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What Are the Foods That Cause Inflammation?

By April S. Kenyon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The type of food put into the body can often affect inflammation. Some foods can help decrease inflammation, while others increase it. A wide variety of foods increase inflammation in the body. These include some dairy foods, gluten-rich foods, saturated fats, red meats, egg yolks, corn, and many processed foods. While there are a number of different foods that cause inflammation, the exact items and ingredients will vary from person to person.

People with food allergies will likely find that allergens will increase inflammation in the body. Many dairy items can cause inflammation, especially in individuals who have lactose intolerance. Some dairy products, however, may actually decrease inflammation in the body. Plain yogurt can have anti-inflammatory effects and may actually reduce inflammation in the stomach. Gluten products are also allergens and are among the types of foods that cause inflammation. These items include ingredients such as oats, wheat, and rye.

Refined sugars and processed foods are some of the biggest causes of inflammation. Most processed foods contain excessive amounts of saturated fats, additives, and chemicals that can cause inflammation. Artificial sweeteners and refined sugars, such as white, brown, confectioner’s sugar, and corn syrups are among the types of refined sugars in foods that cause inflammation. Alternatives to refined sugars include natural sweeteners such as honey, date paste, or rice sugar.

Oils that contain linoleic acid can also cause inflammation in the body. These types of oils include corn, safflower, peanut, and sunflower. To avoid the inflammatory properties of oils, individuals should opt instead for pure and unprocessed oils, such as avocado or extra virgin olive oil.

Some beverages that might cause inflammation include alcohol, coffee, and tea. Caffeine can increase inflammation in the body. Individuals who suffer from inflammation caused by caffeinated beverages should opt for caffeine free beverages, green teas, and water. Other foods that cause inflammation include corn products, red meats, and egg yolks. Browning and cooking foods at temperatures over approximately 115° F (approx. 46.1° C) can also produce certain properties in foods that cause inflammation.

The best way for people to determine the specific foods that cause inflammation in their bodies is to keep a diary. By writing down the exact dates and times that inflammation occurs, it may be possible to determine exactly which foods are causing the problem. The types of foods that are consumed each day should also be recorded. This method may help to determine the exact foods that cause inflammation.

Signs of Inflammation in the Body

Inflammation is a typical immune response of the human body. While it is usually a reaction to an injury or bacteria, certain foods, allergens, and chemicals can also cause this problem. Inflammation is characterized by four main symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Heat
  • Swelling
  • Redness

Unfortunately, when inflammation is caused by an internal reaction, the symptoms may be more difficult to pinpoint. Many times, the pain and swelling that people experience when they consume certain foods or beverages can be mistaken for something else entirely. In other situations, inflammatory foods can make preexisting pain or conditions much worse.

If you are experiencing inflammation in your body because of your diet, you'll likely notice it in your digestive system first. If you have irregular or difficult bowel movements, gas, bloating, or heartburn, these are all signs that you're eating foods that are irritating your digestive system, resulting in inflammation. However, you can also experience other symptoms, including joint pain, headaches, and back pain.

While some inflammation from your most recent meal may be immediate, there's a good chance that most of your issues are the result of long-term dietary habits. Certain foods will definitely trigger a bigger inflammatory response, but you will likely have to change your overall eating routine to experience true and lasting relief.

If you are experiencing chronic or severe swelling or pain in your body, foods that cause inflammation may not be the only culprit. In these situations, it is wise to see a physician who can rule out any serious underlying conditions first. It's also important to talk with a doctor before making any serious changes to your diet.

What Are the Worst Foods That Cause Inflammation?

It's no secret that processed foods aren't great for you. Anything prepackaged that's full of chemicals and preservatives will likely lead to uncomfortable inflammation. Store-bought chips, cookies, snack cakes, salad dressings, and soups are some of the worst offenders. A good rule of thumb is to look at the ingredients on a product. If there are additives you wouldn't find in your own kitchen, it's best to skip that item.

Fast food and restaurant food in general can be even more problematic. These menu items are often loaded with fat and sugar and measure out to several more servings than what's recommended by nutritionists. What's worse, many restaurants offer entrees and meals that include more than an entire day's worth of sodium in just one sitting. Salty foods are some of the worst foods that cause inflammation, and you're almost guaranteed to get too much when you eat out.

Even so, it is possible to limit inflammatory foods when you do dine at a restaurant or grab a quick bite. Avoid anything that is fried, especially deep-fried foods. Stay away from red meats and too many refined carbohydrates, like white bread or pasta. Skip dessert altogether if you can. In general, try to limit how often you eat out to only once or twice a month and be sure to order wisely when you do.

How to Reduce Inflammation in the Body

There are many ways you can help keep inflammation under control so you can experience less discomfort and a better quality of life. First and foremost, cut out foods that cause inflammation and swap them for choices that can actually help keep it at bay. The list for anti-inflammatory foods is actually pretty lengthy, but some of the best options include:

  • Berries
  • Certain fish, such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel
  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Oranges
  • Nuts
  • Leafy green vegetables

You may also need to increase your water intake. Most people do not drink enough water, and this fluid plays an important role in keeping inflammation under control. In general, you should drink a minimum of 64 ounces every day, but this could vary depending on your age, weight, activity level, and more. Try to sip water throughout the day to keep your body consistently hydrated. This will also promote more frequent urination, allowing your body to get rid of excess salt and waste and reduce inflammation.

Exercise plays another important role in an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Moving your body regularly improves your metabolism and digestive system while keeping swelling and stiffness under control. You do not need to have an intense or difficult workout routine to experience the anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise. Walking and simple stretches can do wonders for this specific issue and for your overall health.

Adequate sleep is essential for reducing inflammation. A minimum of seven hours of restful sleep each night is recommended for most adults. However, you may need more to feel your best. If you have trouble sleeping or feel fatigued even when you think you're sleeping well, talk with a doctor about your options to experience better rest.

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Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Jul 20, 2013

@turquoise-- That's highly possible. When our body is sensitive to or intolerant of a food, it treats it like a toxin. It's unable to digest it and yet it needs to get it out of the system. Inflammation is one of the symptoms we get when this happens.

It's bad but it's also good in a way because we can look for this symptom when we're trying to figure out what food we're sensitive to. How would you know that you might have a gluten intolerance if you didn't have any symptoms?

It's great that you're eating gluten-free. You should continue and watch out for inflammation. If inflammation is reduced even after a month, you should probably eat this way indefinitely. I'm also on a anti-inflammatory diet and I also feel much better!

By stoneMason — On Jul 19, 2013

According to this article, basically everything I eat is an inflammatory food! But I think I agree with it, especially about milk. When I drink milk, I get so much bloating that it's hard for me to breathe.

By turquoise — On Jul 19, 2013

I think I have a gluten intolerance (possibly non-celiac gluten intolerance) because whenever I eat too much gluten, my arthritis acts up and I get painful, stiff joints. I stopped eating gluten three days ago and I already feel much better. I think gluten is what has been causing my inflammation.

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