10 Foods That Cause Inflammation

You’ve probably heard the term “inflammation” many times. 

Long-term inflammation is detrimental to your health and increases the risk of chronic diseases. 

The good news is that you can do things to reduce this negative type of inflammation, such as avoiding foods that might cause inflammation.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a process where your body’s immune system releases white blood cells to ward off potential harmful invaders. Inflammation occurs as a response to bacteria, viruses, toxins, and more. It can be acute (short-term) or chronic. 

Inflammation is important for keeping you healthy and allowing you to heal from illness and injury. However, chronic inflammation can become a problem and lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health conditions.

Some potential symptoms of inflammation include:

  • Redness

  • Swollen joints; may be warm to the touch

  • A joint that doesn’t work as well as it should

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Fatigue/loss of energy

  • Headaches

  • Loss of appetite

  • Muscle stiffness

Blood and fluid containing white blood cells rush to the site of an injury or infection to help your body heal. That’s why inflammation leads to swelling. 

Inflammation is also a symptom of autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, where the body mistakenly views healthy parts of your body as invaders and attacks them.

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10 Foods That Cause Inflammation

Your lifestyle can play a role in inflammation. One important aspect of controlling or promoting inflammation is your diet. 

While no one food is responsible for causing overt inflammation, regularly eating pro-inflammatory foods can promote inflammation over time. To avoid chronic inflammation, try to avoid regularly eating these foods in large amounts.

1. Alcohol

Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as drinking no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. 

Alcohol in moderation may have some health benefits. But, drinking large amounts of alcohol, including binge drinking, has the opposite effect.

Chronic alcohol use can inhibit your body’s ability to control inflammation via your liver and your gut. Chronic inflammation is linked to many alcohol-related medical conditions. 

2. Fried Food

Foods cooked at high temperatures create compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. AGEs form when fat and protein combine with sugar in your bloodstream. 

Low levels of AGEs aren’t usually harmful, and levels of AGEs increase as you get older. However, high amounts of AGEs are associated with increased inflammation

Diet is the leading contributor of AGEs. Avoiding fried food can help you cut down on the amount of AGEs you consume.

3. Processed Meats

Deli meats and processed meat like hot dogs are especially high in advanced glycation end products. Broiled frankfurters contain over 10,000 kilounits of AGEs per serving compared to boiled chicken which has around 800 kilounits of AGEs per serving.

How you cook processed meat impacts the levels of AGEs. Broiled frankfurters are higher in AGEs than boiled frankfurters, and deep-fried chicken is higher in AGEs than baking, poaching, roasting, and other lower-temperature cooking methods.

4. Foods with Trans Fats

Trans fats were banned in the United States in 2018 due to their harmful health effects. However, foods manufactured before the ban are still allowed to be distributed through 2021. Trans fats aren’t banned in the United Kingdom and many other countries.

Trans fats are linked with increased inflammation, the incidence of heart disease, insulin resistance, and sudden death.

The main source of trans fats is partially hydrogenated oil. Partially hydrogenated oils help increase shelf life and are present in processed foods such as shortening, some margarine, baked goods, non-dairy coffee creamers, and pie crusts.

5. Gluten (Wheat, Rye, and Barley)

Gluten is the main protein in wheat, rye, and barley. If you’re sensitive to gluten or have Celiac disease, gluten can cause inflammation in your digestive tract. 

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks its intestinal cells in the presence of gluten. It impacts less than 2% of the world’s population. People with Celiac disease must follow a gluten-free diet to manage their disease and symptoms.

Studies don’t show an association between gluten and inflammation in people without Celiac disease. However, some people claim they feel better while avoiding gluten, so there is some anecdotal evidence that gluten may help reduce feelings of inflammation in those people.

6. Sugary Drinks

Sugary drinks like soda, fruit-flavored beverages, sweetened coffee, and sweetened teas are loaded with added sugar. Added sugars are those that don’t occur naturally in foods and are added to them for flavor.

Examples of added sugar include sucrose (table sugar), honey, and high-fructose corn syrup, among many others. Sugar intake is associated with increased markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein.

Replace sugary drinks with water, fruit-infused water, sparkling water, or unsweetened tea instead.

7. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are popular in reduced-sugar and sugar-free foods and drinks. Sucralose is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners. 

A study on mice shows that consuming sucralose at the equivalent of the acceptable human amount increased the risk of inflammation by negatively impacting beneficial gut bacteria.

There aren’t yet studies on humans on artificial sweeteners and inflammation, but animal studies can indicate that humans may have a similar response.

8. Red Meat

Intake of red meat, both processed and unprocessed, is linked with an increased risk of heart disease as well as a higher risk of cancer and overall death. Red meat is high in saturated fat, which is thought to play a role in inflammation.

Choosing lean red meat might help reduce inflammation. Even better – opt for foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids like salmon, nuts, seeds, and plant-based protein like legumes. 

Red meat is limited on a Mediterranean diet which is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

A Mediterranean diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants (such as fruits and vegetables) and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.

9. Corn Oil

Corn oil and corn byproducts are prevalent in many processed foods. It is rich in omega 6 fatty acids which have pro-inflammatory effects. 

Eating some omega 6 fats is fine, but you should balance them with anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats from salmon and plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends limiting inflammatory foods like omega 6 rich oils, including vegetable oil, soybean oil, sunflower, and safflower oils. Healthier oils to include in your diet include walnut, olive, canola, and avocado oils.

10. Refined Grains

Refined grains like white bread, pasta, and rice are low in fiber and nutrients. According to the Arthritis Foundation, refined grains are associated with increased markers of inflammation. 

Opt for whole grains more often, which aren’t associated with inflammation and are much more nutrient-dense.


Your diet plays a large role in your overall health, including inflammation. Some foods tend to cause inflammation instead of fight inflammation. 

Reducing inflammation may lower your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

In addition to avoiding foods that cause inflammation, follow an anti inflammatory diet such as the Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet is rich in anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fatty fish. 

Physical activity is also an important aspect of the Mediterranean lifestyle and can help reduce inflammation as well.

Next Up


7 Best Foods To Naturally Reduce Inflammation.


  1. Standridge JB, Zylstra RG, Adams SM. Alcohol consumption: an overview of benefits and risks. South Med J. 2004. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15301124/
  2. Wang HJ, Zakhari S, Jung MK. Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development. World J Gastroenterol. 2010. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20238396/
  3. Uribarri J, Cai W, Peppa M, Goodman S, Ferrucci L, Striker G, Vlassara H. Circulating glycotoxins and dietary advanced glycation endproducts: two links to inflammatory response, oxidative stress, and aging. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2007. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17452738/
  4. Uribarri J, Woodruff S, Goodman S, et al. Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/
  5. Mozaffarian D. Trans fatty acids – effects on systemic inflammation and endothelial function. Atheroscler Suppl. 2006. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16713393/
  6. Bian X, Chi L, Gao B, Tu P, Ru H, Lu K. Gut Microbiome Response to Sucralose and Its Potential Role in Inducing Liver Inflammation in Mice. Front Physiol. 2017. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28790923/
  7. Wang X, Lin X, Ouyang YY, Liu J, Zhao G, Pan A, Hu FB. Red and processed meat consumption and mortality: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Public Health Nutr. 2016. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26143683/
  8. Romagnolo DF, Selmin OI. Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Nutr Today. 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5625964/.

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