5 Pro-Inflammatory Foods You Should Avoid

Inflammation is a process in which the body fights things that harm it, such as infections or toxins. Should this process continue for too long, inflammation can become “chronic” and damage our health. Surprisingly, you can find one of the easiest sources of inflammation in the kitchen. Same as some foods will help prevent inflammation; there are also ones that do the opposite when eaten in excess, increasing the risk of chronic diseases. We’ve rounded up the five most significant pro-inflammatory foods for you to avoid.

Why does inflammation harm our physical health?

Anti-inflammatory nutrition increasingly attracts attention, especially as more and more people suffer from so-called “chronic” inflammations, such as autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto thyroiditis, rheumatism or diabetes type 1. But also non-specific symptoms like fatigue or proneness to infections can point to inflammations in the body. The problem lies within the word “chronic”: Acute inflammations support our health because they are a healthy response of the immune system to an unfamiliar stimulus from the outside. But when inflammations persist unnoticed in the body over a long period, they weaken the immune system. That’s especially dangerous when the immune system mistakenly attacks your body, as in the case of autoimmune diseases. So when inflammation becomes chronic, it affects your health and can promote diseases such as diabetes [1], cardiovascular disease [2], obesity [3] and a variety of autoimmune diseases [4]. 

These are the five inflammation-causing foods you should avoid

  1. Added sugar and high fructose corn syrup

It’s hard to imagine the Western diet without table sugar (sucrose) or added sugars with high fructose content, such as corn syrup. We know that sugar is unhealthy, but steering clear of added sugar can make a huge difference when it comes to inflammation. For example, the heavy consumption of high-fructose foods has been shown to increases biomarkers of inflammation in the body [5]. In addition, excessive sugar consumption has been linked to fatty liver, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, brain and heart disease and cancer [6].

  1. Refined carbohydrates 

Carbs have a bad reputation, but not all of them are problematic. It is important to distinguish between wholegrain carbohydrates (good carbs) and isolated or refined carbohydrates (the bad ones). Refined carbohydrates are processed foods that have most of their healthy fibre removed, such as refined (white) wheat flour or polished rice. This gives them a higher glycemic index (GI) than unprocessed carbs. The problem: high GI foods cause blood sugar levels to rise faster than low GI foods, which is harmful to the body in the long run. Numerous studies [7, 8] show that eating refined carbs promotes inflammation and is linked to health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

  1. Processed meat

Processed meat (e.g. sausage, bacon, ham or beef jerky) has long been linked to an increase in heart disease, diabetes, colon and stomach cancer [9] because it contains advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are compounds that are harmful to our bodies, and they are formed, among other things, when you cook food at high temperatures. AGEs are also known to cause inflammation in the body [10].

  1. Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to your health for several reasons, but primarily because it promotes inflammation. When alcohol is broken down, it produces toxic by-products that can damage liver cells and weaken the immune system. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to problems with bacterial toxins moving out of the colon and into the body. This condition (often referred to as “leaky gut”) can, in severe cases, trigger widespread inflammation that even leads to organ damage [11].

  1. Trans fats

Trans fats are among the unhealthiest fats. They are created by adding hydrogen to liquid unsaturated fats to gain a more solid fat. About 100 years ago, the hydrogenation of fats was celebrated as an outstanding achievement, making it possible to obtain spreadable fats and, more importantly, shelf-stable fats from liquid vegetable oils. But heating these fats also produces artificial trans fats that are harmful to the human body. You can find trans fats everywhere, but especially in processed foods. The most common foods containing trans fats include all fried foods, crisps and chips, but also most kinds of margarine, instant soups, sauces, sausages and even the occasional muesli bar. Trans fats have now been linked to heart disease [12] and dementia [13], among other things, and have been shown to cause inflammation in the body [14].

Let food become your medicine

Inflammation can have many triggers. Some are hard to prevent, like pollution, infections or superficial injuries. But fortunately, you have much more control over factors like your diet. Not surprisingly, the foods that promote inflammation are generally also considered bad for your general health, including high-sugar drinks and processed foods. So try to reduce the consumption of the above-listed sources of inflammation gradually. Of course, exceptions are allowed, but they should not become the rule. If you want to learn more about healthy eating, you can read more about it here



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[2] Pearson, Thomas A et al. “Markers of inflammation and cardiovascular disease: application to clinical and public health practice: A statement for healthcare professionals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association.” Circulation vol. 107,3 (2003): 499-511.

[3]  Gregor, Margaret F, and Gökhan S Hotamisligil. “Inflammatory mechanisms in obesity.” Annual review of immunology vol. 29 (2011): 415-45.

[4] Duan, Lihua et al. “Regulation of Inflammation in Autoimmune Disease.” Journal of immunology research vol. 2019 7403796. 28 Feb. 2019, doi:10.1155/2019/7403796

[5] Ma, X et al. “Ghrelin receptor regulates HFCS-induced adipose inflammation and insulin resistance.” Nutrition & diabetes vol. 3,12 e99. 23 Dec. 2013

[6] Schultz, Alini et al. “Differences and similarities in hepatic lipogenesis, gluconeogenesis and oxidative imbalance in mice fed diets rich in fructose or sucrose.” Food & function vol. 6,5 (2015): 1684-91.

[7] Spreadbury, Ian. “Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity.” Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity : targets and therapy vol. 5 (2012): 175-89.

[8] Dickinson, Scott et al. “High-glycemic index carbohydrate increases nuclear factor-kappaB activation in mononuclear cells of young, lean healthy subjects.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 87,5 (2008): 1188-93.

[9] Micha, Renata et al. “Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Circulation vol. 121,21 (2010): 2271-83.

[10] Uribarri, Jaime et al. “Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association vol. 110,6 (2010): 911-16.e12.

[11] Wang, H Joe et al. “Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 16,11 (2010): 1304-13.

[12] Nestel, Paul. “Trans fatty acids: are its cardiovascular risks fully appreciated?.” Clinical therapeutics vol. 36,3 (2014): 315-21.

[13] Barnard, Neal D et al. “Saturated and trans fats and dementia: a systematic review.” Neurobiology of aging vol. 35 Suppl 2 (2014): S65-73.

[14] Bendsen, Nathalie T et al. “Effect of industrially produced trans fat on markers of systemic inflammation: evidence from a randomized trial in women.” Journal of lipid research vol. 52,10 (2011): 1821-8.

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