Today I’m sharing the top 10 foods that cause inflammation in the body! Consuming these inflammatory foods might be sabotaging your efforts to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and making you feel less than your best. Make sure to save the inflammatory foods list to your phone or print it out to have it whenever you need a reminder.
Chronic low-grade inflammation is at the base of any chronic disease out there. From autoimmune to cardiovascular disease, to cancer, chronic inflammation has its hands in everything. Diet is a big factor when it comes to inflammation. What and how we eat on a regular basis can either feed inflammation or relieve it to what is normal and healthy for the functional human body.
When we’re dealing with too much inflammation in the body it is highly important to know what is actually causing it. It might be food and how we eat, but it could also be a number of different factors like environmental toxins, too much stress or too little sleep.
Today we’ll talk about food. Because food gives us the building blocks (nutrients) for everything physical we have – our bodies. We’ll specifically talk about inflammatory foods that you might be consuming without even knowing that they cause inflammation.
Later I’ll share some ways to cook better and to substitute these inflammatory foods, so that you can enjoy a more wholesome anti-inflammatory diet.
Inflammatory Food List: Top 10 Foods That Cause Inflammation
These are the major foods that can induce an inflammatory response in the body:
- Certain oils like sesame, peanut, corn, soybean and sunflower oil
- Margarine and anything made with hydrogenated fats like shortening, doughnuts, frozen breakfast foods, cookies
- Fake food (made with food additives like MSG or aspartame e.g. chips, ketchup, salad dressings, fast food, frozen meals, canned soups and even seasoning blends)
- Sugar in all of its forms – white, brown, corn syrup, agave
- Refined grains like white rice or white flour
- Meat or fish grilled/cooked at high temperature with dry heat (roasting, broiling, frying, grilling)
- Processed meats like bacon, sausages or hot dogs
- Fried food like French fries, fried chicken, calamari
- Soda and other sweetened drinks
- Fried, baked or roasted high-starch foods like potatoes, oats, corn, sweet potatoes or pumpkin
If you want to save this list of inflammatory foods, you can download it here.
Use Common Sense
Now, and I want to make this very clear. Anything you eat can cause inflammation. The very act of ingesting food is a pro-inflammatory event in the body.
It’s all about that magical thing called balance.
Use common sense – anything that is fake or overly processed: avoid. In general, the more unrecognizable the food – the worse it is for our health.
Roasted sweet potatoes? Sure, every now and then with some leafy greens, avocado and a healthy dressing.
What Makes These Foods Inflammatory
You might be wondering why these foods cause inflammation. Well, it’s a combination of things. Here are the main ingredients or properties these inflammatory foods have that cause them to trigger inflammation in the body:
Omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acid ratio. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both healthy and essential to our bodies. We need them both, especially for brain and cardiovascular health. Ideally, the ratio of these unsaturated fats in the body should be 1:1. Unfortunately, the things we eat in today’s world are super rich in omega-6 fatty acids (they’re in grains, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and most significantly seed and vegetable oils).
On the other hand, our diet is pretty poor in omega-3’s found in very few foods (fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds). This leads to a huge imbalance with ratios of omega-6 to omega-3’s at 20:1 being pretty common. This type of imbalance with omega-6 dominating so overwhelmingly stimulates the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body, thus leading to inflammation.
Trans fats. Look for hydrogenated fats when reading labels and avoid them. They’re in shortening, margarine, but also in the creamy peanut butter you put on your oats. Trans fats are linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. They are known to lower HDL (the good cholesterol), while increasing LDL (the bad cholesterol)…I mean, it’s as if those fats do it on purpose. Research has shown that people with high blood levels of trans fatty acids also have a worse inflammatory profile (source). In mice, trans fats were shown to affect the gut flora and cause dysbiosis and intestinal inflammation (source).
High glycemic index. One of the reasons white flour, white rice, roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes contribute to inflammation is that they have a super high glycemic index. When you process starchy foods at high temperatures without moisture added, the glycemic index of those healthy foods skyrockets. When eaten too often this can lead to insulin resistance and the inflammation that comes with it. Not only that, but when high glycemic foods raise your blood sugar this can lead to the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGE’s) in the body. AGE’s are also linked to inflammation, I’ll talk about these in a little bit.
Acrylamide. Another reason why French fries, bread and roasted or fried starchy vegetables cause inflammation is the formation of acrylamide during the cooking process. Acrylamide is a chemical formed when foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes and grains are baked, roasted or fried. I remember working with acrylamide in the laboratory many years ago making gel electrophoresis in order to analyze proteins. Acrylamide used to always freak me out, because it was potentially a carcinogen and had the skull with the bones label on the bottle (she said like a true scientist) and my paranoia went through the roof.
Later I found out the thing was actually in everything I ate: pizza, croissants, fries, bread…everything. Acrylamide has been shown to increase inflammation and actually cause ulcerative colitis in mice (source). Now, you might argue that we ingest it at levels that are safe to eat and I might even agree with that. But, what if you eat it every day at every meal? How much is too much? I think it’s definitely something we should be mindful of and definitely combine with fresh, unprocessed foods.
AGE’s. AGE is short for advanced glycation end products. They’re also called glycotoxins. These molecules form inside the body when there’s too much incoming sugar from the meal we ate. However, they can also come from outside the body, when we cook meat or fish at high temperatures with dry heat. This is known as the Maillard or browning reaction. In general, animal products that are high in fat and protein are rich in AGE’s (e.g. processed meat, fatty meat) even before heat exposure.
After heat exposure, the number of AGE’s can increase anywhere between 10-to 100-fold.
These advanced glycation end products (AGEs) increase oxidative stress and inflammation in the body and can damage the proteins that build our bodies and keep us functional and alive. The AGE’s cause the healthy proteins to change their structure and thus lose the function they have in the body. (source)
How To Substitute These Inflammatory Foods In Recipes
- For seed and vegetable oils: use olive or avocado oil for salads and cooking, and flaxseed oil cold in salads or add to smoothies. You can also use nut- or seed butter in moderation.
- For margarine and shortening – avoid altogether. Instead, you can use coconut oil or even butter to make cookies and other sweet snacks if you need to. Use these foods in moderation though, since they’re saturated fats and too many can be inflammatory too.
- Fake food with food additives like MSG or aspartame. Make your own spice blends and mix dressings from simple ingredients like cashews, olive oil, lemon or lime juice, garlic, chives, herbs and spices (try this one). While shopping, look for MSG- and aspartame-free options (for example sub soy sauce for tamari or coconut aminos).
- For sugar: In recipes use whole fruit like bananas, dried fruits like dates or prunes or in moderate amounts – honey. Instead of cookies you can for example make energy bites with nuts and dried fruit like these.
- For refined grains like white rice or white flour: Use oats and almond flour instead of white flour and quinoa or cauliflower rice instead of white rice like in this quinoa risotto.
- Meat or fish grilled/cooked at high temperature with dry heat. Try to cook meat and fish with moisture and at lower temperatures with shorter cooking times. For example, if a recipe calls for grilled meat – you can always substitute that for boiled and shredded meat. Another way to reduce the AGE’s in meat is to add spices and lemon juice or vinegar to the meal.
- For processed meats like bacon, sausages or hot dogs: Use regular boiled, cooked meat instead. You can add spices and really make it taste good without additives.
- Soda and other sweetened drinks. You can make ginger lemon water instead! It’s super refreshing and once you get used to it, you’ll start craving it.
- Fried, baked or roasted high-starch foods like potatoes, oats, corn, sweet potatoes or pumpkin. Of course, you can enjoy all of these foods in moderation. However, it’s better to prepare them with moist heat. For example – potato or sweet potato puree are delicious and have a much lower glycemic index and no acrylamide. You can also roast other non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower, peppers or zucchini – these won’t have a high glycemic index and the acrylamide content will be MUCH lower.
More Foods That Cause Inflammation
Please note that this list of inflammatory foods is not exhaustive. Especially when it comes to your individual diet. My goal with this post is to create a list of foods that cause inflammation in the general public. Foods that are harmful to every body.
This inflammatory foods list does not include foods that you might be intolerant or allergic to. The reason is simple: not everyone is allergic/sensitive to the same foods. I might have a problem with dairy, while you might tolerate dairy just fine. I can eat sweet potatoes, you might be allergic to them. It’s all individual. With that said here are some common allergen foods that can increase inflammation if you’re sensitive and eat them often:
- Dairy. Cheese, milk, yogurt. Notice that even here, some of these might not cause inflammation for you. For example, goat cheese, Parmesan and yogurt don’t seem to be problematic for me, but I try to avoid most of the other types of dairy.
- Gluten. Including foods like wheat, bulgur, flour, rye and barley. Here again, for me, I seem to tolerate barley just fine, not the others.
- Nightshades. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, paprika, tomato paste and everything made with these foods. These foods are super healthy and nutritious but might cause inflammation and pain in some people, especially patients with arthritis.
More About Inflammation
I hope this inflammatory foods list helps you on your journey to a more anti-inflammatory diet and to less pain and a healthy, happy, more fulfilling and joyful life. If you want to learn more about inflammation, and how to reduce it with diet make sure to check out these articles as well: