11 Foods that Make Inflammation Worse
If you're suffering from pain or swelling right now, take a hard look at what you're eating. Avoiding these foods that cause inflammation will have you feeling a whole lot better.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.
Wheat products like white bread and pasta can quickly cause inflammation in the body. “Refined wheat flours have been stripped of their slow-digesting fiber and nutrients, which means the body can break down these foods very quickly,” says Christopher Hollingsworth, MD, an endovascular surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates. The quicker our bodies break down these carbs, the faster our blood sugar levels rise. Dr. Hollingworth explained that this causes a spike in insulin, which leads to inflammation. If you’re concerned about inflammation, check out 7 ways to keep your blood sugar levels healthy.
It’s no surprise that French fries aren’t the healthiest choice, but they could be doing more harm than you realize. “Research has shown that individuals who eat a diet high in deep-fried foods show a higher prevalence of inflammatory markers,” says Obianuju Helen Okoye. MD, a public health physician and healthcare executive in St. Louis.
Eating a diet rich in omega fatty acids sounds healthy, but may be causing some serious inflammation. We need to consume omega-6 and omega-3 oils because our bodies cannot make them—but they need to be in balance. “Omega-6s are highly inflammatory and promote chronic disease,” Says Jennie Ann Freiman, MD, author of The SEEDS Plan. To avoid an imbalance, Dr. Freiman recommends limiting oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, canola, peanut, cottonseed, and grapeseed. Processed foods often don’t have a good balance: yet another reason to follow a diet rich in whole grains.
The sweet stuff is no one’s friend and will cause inflammation throughout your entire body. “Sugar, dyes, and preservatives all cause inflammation. Foods that cause inflammation do so by damaging the gut lining leading to leaky gut,” says Joel Warsh, MD, an integrative pediatrician in Los Angeles. Our gut lining is thin and can be easily damaged, allowing food particles into the bloodstream. Dr. Warsh explains that this leakage can lead to total body inflammation. Here are the signs you may be developing a leaky gut.
If you’ve been bored with your daily turkey sandwich, try switching it up and avoiding deli meat altogether. “Processed meats such as deli meat contain more advanced glycation end products (AGEs) than most other meats,” says Dr. Hollingsworth. “AGEs are inflammatory compounds that are created when the meats are dried, smoked, or otherwise processed and cooked at high temperatures.” Dr. Hollingworth explained that these AGEs are known to cause inflammation and lead to chronic diseases like colon cancer. That’s why processed meats are just one of the 13 foods cardiologists try never to eat.
That morning donut may be delicious, but it will cause some serious inflammation by lunchtime. Pastries give our bodies a huge dose of both sugar and trans fats. “When the body encounters an imbalance, such as in blood glucose levels, the immune system is flagged and inflammation is triggered,” says Dr. Hollingsworth. “These spikes in sugar can increase the body’s levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines.” The trans-fatty acids in the doughnuts also lead to inflammation and other heart problems. Make sure to avoid those sweet treats, as well as these 7 shocking foods that sneak in trans fats.
Processed foods like your morning cereal or flavored oatmeal may look healthy from the outside, but studies have shown that these foods are linked to inflammation and heart disease. In a 2019 study in BMJ, researchers tracked more than 105,100 adults for a median follow-up period of five years. They found that there was a 12 percent increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease for every 10 percent increase in the amount of ultra-processed food consumed. As if that’s not bad enough, you won’t believe these 10 sickening secrets of processed food.
While it’s true that bacon makes everything more delicious, it also makes everything more inflammatory. According to the World Health Organization, eating even one serving of processed meat, including bacon, daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. The link, of course, is inflammation.
Making your own homemade soup can be a healthy alternative to unhealthier store-bought varieties. Foods high in MSG, which is often found in canned soup, lead to chronic inflammation, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Eating a diet high in MSG has also been linked to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. Pick canned soups which are MSG-free or make your own. Here are 10 delicious soup and stew recipes you can make yourself.
While an occasional glass of wine with friends may not be disastrous, it’s best to be careful. “Excessive alcohol is also a trigger for inflammation,” says Dr. Hollingsworth. Drinking more than one glass per day for women can cause leaky gut syndrome, leading to further conditions associated with inflammation. Check out some of the signs that you may be drinking too much.
Use your diet
So how can we protect ourselves against chronic inflammation? In addition to avoiding the foods on this list, start incorporating some healthy foods to fight any inflammation you already have. Just as important as avoiding pro-inflammatory foods is eating foods that have the potential to reduce inflammation,” says Nicole Harkin, MD, a board-certified cardiologist and lipidologist in New York City. Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, cherries, leafy greens, and tomatoes. Check out this list of foods that fight inflammation.
- Christopher Hollingsworth, MD. endovascular surgeon, NYC Surgical Associates, New York City.
- Obianuju Helen Okoye, MD, public health physician and healthcare executive, St. Louis.
- Jennie Ann Freiman, MD, author The SEEDS Plan.
- Joel Warsh, MD, integrative pediatrician, Los Angeles.
- Journal of Nutrition: "Soda Intake Is Directly Associated with Serum C-Reactive Protein Concentration in Mexican Women."
- World Health Organization: "IARC Monographs Evaluate Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat."
- BMJ: "Ultra-Processed Food Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Prospective Cohort Study (NutriNet-Santé)."
- Nicole Harkin, MD, board-certified cardiologist and lipidologist, New York City.