Foods That Cause Inflammation
Bad news. Your yummy snacks are likely laced with ingredients that cause inflammation.
Inflammatory foods are the most widely available, often hiding in plain sight.
But these things wreak havoc all over your body. They cause chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.
Less severe reactions to inflammatory ingredients include bloating and acne.
Want to feel better immediately? Bone broth is rich in proteins like glycine that help reduce inflammation in your body.
Try Bluebird Provisions Chicken bone broth today and see how great you feel.
Before we dive in, a quick note: this website is reader-supported. I spend a lot of time personally evaluating, testing and reviewing each product on this list. When you buy through links on our site, I may earn an affiliate commission.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is an immune response your body activates in response to anything it doesn't recognize. Things your body doesn't recognize could be infection, injury, chemicals, environmental triggers like plant pollens, microbes or excessive stress.
Your immune system produces it to try to remove these foreign stressors to protect you.
It is both good and bad. Good in the short-term, but long-term inflammation is both a cause and sign of serious health issues.
Is chicken inflammatory?
Based on the research we have now, chicken is not shown to be inflammatory. The focus of current research is on foods that promote inflammation, such as excessive sugar intake, common cooking oils with imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratios, trans-fats and dairy products.
However, it is important to note that the research does not mention chicken as an anti-inflammatory food either. Therefore, while chicken may not be considered as a food that promotes inflammation, you want to consume it in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.
Where in your body does inflammation happen?
Inflammation happens locally and systemically. You can get it in your joints (aka arthritis) or in your organs or heart.
As I mentioned above, it is a good thing sometimes. For example, when you sprain your ankle, inflammation is crucial to the healing process. It increases blood flow and sends white blood cells to help heal damaged tissues.
However, it can be bad as well. This is referred to as chronic inflammation. Chronic versions persist over weeks and months. Your body is in a constant state of stress trying to fight off infection.
You get incredibly run down and are more likely to get a chronic disease.
What Foods Cause Inflammation
Common foods that cause inflammation include refined carbs, alcohol, fried food, vegetable oil, added sugar, trans fats, artificial sweeteners and ulta-processed things. Check the infographic below and get a full breakdown of each of them further down the page.
Risk Factors for Chronic Inflammation
- Excessive and uncontrollable stress. This is an important distinction because our body treats stress we perceive as uncontrollable much worse than stress we can fix.
- Sleep disorders
- Living with air pollution
How Inflammation is Detrimental to Your Health
Chronic inflammation that happens every day is incredibly dangerous. In fact, just about every bad health disease is linked to it, including:
- Heart Disease
- Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and Irritable Bowel Disease
- Autoimmune Conditions like lupus
- Joint conditions like arthritis
- Asthma and allergies
- Kidney Disease
You may think I’m being dramatic in saying that cancer is linked to it. However, the National Cancer Institute stated that inflammation creates DNA damage that can lead to cancer (1).
Foods that cause inflammation also lead to weight gain, which is pro inflammatory in and of itself.
If you want to find it, start in your kitchen before you reach for the medicine cabinet.
Research shows that certain things have a protective effect on inflammation (like bone broth). These natural anti-inflammatories can reduce it along with your risk of chronic disease.
Read below for our report outlining the top anti-inflammatory nutrients and simple tweaks you can make to your diet to remove them.
However, you must reduce your intake of inflammatory inputs first. Adding anti-inflammatory nutrients will not help you if you are still eating them with the bad stuff.
Here are the top 8 inflammatory foods you should avoid.
List of Foods that Cause Inflammation in the Body
From sugar sweetened beverages and vegetable oil to fried chicken and processed things, you are getting the full list of foods that cause inflammation in all its detail.
1. Refined Carbohydrates, Flour Products, bread (Carbs) and Inflammation
These are carb sources that are stripped of all nutrients and fiber. Refined carbs are also highly processed into many of our favorite things we see everyday like:
- Baked goods and sweets (bagels, bread, cookies)
- White rice
The carbs above have almost no nutritional or diet benefit, but carry a risk. Your body converts them into glucose for fuel. The problem is that most of us have too much glucose and don't need more. Especially if we are sedentary.
Refined carbs are obvious nutrients that cause inflammation. They also have a high glycemic index (GI). High GI carbs will spike your blood sugar levels into oblivion.
Eat this instead
The cool thing is that swapping refined carbs for whole grains can reduce harm. Choose whole wheat options or ancient grains like spelt and buckwheat. Nowadays you can even find chickpea pasta for goodness sake. And it tastes pretty good too!
I won’t spend a ton of time on alcohol because you know it is awful for you, but we still drink it. I get it.
The truth is that alcohol is a major cause of inflammation. One study showed that regular alcohol use increases inflammatory markers like CRP (C-Reactive Protein) (4).
Most alcohol product is laden with sugars and carbs that spike your blood sugar as well.
Alcohol can also decrease your gut health and cause heartburn or indigestion.
3. Vegetable Oils
Vegetable oils should be consumed sparingly. But they’re in almost everything.
Inflammatory vegetable oil include soy, corn, safflower, sunflower, canola and peanut oil.
Why is vegetable oil considered inflammatory in your diet? They’re high in omega-6 fatty acids.
While your body needs some omega-6s, we get too much of them because they are in everything. Excess omega-6s causes damage in our cells (5).
You need to prioritize omega-3s in order to improve your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
Some research suggests a ratio of 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3 in your diet is optimal. However, most of us are closer to 15:1.
This is because they are cheap fillers used in processed things Why are they so cheap?
The crops that go into inflammatory oil rely on government subsidies and are produced in massive monocrop farm operations.
Please read your ingredient labels. So many seemingly healthy things are laced with them.
The worst culprits are salad dressings, sauces and vegan meat substitutes.
Eat this instead
Extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are great sources of healthy fat for cooking. Make sure they are both organic and from good sources. If you want a recommendation, checkout Atlas for olive oil and nutiva avocado oil.
Avocado oil also has a high smoke point for pan frying and makes for the perfect base for any salad dressing.
You can also use coconut oil, ghee or tallow in your diet.
4. Fried Food like Fries
We’ve all reached for chicken strips, chips or fried mozzarella sticks in the past. Heck, I ate chips yesterday.
Fried things are delicious, but sit front and center of the inflammatory list. They’re cooked in a savage combination of trans fats and vegetable oils (see above).
Trans fats directly increase many markers of inflammation. They’re also shown to increase your LDL cholesterol while lowering your HDL cholesterol. This combination makes you susceptible for heart disease (6).
The danger with trans fats really can’t be understated. You must read your labels because they hide in plain sight in all "diet friendly" grocery store items.
Anything that says: ‘hydrogenated oil’ is code for trans fats and should be avoided in your diet. These typically appear in baked goods, fried food and butter substitutes.
Lastly, fried stuff are usually full of refined carbohydrates as well. It really doesn’t get much worse than deep fried chicken. Sorry taste buds!
5. Sugars and High Fructose Corn Syrup
Another ingredient hiding in every processed food is sugar. The most popular forms of added sugar are sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
They’re similar but are used in slightly different ways. High fructose corn syrup is used in sugar-sweetened beverages, soda, ice cream and candy.
Sucrose is used in baked goods, cookies, juice, cereals and chocolate.
Sugar is incredibly inflammatory and is shown to lead to chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, autoimmune conditions and obesity (7).
Sugar and HFCS are particularly inflammatory because they’re high in fructose. Yes that same fructose is found in our favorite carbs like fruit.
Interestingly, your body treats fructose from sugar and HFCS differently than fructose from fruit. So no need to cut back on your fruit intake.
Processed fructose and sucrose diets increases your risk markers of heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease (8).
Finally, sugar can counteract the positive effects of omega-3s in your diet.
Eat this instead
Sugar should be used sparingly. There are more natural sources of sugar found in honey or maple syrup. These are better alternatives than sugar. However, your body still treats the sugar in maple syrup the same as sugar in a can of soda.
6. Trans Fats Or Inflammatory Ingredients
Trans fats are hydrogenated oils used as ingredients in many things which are awful for our health. They’re artificially made by adding hydrogen to oil in order to make it stable. Sounds awful.
Labels will read: ‘partially hydrogenated oils.’ You read above how fried things are full of trans fats.
Inflammatory Foods List
- Butter substitutes, margarine and particularly vegan butter alternatives
- Fast favorites like french fries
- Pastries and cakes
High trans fat intake can increase your inflammatory markers by 78%. They also directly increase your risk for all chronic diseases (9).
It’s important to note that certain meats naturally contain some trans fats. These are not dangerous the same way that trans fats from hydrogenated oils are.
Eat this instead
If you do buy products with trans fats look for less than 1 g trans fats per serving.
7. Ultra Processed Foods and Fake Meats
This is a category you’ll find in grocery stores. Let’s call them ‘frankenfoods.’
They are so highly processed that many are using the term ultra processed.
These are processed meals things that contain:
- Nasty additives
- Flavour enhancing agents
- Thickening agents
They also go through multiple processing techniques like heat, molding, extrusion, milling, etc.
What happens when you process things and add the nasty inputs listed above? You get the most dangerous and inflammatory meals.
Processed Food and Inflammation
Many processed meats like hotdogs, sausages and chicken nuggets fall into the category of processed foods and lead to inflammation.
What you may not realize is that some popular faux meat products also fall into this category.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are ultra considered processed. They are incredible feats of genetic engineering.
They use many of the techniques and additives listed above. Some have even compared them to dog food. Although I won’t go that far.
I’ve written at length about both, so read up if you want a deep dive into how they’re made.
Consuming processed meat products increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers ( 10). Experts think that colon cells particularly get inflamed due to processed meat products.
8. Artificial Sweeteners
The silent assassin in your diet. Artificial sweeteners are all the rage, they sneakily sweeten all low-sugar dietary products.
They are widely used and applauded for their ability to mimic sugar without the negative consequences of sugar.
But the truth is we do not know the long-term effects of them. You rarely get a free lunch with these types of things. Put another way, you’re paying for it some other way.
For example: sucralose (aka splenda) is shown to cause liver issues in animal models (11).
We also know that artificial sweeteners disrupt our gut bacteria. Your gut plays a major role in controlling inflammation. So anything that disrupts gut function could cause it.
There are new artificial sweeteners in vogue every year. For example, stevia, monk fruit, erythritol are three popular ones now.
While stevia and monk fruit may come from natural sources, we’re not sure the long-term effects.
So far those two seem to be more naturally made than other artificial sweeteners. They may not cause issues, we are not sure.
Eat this instead
Like I said above for sugar, you can find more natural forms of sugars or more natural artificial sweeteners.
But it is best to gradually reduce your intake. Your tastebuds change and your gut bacteria changes. Over time, you will not crave sweetness like you once did.
Read my companion piece to this: 12 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods, plus eating plan you can start today.
FAQs about Pro Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Here are answers to your most frequently asked questions about inflammatory and processed food.
Is gluten pro inflammatory?
Gluten is only pro inflammatory if you have a true gluten intolerance like celiac disease or a form of irritable bowel disease. In these cases, you should avoid gluten in your diet. However, many people think they are gluten intolerant when they are not.
Is red meat inflammatory?
Red meat is not inflammatory because there's no good evidence that red meat is more inflammatory than other meats. Some research shows red meat being less inflammatory, but there might be people who react to red meat differently and flare up.
There's no good reason for most people to cut out red meat due to their concern of inflammation.
Are there foods that cause inflammation in joints?
Foods that cause inflammation in joints are the same ones that inflame your whole body, these include sugar, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, fried food, refined carbs, hyper processed food and alcohol. Learn some unique and new ways to fix your stiff joints.
Do processed foods cause inflammation?
Yes, processed foods do cause inflammation because they are loaded with dangerous ingredients. It is the root of all disease, but it's also a major cause of weight gain.
What are some foods that cause chronic inflammation?
There are many foods that cause chronic inflammation in your body. Here is a brief list:
- Ultra-Processed meals
- Trans fats and hydrogenated oils
- Dairy products, especially pasteurized dairy products (many people are lactose intolerant, which means they have a hard time digesting lactose. When this happens it wreaks havoc on your digestive system and causes a lot of damage).
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Fried fast food meals
- Refined Carbs
What are some pro inflammatory foods to avoid?
Some pro inflammatory foods to avoid are refined sugar, gluten and dairy products. Sugar is a well known contributor to inflammation in the body.
These foods should be avoided because they can lead to symptoms of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer.
Do nuts cause inflammation?
Most research shows that nuts do not cause inflammation, in fact, they are inversely correlated with it. Most nuts are high in monounsaturated fats which are better for you that saturated. Walnuts, almonds, and many other nuts may help reduce heart disease.
Inflammation can be both good and bad. For the sake of this article, you should be concerned about chronic or long-term damages.
One food that helps decrease inflammation in your gut and joints is bone broth. Bluebird Provisions makes the an anti-inflammatory bone broth just for you. Try some today and see for yourself.
There are many negative health outcomes associated with long-term inflammation. These include: heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and autoimmune conditions.
There are many foods that cause issues in all of our diets. These foods are best eaten in moderation.
Have you suffered from issues from bad food? Did changing your eating help? Leave a comment and let me know.
Also, share this with someone who may be eating too many inflammatory foods; we’re in this together.
Images via juststock, sumner graphics, chokmoso, naypong, getty images
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It is a wonderful highly educative article applicable to all walks of
society in simple language.
Lack of awareness of processed and ultra processed food in modern people everything related to how busy one is?
My lifestyle at 68 although kept myself fit showed the coronary artery blockage warranting stent insertion. Being medical doctor regrettably never had a lecture on nutrition. I didn’t know where to start? I manage to put the gig saw puzzle finding the answers in plant based whole food to the extent my energy levels are incredibly high, switched over to nutritious one meal a day to reverse metabolic syndrome and all else, so much so on 16 April, I completed 35km in 7hrs and 40min at 69 yrs of age. I have fully learnt the downside of modern industrialised food industry packages with written labels, yes! I don’t go near these, I am able to sprint, stamina is amazing.
I only wish look at their own preventative health future.