Red Alert: These Are the 4 Worst Foods That Cause Inflammation

Avoid these foods to combat chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is one of the body's natural mechanisms for increasing the flow of blood (with its antibodies and proteins) to an area to fight infections, injuries, or toxins in an attempt to heal itself. When it happens occasionally, known as acute inflammation, it's a positive response (think about a bruise or swollen ankle that only lasts a few days).

But when inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, and stroke.

On the upside, food is one of the key natural ways we can control inflammation in the body. There are plenty of healthy ingredients that fight inflammation, as well as a number of foods that worsen it.

Here are the top foods to avoid in order to reduce your body's anti-inflammatory response, according to health experts.

01 of 04

High Fructose Corn Syrup—and Other Forms of Added Sugar

Added sugars in foods like packaged granola bars, cereal, and fancy coffee drinks can increase chronic inflammation through the release of cytokines, and can also raise blood pressure, says nutrition expert Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of Eating in Color.

Consuming excessive high fructose corn syrup and other forms of sugar can also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and even cancer, adds Andrew Abraham, MD, the founder and CEO of Orgain.

Don't confuse these foods with those that contain naturally occurring sugar, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. We're talking about sugars that are added to foods and beverages to sweeten them (save for honey, which has been shown to reduce inflammation.)

While it's not realistic to cut out all added sugars in our diets, we can certainly stand to reduce our daily intake. "Start by using less sweetener in your morning coffee and gradually reduce it to zero," Largeman-Roth advises. And be sure to read nutrition labels.

02 of 04

Trans Fats

While most brands have removed trans fats—they'll be listed as partially hydrogenated fats in the ingredient list—from their food products, certain packaged foods still contain them. "For example, packaged frosting has 2 grams of trans fat per 2 tablespoon serving," explains Largeman-Roth. Trans fats have been found to cause systemic inflammation in the body and eating them has been linked to coronary heart disease.

03 of 04

Refined Carbs

The difference between a whole grain and a refined grain is that a whole grain contains the entire grain kernel (bran, germ, and endosperm). Foods like brown rice, whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and whole cornmeal are all whole grains. A refined grain, on the other hand, has been milled to have the fibrous bran and the nutrient-rich germ removed. Think: white flour, white bread, white rice.

Refined grains are very easy to overeat (hello, dinner rolls) and according to Largeman-Roth, extra pounds can lead to chronic inflammation. Studies also show that whole grains help to reduce inflammation in the body. "Aim to make at least half of your grains whole," she advises.

04 of 04

Red Meat

"Meat typically has high levels of both arachidonic acid and saturated fat which contributes to inflammation," says Dr. Abraham.

One easy, overarching way to counter inflammation is to consume more plant-based foods, the doctor says. Plant-based proteins typically have a markedly lower amount of fat, particularly saturated fat. "Plant-based diets that also include plenty of leafy greens and vegetables have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. This, in turn, minimizes the risk of disease and even more importantly, those adopting more plant-based options in their diet simply feel much better."

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  2. Mansoori S, Kushner N, Suminski RR, Farquhar WB, Chai SC. Added sugar intake is associated with blood pressure in older females. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2060. doi:10.3390/nu11092060

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  5. Hadj Ahmed S, Kharroubi W, Kaoubaa N, et al. Correlation of trans fatty acids with the severity of coronary artery disease lesions. Lipids Health Dis, 2018;17(52). doi:10.1186/s12944-018-0699-3

  6. Vitaglione P, Mennella I, Ferracane R, et al. Whole-grain wheat consumption reduces inflammation in a randomized controlled trial on overweight and obese subjects with unhealthy dietary and lifestyle behaviors: role of polyphenols bound to cereal dietary fiber. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(2):251-261. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.088120

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