Five Inflammation-Causing Foods

In 2000, over 125 million Americans were living with chronic conditions, and 61 million had more than one. These chronic inflammation-mediated diseases include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and joint diseases, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While conventional medicine leans towards treating chronic inflammation with medication, people often overlook one central aspect: one’s diet. There are several inflammation-causing foods which are unhealthy and unhelpful for inflammation, especially for people with these chronic conditions. In this article, we will examine five of these inflammation-causing foods and the research to back it up.


Alcohol being on this list should not be a surprise, and several studies have supported the claim that alcohol causes inflammation [2] [3] [18] [19] [20]. Now, I am not talking on the very occasional [emphasis on very] glass of wine or other drink; I am talking about regular alcohol consumption.

A 2010 study entitled “Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development” supports this claim. The researchers found because of alcohol’s interactions with bacteria in the gut, alcohol can raise the amount of microflora-derived lipopolysaccharide (LPS) [2].

As a result, the liver must detoxify these excess, unhealthy bacteria. What follows is a bodily inflammatory reaction through the liver’s interaction with the nervous system. The researchers concluded, “Chronic alcohol use impairs not only gut and liver functions but also multi-organ interactions, leading to persistent systemic inflammation and ultimately, to organ damage” [2].

A 2017 study entitled “Alcohol and inflammatory responses: Highlights of the 2015 Alcohol and Immunology Research Interest Group (AIRG) meeting” offered a similar perspective. In this study, researchers investigated pulmonary inflammation as a result of alcohol and alcohol’s effects on the brain and liver. The researchers noted several points: “alcohol-induced excessive neuroinflammation,” “alcohol exposure can lead to immunosuppression, which can increase susceptibility to infection in the liver and other organ systems,” and “alcohol increases the severity of respiratory syndromes, such as asthma-like symptoms and acute respiratory distress syndrome, and the susceptibility to lung infection, while it limits normal lung repair mechanisms following injury” [3]. All these effects resulted from alcohol’s inflammation-causing properties.

Artificial Trans Fats

Trans fats, also called trans-unsaturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids, is a type of unsaturated fat that occurs in small amounts of nature, but became widely produces industrially from vegetable fats starting in the 1950s for use in margarine, snack food, packaged baked goods (think Twinkie-like foods), and for frying fast food. Artificial trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to liquid unsaturated fats, to make them more reliable and stable.

Artificial trans fats, which are most trans fats available, are the unhealthiest fats you can eat and, perhaps, one of the sickest things you can put in your body. These fats are also labeled are “partially hydrogenated” oils because the term “trans-fat” is widely known to be unhealthy.

A plethora of studies have explained why artificial trans cause inflammation [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]. I am not going to review studies for artificial trans fats because I feel this is a given, but they are referenced below if you would like to review them.

White and Processed Bread

Refined carbohydrates, including white and processed bread, have been linked to inflammation [13] [14] [15] [16] [17].

Now, it is essential to note this is not regarding all carbohydrates but specifically processed ones. Processed carbohydrates have most of their fiber removed. Usually the fiber in carbohydrates promotes fullness, supports healthy blood sugar, and feels beneficial gut bacteria, but with the fiber extracted, refined carbs may support the growth of inflammation-causing gut bacteria, which have been linked to obesity and inflammatory bowel disease [13] [15].

Also, processed carbs have a higher glycemic index than unprocessed carbs, and high-glycemic carbs can raise blood sugar quicker than low-glycemic carbs.

In a 2010 study entitled “Carbohydrate nutrition and inflammatory disease mortality in older adults,” researchers found older adults, primarily women, who had a diet consisting largely of high-glycemic carbs “had a 2.9-fold increased risk of inflammatory death compared with women” who ate the least amount of low-glycemic carbs [16].

In a 2008 study, researchers investigated the relationship between high-glycemic index diets and the risks of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. The researchers found young, healthy men who are 50 grams of refined carbs in the form of white bread experienced higher blood sugar levels and an increase in inflammatory markers [17].

So, processed carbs, or high-glycemic carbs, are unhealthy and can lead to inflammation, but unprocessed carbs, which are high in fiber, are healthy.

Processed Meat

Because of processed meat’s inflammation-causing properties, studies have linked its consumption to an increased risk of diabetes, colon cancer, stomach cancer, and heart disease [21] [22] [23]. Processed meat includes sausages and hot dogs, ham and cured bacon, smoked meat, dried meat, and canned meat.

This is mostly because processed meat contains higher amounts of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) than other meats, and studies have linked AGEs to inflammation [24] [25].

There are several diseases which have been linked to diets high in processed meat, but out of all of them, the link between this type of food and colon cancer has been established the strongest. One 2016 study stated this relationship is due to the inflammatory response colon cells have towards processed meat [26].

White Sugar

White sugar, and mostly high-fructose corn syrup in the Western diet, are two significant causes of inflammation. The main difference between sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is that sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose and high-fructose corn syrup is 45% glucose and 55% fructose.

These sugars directly cause inflammation, which can cause a wide array of diseases [27] [28] [29] [30] [31].

In a 2015 study, researchers found high-sucrose diets fed to mice caused breast cancer that spread to their lungs because of sugar’s inflammatory properties [29], and another study even showed that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids were damped in rats who were fed this diet [30].

In a 2015 study, researchers studied people who either drank regular soda, diet soda, milk or water. The scientists found only those in the regular soda group had increased amounts of uric acid, which drives inflammation and insulin resistance [31].

Other studies have also found eating a lot of fructose may cause obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, fatty liver disease, cancer, and chronic kidney disease [32] [33] [34] [35] [36] [37] [38]. Also, studies have shown high fructose diets to raise levels of certain inflammatory markers [33] [39] [40] [36] [41] [42].


To summarize, there are specific foods that have been linked to increased inflammation, and it is no surprise that these foods and ingredients are highly prevalent in the American diet. If you are suffering from inflammation or inflammatory symptoms, you may want to consider evaluating your diet.

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