Foods That Cause Inflammation: 5 Foods to Avoid

Inflammation in its best-known form protects your body. A swollen knee after a workout, for example, is basically your body telling you not to put more stress on that knee for a while. Inflammation in other areas can be a little more problematic — especially if it doesn’t go away.

The reason anti-inflammatory diets became so popular in the 2010s is because chronic inflammation can lead to disease if it isn’t treated. While the science behind these diets doesn’t impress most health experts, the ingredients in certain types of foods have been shown to harm the body from the inside out. Avoiding these foods could improve your health in more ways than one.

The following foods may lead to inflammation or make already existing inflammation worse, and could one day lead to diseases often associated with it, such as obesity or cancer.

1. Processed meat

Meat is not the enemy. In its best form, it can provide essential nutrients such as protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. However, products that undergo intense levels of processing can actually cause devastating changes in your body if eaten in large quantities over time.

Examples of processed meats to eat less of or avoid altogether include:

  • Beef jerky
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Ham.

These foods contain potentially harmful compounds that form when cooked at high temperatures. These compounds can lead to increased inflammation and associated diseases.

2. Foods high in added sugars

chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies | CuorerouC/iStock/Getty Images

Added sugar is bad for your body. Excessive amounts not only increase your risk of heart disease and mental disorders such as depression, but can lead to inflammation in your body as well.

Common foods and beverages high in added sugars include:

  • Candy and desserts
  • Low-fat and/or flavored yogurt
  • Condiments such as ketchup and BBQ sauce
  • Sauces and salad dressings
  • Packaged granola and granola bars
  • Trail mix and other packaged snack foods
  • Soda and sports/energy drinks
  • Orange and other fruit juices
  • Bottled and/or blended coffee drinks.

Quitting sugar isn’t easy, and you don’t always have to give it up completely to maintain good health. But if you eat one or more of these foods even once a day, there’s more than one reason to consider cutting back.

3. Refined carbohydrates

Not all carbs are bad carbs. But similar to processed meats and foods high in added sugars, processed foods high in carbohydrates usually aren’t the best meal or snack choices. Especially if you want to avoid diseases often associated with long-term inflammation.

Refined carbohydrates have been shown to promote unwanted inflammation in your body — and that’s not the only reason they aren’t good for you.

White rice, white bread, and white pasta, for example, don’t have the same nutritional value their whole grain versions do. Brown rice contains more fiber, vitamins, and other minerals that actually benefit your body instead of potentially causing harm to it.

You do have to be careful when searching for whole grains at your grocery store, though. Phrases like “multigrain” and “whole wheat” don’t mean a product is made entirely of whole grains. Labels can be misleading, so read ingredient lists carefully.

4. Foods made with seed and vegetable oils


Margarine | iStock/Getty Images

Canola, sunflower, corn, peanut, sesame, and soybean oils should generally be avoided or consumed restrictively when possible. They contain omega-6 fatty acids which — unlike omega 3s — promote inflammation and may increase your risk of disease.

Foods commonly containing these oils include:

  • Margarine
  • Fried foods
  • Packaged snacks
  • Premade baked goods.

Extra virgin olive oil is a much healthier alternative to vegetable oils and foods containing them, and might even be good for your heart.

5. Artificial trans fats

While the health “dangers” of some items such as saturated fats are still widely debated, officials unanimously agree that trans fats are disease-causing ingredients not safe for humans to eat. They’re not just inflammatory: They’re dangerous for your heart.

Note that trans fats do occur naturally in meat and dairy products. These are not the same as artificial trans fats — often called “partially hydrogenated oils” on food labels. It’s OK to eat meat in reasonable portions. It’s not OK to consume these processed oils in foods such as margarine.

The good news is, it’s getting harder and harder to find these deadly ingredients in fast food menu items and on store shelves. In fact, the FDA is now demanding manufacturers remove them from their products entirely. But still remain on the lookout just in case.

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