We all experience some degree of inflammation from time to time. It’s our body’s natural reaction to foreign invaders such as microbes, allergens, pollen, or chemicals. This is actually one way our body works to protect us and keep all systems running smoothly.
However, when inflammation gets out of control or becomes chronic, our bodies suffer the consequences. Cancer [source], cardiovascular disease [source], arthritis [source], Alzheimer disease [source], and many other chronic health conditions have all been linked to chronic inflammation.
The Worst Foods for Inflammation
The best way to avoid inflammation is to prevent it altogether, and one of the most efficient ways to achieve this is by following an anti-inflammatory diet [source]. By avoiding certain foods that are known to cause inflammation and focusing on those that work against it, we can keep our bodies in tip-top shape!
Here are 9 foods to avoid when you’re eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
1. Refined Sugars
This one seems tough at first because there is refined sugar hiding in so many foods! Even a seemingly innocent jar of pasta sauce can be loaded with sugar. But refined sugars—and you can spot these on nutrition labels because they end in “-ose” (e.g., sucrose, fructose, glucose)—are known to trigger the body’s inflammatory messengers called cytokines [source].
Don’t fear naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit, as they’re paired with loads of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds [source]. The problem occurs when sugars are refined and stripped of those components to become a source of pure carbohydrates. The body breaks them down too quickly, and we get into trouble.
2. Saturated Fats
Saturated fats not only raise blood cholesterol levels, but they also trigger inflammation in our own fat tissue [source]. In addition to being a well-known risk factor for heart disease [source], a diet high in saturated fat is also believed to exacerbate arthritis inflammation [source]. Sources of saturated fat include all animal products (which also contain no fiber), e.g., meat, cheese and other dairy products, eggs, and butter.
3. Trans Fats
Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, are known to cause oxidative stress and inflammation leading to cardiovascular disease [source]. These are found most commonly in processed foods, fast food, fried foods, shelf-stable pastries, cookies, and crackers, and some brands of margarine.
Some people who suffer from digestive conditions and chronic joint pain due to inflammation find relief when avoiding high gluten foods, such as wheat and barley. Many cases arise from gluten intolerance, not a gluten allergy like that seen in the relatively small number of people with celiac disease. In gluten intolerance (also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity), it is speculated that inflammation in the small intestine allows entry of gluten-derived peptides into the bloodstream, creating an inflammatory response [source].
Studies have shown that cow’s milk and other dairy products can cause inflammation in those with an allergy [source]. In addition to being high in saturated fat, dairy products contain casein, which is the main protein found in milk and cheese. Casein is also used in a lot of commercially prepared foods and is known to cause an inflammatory response in some individuals [source]. The research is inconclusive about whether dairy products cause inflammation overall; this may be because cow’s milk is a different product than yogurt or cheese and is thus likely to have different effects on the body.
6. Artificial Sweeteners
As people try to lose weight or just improve their diets, they often turn to artificial sweeteners—either in the interim or as a replacement indefinitely. Unfortunately, this can introduce a whole new source of inflammation to the body. Studies on animals fed high-fat diets have shown that sucralose negatively affects fat cells, leading to inflammation and insulin resistance [source]. Aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose were shown in the laboratory to cause openings in the intestinal barrier—otherwise known as “leaky gut” [source]. This allows larger molecules to get across it and into the bloodstream, causing inflammation [source].
7. Refined Carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, cereal, crackers, white rice, or refined potato products such as french fries are known to cause inflammation when consumed in excessive amounts. As these foods are generally quite high on the glycemic index, they stimulate the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products, which in turn cause an inflammatory response [source].
I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but yep, alcohol also has a detrimental effect when it comes to inflammation. Alcohol is broken down in the liver to acetaldehyde, which is roughly 10 times more toxic than the alcohol itself [source]. As alcohol is a burden to the liver, excess consumption can weaken the liver and cause inflammation that damages tissues [source]. It’s definitely something to be consumed in moderation.
9. Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are actually healthy, and we need them for vital functions. But when the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 acids gets out of whack, it can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory compounds [source]. The problem is that in our typical western diet, we tend to consume way more omega-6 than omega-3. omega-6 is found in oils such as corn, grapeseed, soy, peanut, safflower, and sunflower.
Like omega-6 fatty acids, many of the foods listed here aren’t inherently harmful or even unhealthy, with the exception of trans fats, MSG, and refined sugars. The problem is when we over-consume them and don’t balance them out with healthy foods that fight inflammation.
Increasing the proportion of fruits and vegetables in your diet because they are packed with natural anti-inflammatories [source], along with foods rich in omega-3’s, like fatty fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds, and getting plenty of fiber from raw foods, legumes, and whole grains daily can all help to keep your health in balance and combat inflammation.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified physician who has been practicing for more than 20 years. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.83