8 Foods That Cause Inflammation and Wreak Havoc on Your Body

Bad news. Your yummy snacks are likely laced with foods that cause inflammation. 

Inflammatory foods are the most widely available foods, often hiding in plain sight. 

But these inflammatory foods wreak havoc all over your body. Inflammatory foods cause chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.

Less severe reactions to inflammatory foods include bloating and acne.

Want help balancing out these inflammatory foods? Bone broth is rich in proteins like glycine that help reduce inflammation in your body. Learn about how bone broth can help you.

What is inflammation?

what is inflammation

Inflammation is both good and bad. Good in the short-term, but detrimental to your health in the long-term.

So what is it?

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 inflammation to try to remove these foreign stressors to protect you. 

Where in your body does inflammation happen?

Inflammation happens locally and systemically. You can get inflammation in your joints (aka arthritis) or in your organs or heart.

As I mentioned above, inflammation 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, inflammation can be bad as well. This is referred to as chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation persists 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.

Food Causing Inflammation Infographic

Look at the infographic below for common things in your diet that cause inflammation.

8 Foods that cause Inflammation infographic

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.
  • Obesity 
  • Sleep disorders
  • Smoking
  • Living with air pollution

How Inflammation is Detrimental to Your Health

Chronic inflammation that happens every day is incredibly dangerous. 

Just about every bad health disease is linked to it, including: 

Alzheimer’s

Depression 

Diabetes 

Cancer 

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 inflammation. The National Cancer Institute stated that inflammation creates DNA damage that can lead to cancer (1).

Cellular impact of inflammatory food

Inflammation is also common in those with heart disease (2).

Some of the Western diet staples are shown to increase your risk markers for diabetes and autoimmune conditions as well (3).

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 foods have a protective effect on inflammation (like bone broth). These anti-inflammatory foods can reduce it along with your risk of chronic disease.

Read below for our report outlining the top anti-inflammatory foods 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 foods will not help you if you are still eating them with the bad stuff.

Here are the top 8 inflammatory foods you should avoid.

Foods that Cause Inflammation in the Body

1. Refined Carbohydrates and Flour Products (Carbs)

 carbs in a bowl

These are carb sources that are stripped of all nutrients and fiber. Refined carbs are also highly processed into foods we see everyday like: 

  1. Pasta 
  2. Baked goods (bagels, bread, cookies) 
  3. Cereals
  4. Crackers 
  5. White rice

The carbs above have almost no nutritional or diet benefit, but carry a risk. Refined carbs are foods that cause inflammation. They also have a high glycemic index (GI).

High GI foods will spike your blood sugar into oblivion (4).

Eat this instead

The cool thing is that swapping refined carbs for whole grains can reduce harm (5). Choose whole wheat options or ancient grains like spelt and buckwheat.   

2. Alcohol

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. Regular alcohol use increases inflammatory markers like CRP (C-Reactive Protein) (6). 

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. 

bone broth quiz to reduce inflammatory foods

3. Vegetable Oils

Vegetable oils should be consumed sparingly. But they’re in almost everything. 

Inflammatory vegetable oils include soy, corn, safflower, sunflower, canola and peanut oil.

Why are vegetable oils 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 (7). 

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 (8).

This is because vegetable oils are cheap filler ingredients used in processed foods. Why are they so cheap?

The crops that go into these inflammatory oils rely on government subsidies and are produced in massive monocrop farm operations. 

Please read your ingredient labels. So many seemingly healthy foods are laced with vegetable oils. 

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. Avocado oil also has a high smoke point for pan frying.

You can also use coconut oil, ghee or tallow in your diet.

4. Fried Food like Fries

fried food causes arthritis

We’ve all reached for chicken strips, chips or fried mozzarella sticks in the past. Heck, I ate chips yesterday.

Fried foods are delicious, but sit front and center of foods that cause inflammation. They’re cooked in a savage combination of trans fats and vegetable oils (see above). 

Trans fats directly increase many markers of inflammation (8). They’re also shown to increase your LDL cholesterol while lowering your HDL cholesterol. This combination makes you susceptible for heart disease (9). 

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 dietThese typically appear in baked goods, fried foods and butter substitutes.

Lastly, fried foods are usually full of refined carbohydrates as well. It really doesn’t get much worse than deep fried food. Sorry taste buds! 

5. Sugars and High Fructose Corn Syrup

kid with a bowl of sugar

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 (101112). 

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 increases your risk markers of heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease (131415,16).

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

Trans fats are hydrogenated oils which are incredibly inflammatory. They’re artificially made by adding hydrogen to oil in order to make it stable. Sounds awful. 

Food labels will read: ‘partially hydrogenated oils.’ 

You read above how fried foods are full of trans fats.

Inflammatory Foods List

  • Butter substitutes, margarine and particularly vegan butter alternatives
  • Fast food favorites like french fries 
  • Popcorn
  • Shortening
  • Pastries and cakes

High trans fat intake can increase your inflammatory markers by 78% (17). They also directly increase your risk for all chronic diseases (181920).

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

Coconut oil or avocado oil are a good substitute for baked goods that call for shortening or butter alternatives. 

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

impossible burger, beyond meat burger causes inflammation

This is a category of foods you’ll find in grocery stores. Let’s call them ‘frankenfoods.’ 

Frankenfoods are so highly processed that many are using the term ultra processed

These are foods that contain:

  • Nasty additives 
  • Flavour enhancing agents 
  • Thickening agents
  • Binding ingredients 
  • Preservatives

They also go through multiple processing techniques like heat, molding, extrusion, milling, etc.

What happens when you process foods and add nasty ingredients listed above? You get dangerous and inflammatory foods.

best anti inflammatory food is bone broth

Processed Food and Inflammation

Many processed meats like hotdogs, sausages and chicken nuggets fall into the category of processed foods and 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 (212223).

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 (24).

We also know that artificial sweeteners disrupt our gut bacteria (25). Your gut plays a major role in controlling inflammation. So anything that disrupts gut function could cause inflammation.

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.

FAQs about Pro Inflammatory Foods to Avoid

Here are answers to your most frequently asked questions about inflammatory and processed foods.

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 foods that inflame your whole body, these include sugar, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, fried foods, refined carbs, hyper processed foods 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 ingredients that cause inflammation in your body when you eat them.

Inflammation 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:

  1. Sugar
  2. Alcohol
  3. Ultra-Processed foods
  4. Trans fats and hydrogenated oils
  5. 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 inflammation).
  6. Artificial Sweeteners
  7. Fried Foods
  8. 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.

Foods that cause inflammation should be avoided because they can lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer.

Conclusion

Inflammation can be both good and bad. For the sake of this article, you should be concerned about chronic or long-term inflammation.

One food that helps decrease inflammation in your gut and joints is bone broth. Bluebird Provisions makes the an anti-inflammatory bone broth powder 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. 

Your turn

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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Great taste and texture. Will be purchasing this again. Works great on its own for sipping and also in soup!"

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