brain. In turn, this can put you at risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s, and more.

How Does Inflammation Affect Your Body?

Like mental health, inflammation also affects the rest of your body. Chronic, low-level inflammation is partially responsible for a host of unwanted diseases and conditions. With acute inflammation (say, you fall and scrape your knee), chemicals from your body’s white blood cells are released to protect your body from invaders. This raises blood flow to the infected or injured area. It can cause redness, warmth, and swelling. These symptoms are normal.

However, if you’re constantly in a pro-inflammatory state, your body’s defense system goes into overdrive. As inflammation progresses, it begins to damage arteries, organs and joints. Left unchecked, it can contribute to chronic diseases. Think: Heart disease, blood vessel disease, and diabetes. Common symptoms of chronic inflammation include fatigue, body pain, weight gain (or loss), digestive issues, and persistent infections. Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation’s symptoms can be much more subtle.

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How Do You Know If You Have Inflammation?

Other than the aforementioned tell-tale signs, the most common way to measure inflammation is to conduct a blood test for C-reactive protein (hs-CRP). This is a marker of inflammation. Doctors also measure homocysteine levels to evaluate chronic inflammation, as well as blood sugar to assess damage to red blood cells. If you experience regular pain (that is not attributable to an injury), you may be dealing with chronic inflammation. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to get to the root cause.

What Foods Make Inflammation Worse?

Beyond lifestyle habits, there are certain ingredients that can also promote inflammation. While this varies from person to person, fast food, high-sodium frozen meals, omega-6 vegetable oils, and conventionally-raised, processed meats have been associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers.

Furthermore, fried foods or packaged ingredients that contain industrial seed oils have also been linked to increased levels of inflammation. Last but not least, sugar-sweetened beverages and refined carbs can promote inflammation. Let’s dive into foods to avoid inflammation.

12 Foods to Avoid for Inflammation

When it comes to foods to avoid for inflammation, they’re the opposite of leafy greens, bright berries, and colorful spices. Avoid these 12 foods to potentially decrease inflammation in your body.

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Doughnuts

Not all desserts are inflammatory. You can have your cake (or pie) and eat it too. However, most doughnuts—especially these—are loaded with pro-inflammatory ingredients, artificial flavors, refined sugar, etc. Not to mention, they spike blood sugar.

Sugary Cereals

One of the reasons why added sugars are harmful is that they can increase inflammation. Furthermore, too much sugar puts you at higher risk of diabetes. Sugary cereals are also ultra-processed, lacking fiber, protein, and healthy fats to aid in satiation.

White Bread

Unlike their 100% whole grain counterparts, white bread is stripped of fiber and other nutrients. Fiber is key for regulating blood sugar. Unfortunately, white bread is a processed carb that promotes inflammation. However, sourdough is a great choice!

Margarine

Margarine is often very high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids. Some scientists believe excessive omega-6 intake may promote inflammation. Furthermore, most margarines contain trans fats, and they are often added to processed foods to extend shelf life.

Hot Dogs

As with other low-quality processed meats and red meat, hot dogs are pro-inflammatory. They are high in saturated fat, table salt, and may contribute to colorectal cancer. Keep in mind that when it comes to hot dogs, there’s a sliding scale. When possible, aim for hot dogs that are uncured and made from grass-fed beef. These, for example, get my stamp of approval.

Canola Oil

Canola oil is one of the most inflammatory foods. It’s refined and high in omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, it’s in everything! Reading labels on packaged food is key. Research shows that a healthy balance of omega-6s and omega-3s is important, but most packaged foods contain too many omega-6s. In turn, these cause consistent inflammation.

Corn Syrup

Along with table sugar, high fructose corn syrup is a commonly added sugar. Compared with regular sugar, it’s cheaper and sweeter. Plus, it’s more quickly absorbed into your body. However, eating too much HFCS can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, and other pro-inflammatory conditions.

Potato Chips

Similar to fries, potato chips are a carb, loaded with sodium, and tend to be fried in an inflammatory vegetable oil (peanut, canola, etc.). All three of these factors make them likely to irritate bodily inflammation. Instead, opt for chips that are fried in avocado oil.

Pretzels

Like white bread, potato chips, popular cracker brands, etc. pretzels can be another pro-inflammatory food. They’re often made with canola oil and sugar. To get your pretzel fix, opt for either of these brands.

Mozzarella Sticks

Although mozzarella sticks are rich in protein, they are also high in saturated fat and sodium, which can increase your risk for obesity and other inflammatory diseases. Oftentimes, they’re coated in refined flour and fried in inflammatory oils, like canola. Can’t curb the craving? Try these!

Soda

It’s no surprise that soda is on this list. In a randomized clinical trial, only those in the soda group had increased levels of uric acid. This drives inflammation and insulin resistance. Sugar can also be harmful because it supplies excess amounts of fructose.

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Energy Drinks

Along with soda, energy drinks are typically loaded with sugar. Not to mention, a ton of caffeine. Drinking too much caffeine can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, thus causing anxiety and insomnia. This overstimulation can cause negative effects from head to toe. Furthermore, chronic release of cortisol—through the regular use of stimulants in energy drinks—increases inflammation.

6 Foods to Eat to Calm Inflammation

On the flip side, there are foods and beverages that reduce inflammation. And with it, chronic disease. In particular, fruits and vegetables—such as blueberries, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens—are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols.

Avocados

Avocados are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Avocados help calm inflammation. In one study, participants who consumed avocado with a hamburger, as opposed to just a hamburger, had lower levels of a few inflammatory markers.

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Recipe: Sunday Night Avocado Toast by Camille Styles

Blueberries

All berries are an incredible source of antioxidants. They contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. These are compounds that may reduce the risk of diseases. Blueberries, in particular, contain flavonoidsthat can help fight inflammation. They also have chemicals that help regulate your immune system. In turn, reducing chronic inflammation.

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Recipe: Paleo Blueberry Muffins by Paleo Running Mama

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin olive oil containsnumerous phenolic compounds. Of interest is one compound in particular—oleocanthal. Oleocanthal possesses similar anti-inflammatory properties to ibuprofen.

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Recipe: Greek Salad by Love and Lemons

Sardines

Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are fatty fish with omega-3s. Research has shown they have potent anti-inflammatory properties. EPA and DHA, both present in these fish, reduce inflammation that can lead to chronic illness and disease.

Recipe: Mini Fish Cakes by Champagne Tastes

Leafy Greens

Spinach, kale, collards, and more, leafy greens are anti-inflammatory powerhouses.They’re filled withvitamin E—a natural antioxidant—shown to reduce inflammation in the body

Recipe: Superfood Detox Salad by Fit Foodie Finds

Turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin, a chemical that might decrease swelling and inflammation. Along with fenugreek and cinnamon, these anti-inflammatory spices contain medical properties, including the ability to increase the body’s antioxidant capacity.

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(Video) Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition and Foods

Recipe: Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tea by Elizabeth Rider

FAQs

Which foods are pro-inflammatory? ›

The pro-inflammatory foods are red meats, processed meats, organ meats (i.e. liver, kidney, brain, heart), non-oily fish (i.e. white fish), eggs, sugar-sweetened beverages (i.e. soda), tomatoes, and refined grains (bread or pasta and white rice).

Are inflammatory foods a real thing? ›

Inflammatory foods included red, processed, and organ meats; refined carbohydrates; and sweetened beverages. Anti-inflammatory foods included green leafy and dark yellow vegetables, whole grains, fruit, tea, and coffee.

Are anti-inflammatory diets evidence based? ›

Research demonstrates that anti-inflammatory diets reduce markers of inflammation in the body and the risk of chronic conditions. A 2016 review found that the Mediterranean diet reduced C-reactive protein — a test that indicates inflammation in the body — by 20%, and overall heart disease risk by 30%.

What foods quickly reduce inflammation? ›

13 of the Most Anti-Inflammatory Foods You Can Eat
  • Berries. Berries are small fruits that are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. ...
  • Fatty fish. ...
  • Broccoli. ...
  • Avocados. ...
  • Green tea. ...
  • Peppers. ...
  • Mushrooms. ...
  • Grapes.

What is the strongest natural anti-inflammatory? ›

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids , which are abundant in fatty fish such as cod, are among the most potent anti-inflammatory supplements.

Is pro-inflammatory good? ›

Some cytokines act to make disease worse (proinflammatory), whereas others serve to reduce inflammation and promote healing (anti-inflammatory). Attention also has focused on blocking cytokines, which are harmful to the host, particularly during overwhelming infection.

Do bananas cause inflammation? ›

Bananas are versatile fruits with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties that can help counteract inflammation and support the body's immune system. People may benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding pro-inflammatory foods.

Are eggs inflammatory? ›

Consuming eggs regularly can lead to an increased amount of swelling and joint pain. The yolks contain arachidonic acid, which helps trigger inflammation in the body. Eggs also contain saturated fat which can also induce joint pain.

What is the fastest way to reduce inflammation in the body? ›

To reduce inflammation fast, limit your intake of sugar and processed foods. Perhaps, more importantly, though, pursue exercise, stress-reducing behaviors, a good night's sleep, and a diet full of colorful, anti-inflammatory foods.

How do I get rid of inflammation naturally? ›

Follow these six tips for reducing inflammation in your body:
  1. Load up on anti-inflammatory foods. ...
  2. Cut back or eliminate inflammatory foods. ...
  3. Control blood sugar. ...
  4. Make time to exercise. ...
  5. Lose weight. ...
  6. Manage stress.
Jan 15, 2020

What foods worsen inflammation? ›

What foods cause inflammation?
  • Red meat and processed meats, including bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats and cured meats.
  • Refined grains, including white bread, white rice, pasta and breakfast cereals.
  • Snack foods, including chips, cookies, crackers and pastries.
  • Sodas and other sweetened drinks.
  • Fried foods.
Jun 29, 2022

Is oatmeal anti-inflammatory? ›

Background: Oat and its compounds have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Is peanut butter inflammatory? ›

The short answer is no, and in fact, peanuts and some peanut products like peanut butter have been shown to be anti-inflammatory. Inflammation in the body is a mechanism thought to be at the center of the majority of chronic diseases.

Are eggs anti-inflammatory? ›

Are eggs an anti-inflammatory food? Yes. Eggs are a source of vitamin D, which has anti-inflammatory effects. 10 They're also a good source of protein and B vitamins.

What fruit is good for inflammation? ›

Eat these fruits for their anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Berries. From strawberries and blackberries to cranberries and blueberries, these gemlike fruits are particularly potent in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. ...
  • Apples. ...
  • Stone fruits. ...
  • Grapes. ...
  • Citrus. ...
  • Pomegranates. ...
  • Image: Kwangmoozaa/Getty Images.
Oct 13, 2021

Is coffee inflammatory? ›

Research suggests that coffee does not cause inflammation in most people—even if your norm is more than one or two caffeinated cups. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Coffee may have anti-inflammatory effects in the body.

Is yogurt inflammatory? ›

Yogurt is associated with decreased inflammation, decreased insulin resistance and it may prevent type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Hu says. Nutrition researchers believe yogurt's anti-inflammatory power comes from the probiotics it contains, but that has yet to be confirmed with rigorous trials, he says.

Does vitamin D reduce inflammation? ›

An active metabolite of vitamin D—(not the over-the-counter version) — is involved in shutting down inflammation, which could potentially be beneficial in patients with severe COVID-19.

What vitamin helps with inflammatory? ›

Vitamin C. Vitamin C, like vitamin D, is an essential vitamin that plays a huge role in immunity and inflammation. It's a powerful antioxidant, so it can reduce inflammation by neutralizing free radicals that cause oxidative damage to your cells ( 55 ).

Can too much vitamin D cause inflammation? ›

Hypercalcemia can cause acute pancreatitis, which is the term for inflammation of the pancreas. A 2017 review found that 2 of 19 people with vitamin D toxicity experienced acute pancreatitis as a complication. Each had taken an average of 6,000,000 international units (IU) of the vitamin over 1–3 months.

Are eggs inflammatory? ›

Consuming eggs regularly can lead to an increased amount of swelling and joint pain. The yolks contain arachidonic acid, which helps trigger inflammation in the body. Eggs also contain saturated fat which can also induce joint pain.

What are the 5 classic signs of inflammation? ›

Based on visual observation, the ancients characterised inflammation by five cardinal signs, namely redness (rubor), swelling (tumour), heat (calor; only applicable to the body' extremities), pain (dolor) and loss of function (functio laesa).

Is Oatmeal inflammatory? ›

Background: Oat and its compounds have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Is cheese an inflammatory food? ›

Based on the body of science, dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese do not cause inflammation and can be a part of anti-inflammatory diets.

Is chicken an inflammatory food? ›

High intake of chicken and pork proteins aggravates high-fat-diet-induced inflammation and disorder of hippocampal glutamatergic system. J Nutr Biochem.

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