9 Foods That Cause Inflammation


  • Inflammatory foods can damage DNA, increase insulin resistance, and heighten the risk of diseases.
  • Sugary foods can trigger inflammation by stimulating the production of fatty acids in your liver.
  • Processed meats like jerky or bacon are high in inflammation-causing saturated fats.

Your risk of chronic inflammation may be higher depending on your diet — sugar, processed meat, and fried foods can all cause inflammation in your body.

Limiting these foods can help reduce inflammation and cut your risk of chronic diseases. Here are nine common types of foods that cause inflammation and which anti-inflammatory foods to eat instead. 

What is inflammation? 

Your body uses inflammation to fight off illness and heal injuries. But chronic, long-term inflammation can be dangerous and may contribute to the following diseases: 

1. Sugary foods

Foods that are high in sugar like soda and baked goods can trigger inflammation in two ways:

2. Red meat and processed meats

Processed meats are meats that have been modified through curing, salting, smoking, or adding preserving chemicals, Anderson said. 

Some examples of processed meats are:

  • Bacon
  • Deli meats
  • Hot dogs
  • Beef jerky
  • Chicken nuggets

Both processed and red meats tend to be high in saturated fat. Studies have found that eating fatty processed and red meats may cause weight gain and inflammation.

3. Some cooking oils

Many common cooking oils contain a type of fat called omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fats aren’t necessarily bad — your body uses them for energy and normal growth.

But your omega-6 fats need to be in a careful balance with omega-3 fats that you can get from foods like salmon, mackerel, and flaxseed. If you eat too much omega-6 fat, it can throw off this balance, which triggers inflammation.

Some common cooking oils that contain omega-6 fats include:

  • Corn oil
  • Canola oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Peanut oil

4. Fried foods

Fried foods like chicken nuggets, doughnuts, and french fries are big inflammation culprits for several reasons, including:

  • Fried foods tend to have high levels of omega-6 fatty acids.
  • They often contain trans fats.
  • “Fried foods produce compounds in the body called advanced glycation end products, also known as AGEs. These compounds directly stimulate inflammation in the body,” Anderson said.

5. Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates are sugars and grains that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. 

Studies demonstrate that a diet high in refined carbs can increase inflammation and trigger insulin resistance in the body. These factors contribute to a higher risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.  

Refined carbohydrates are found in foods such as:

  • White bread
  • Pasta
  • Pizza dough
  • Sugary cereals
  • White rice
  • White flour
  • Pastries

6. Soda and sweetened drinks

Soda and other sugary drinks can also cause inflammation. Drinks high in sugar can cause inflammation in three significant ways:

1. Drinks sweetened with fructose, glucose and sucrose can affect how your body metabolizes sugar, leading to inflammation. 

2. Soda and other sweetened drinks can cause increased concentration of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a biomarker associated with inflammation. 

3. Consumption of sucrose-sweetened soft drinks increases levels of uric acid in the body, which can induce inflammation and insulin resistance. 

7. Excessive alcohol 

Alcohol in moderation has low-grade inflammatory risks. In excess, however, alcohol can manipulate your body’s natural processing, leading to dysfunction in organs such as your:

When excessive alcohol enters your system, it increases production of one particular gut-derived bacteria (LPS). This increased bacteria load impacts the lining of your intestinal wall, allowing bacteria to leak through, causing inflammation in surrounding organs. 

8. MSG

Monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG, is a flavor enhancer often added to a number of processed foods. This additive can increase inflammation in the body and can increase the risk of liver damage, obesity, and some autoimmune disorders. 

Common foods that contain MSG include:

  • Soy sauce
  • Canned soup
  • Instant ramen
  • Condiments
  • Potato chips
  • Canned vegetables
  • Processed meats (such as hot dogs, pepperoni, beef jerky, and deli meat)

9. Trans fats

Trans fats can cause inflammation in the body, both in your heart and in your intestines. This inflammation can impair gluten tolerance, as well as insulin production in the body. 

Though touched on briefly above, it’s worth noting that trans fats are in a lot more than just fried foods. Other common foods that contain trans fats include: 

  • Microwave popcorn
  • Frozen pizza
  • Non-dairy coffee creamer
  • Margarine and other shortening
  • Processed pastries 

Anti-inflammatory foods

There are also many anti-inflammatory foods that can help fight chronic inflammation in your body. These foods are rich in key compounds like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids that work to reduce your levels of inflammatory proteins.

Some key anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet include:

  • Fatty fish
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fruits and veggies like oranges, broccoli, and peppers
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes

Insider’s takeaway

Inflammation is a major health concern, and your diet can have a huge effect on the levels of inflammation in your body. 

Avoiding foods like sugar, packaged snacks, and red meat can help you control inflammation and lower your risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease.

But keep in mind that the overall content of your diet is more important than any one meal.

“In other words, if your diet is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with moderate amounts of lean proteins, occasional intake of your favorite sweet treat or salty snack or even a fatty meal is not going to be a deal breaker,” Javelli said.

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