Foods that can cause inflammation
Inflammation is a natural response that works to protect your body against infection, injury and disease. Short periods of inflammation in response to a threat to your body are normal and help you stay healthy. However, chronic inflammation that persists at a low level even when no threat is present has been linked to disease, such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and some cancers (Harvard Health, 2021). Diet has been found to affect inflammation levels in the body, and knowing which foods promote and prevent inflammation could help prevent disease in the future.
The relationship between nutrition and inflammation
Chronic inflammation is associated with certain diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression (Kinney et al., 2018, Lee & Giuliani, 2019). Inflammation can also cause arteriosclerosis (a buildup of plaque in the arteries), which can lead to heart disease. Certain dietary factors are associated with lower levels of inflammation markers, such as fibre, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Conversely, saturated fat and sodium have been associated with higher levels of inflammation (Nieman et al., 2021). As some aspects of inflammation are out of our control (such as autoimmune diseases or exposure to toxins in the environment), our diet is one way to try and reduce the risks of inflammation.
Mediterranean and Western diets
Diet has been proven to play a major role in inflammation. Mediterranean diets, which are rich in fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, poultry, olive oil and whole grains, have been found to be protective against diseases associated with chronic inflammation (Harvard Health, 2020). This is in contrast to the contemporary Western diet, which is characterized by a minimal consumption of fruit and vegetables and a high consumption of highly processed and high-calorie foods (Graber, 2021). In contrast, the Western diet is associated with increased inflammation levels and inflammation-related diseases (Christ, 2019).
Certain foods can be triggers for inflammation in the body and may also promote increased cholesterol or obesity, which are also associated with increased inflammation. Moderating your consumption of pro-inflammatory foods and shifting to anti-inflammatory alternatives can help reduce your risk of inflammation-related disease.
Common foods that cause inflammation include:
- Refined carbohydrates: Refined carbs are foods made from refined flour or sugar, such as white bread, pasta, soda, pizza, and baked goods. Refined flour is made by grinding only the inside of the grain of wheat. In this process, the grains are stripped of all bran, fibre, and nutrients. This means the body can break them down quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar and potentially increasing inflammation with time (Harvard Health, 2022).
- Trans fats: Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that occur both naturally in animal products and through processing liquid oils to make them into solid fats. Trans fats are used in fried foods, fast foods, and many processed snacks because they are inexpensive, last a long time, and give food a desirable taste and texture (American Heart Association). Studies have linked trans fats to increased inflammatory markers, coronary artery disease, and diabetes (Mozaffarian, 2006).
- Processed meat: Processed meats are products such as bacon, hot dogs, and sausages that have been cured, salted, fermented, or smoked for flavour or preservation. Processed meats contain large amounts of sodium, preservatives and saturated fat, which are linked to increased inflammation (Chai et al., 2017).
- Sugar: Foods that are high in added sugar can also lead to increased inflammation (Aeberli, 2011). This includes soft drinks, sweets, and pastries. Less obvious foods that can have significant amounts of added sugar are breakfast cereals and yogurt.
- Alcohol: Research has shown that alcohol causes inflammation in the gut. Chronic alcohol intake can cause intestinal and liver inflammation that compromises the gut barrier function, limits the liver’s ability to detoxify products, and impairs the brain’s ability to regulate inflammation (Wang et al, 2010). Practicing moderation with alcohol is important to prevent inflammation and for overall good health.
One of the most effective ways to reduce chronic inflammation is through consuming more anti-inflammatory foods (Harvard Health). Switching inflammatory foods for anti-inflammatory alternatives could help prevent or slow down disease, reduce inflammation, and contribute to a healthier life. Common anti-inflammatory foods include tomatoes, nuts, fatty fish, olive oil, and fruit. Interested in learning more about how to reduce inflammation? Read our blog.
Including these anti-inflammatory foods in your diet can help reduce potential inflammation and improve overall health. In addition to eating more anti-inflammatory foods, consider consuming less of the previously mentioned inflammatory foods, such as sugar, fried snacks, and processed meats.
Managing inflammation is a lifelong process that involves adopting healthy habits. If you would like to check for chronic inflammation from home, Homed-IQ’s Vitamin D and Inflammation Test measures hs-CRP, a key marker of inflammation.
Aeberli, I., Gerber, P. A., Hochuli, M., Kohler, S., Haile, S. R., Gouni-Berthold, I., Berthold, H. K., Spinas, G. A., & Berneis, K. (2011). Low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94(2), 479–485. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.013540
American Heart Association. (2022, July 20). Trans Fats. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/trans-fat
Chai, W., Morimoto, Y., Cooney, R. V., Franke, A. A., Shvetsov, Y. B., Le Marchand, L., Haiman, C. A., Kolonel, L. N., Goodman, M. T., & Maskarinec, G. (2017). Dietary Red and Processed Meat Intake and Markers of Adiposity and Inflammation: The Multiethnic Cohort Study. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 36(5), 378–385. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2017.1318317
Christ, A., Lauterbach, M., & Latz, E. (2019). Western Diet and the Immune System: An Inflammatory Connection. Immunity, 51(5), 794–811. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.immuni.2019.09.020
Graber, E. (2021, May 19). The Link between Diet, Inflammation, and Disease. American Society for Nutrition. https://nutrition.org/the-link-between-diet-inflammation-and-disease/
Harvard Health. (2021, November 16). Foods that fight inflammation. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
Kinney, J. W., Bemiller, S. M., Murtishaw, A. S., Leisgang, A. M., Salazar, A. M., & Lamb, B. T. (2018). Inflammation as a central mechanism in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s &Amp; Dementia: Translational Research &Amp; Clinical Interventions, 4(1), 575–590. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trci.2018.06.014
Lee, C. H., & Giuliani, F. (2019). The Role of Inflammation in Depression and Fatigue. Frontiers in Immunology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2019.01696
Mozaffarian, D. (2006). Trans fatty acids – Effects on systemic inflammation and endothelial function. Atherosclerosis Supplements, 7(2), 29–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atherosclerosissup.2006.04.007
Nieman, K. M., Anderson, B. D., & Cifelli, C. J. (2020). The Effects of Dairy Product and Dairy Protein Intake on Inflammation: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 40(6), 571–582. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2020.1800532
Wang, H. J. (2010). Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 16(11), 1304. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v16.i11.1304