Many foods can contribute to inflammation and chronic disease, including foods high in added sugar, refined carbs, fried foods, alcohol, and meats cooked at high temperatures.
Inflammation can be good or bad, depending on the situation.
On one hand, it’s your body’s natural way of protecting itself when you’re injured or sick.
It can help your body defend itself from illness and stimulate healing.
On the other hand, chronic, sustained inflammation is linked to an increased risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (
Interestingly, the foods you eat can significantly affect inflammation in your body.
Here are 5 foods that can cause inflammation.
Table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are the two main types of added sugar in the Western diet.
Sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, while high fructose corn syrup is about 45% glucose and 55% fructose (
One of the reasons that added sugars are harmful is that they can increase inflammation, which can lead to disease (
In one study, mice fed high sucrose diets developed breast cancer that spread to their lungs, partly due to the inflammatory response to sugar (
In another 2011 study, the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids were impaired in mice fed a high sugar diet (
What’s more, in a randomized clinical trial in which people drank regular soda, diet soda, milk, or water, only those in the regular soda group had increased levels of uric acid, which drives inflammation and insulin resistance (
Sugar can also be harmful because it supplies excess amounts of fructose.
While the small amounts of fructose in fruits and vegetables are fine, consuming large amounts from added sugars can negatively affect health.
Eating a lot of fructose has been linked to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, fatty liver disease, cancer, and chronic kidney disease (
Also, researchers have noted that fructose causes inflammation within the endothelial cells that line your blood vessels, which is a risk factor for heart disease (
High fructose intake has likewise been shown to increase several inflammatory markers in mice and humans (
Foods high in added sugar include candy, chocolate, soft drinks, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, sweet pastries, and certain cereals.
Consuming a diet high in sugar and high fructose corn syrup drives inflammation that can lead to disease. It may also counteract the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition to being high in fat and calories, fried foods like French fries, mozzarella sticks, doughnuts, and egg rolls may also increase levels of inflammation in the body.
This is because certain high heat cooking methods, including frying, can increase the production of harmful compounds like advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which can drive inflammation and contribute to chronic disease (
Frying may also increase the amount of trans fats in cooking oils, which can also promote inflammation (
Some research suggests that fried foods can influence the composition of the gut microbiome, which could increase levels of inflammation (
Additionally, other studies have found that fried food consumption may be associated with an increased risk of developing and dying from heart disease (
Frying foods can increase the formation of harmful compounds that could increase inflammation, including AGEs and trans fats. Studies also show that fried foods can impact the gut microbiome and may be linked to a higher risk of chronic disease.
Though carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, many foods high in carbohydrates are highly nutritious and can fit into a well-rounded diet.
However, eating excessive amounts of refined carbs can drive inflammation (
Refined carbs have had most of their fiber removed. Fiber promotes fullness, improves blood sugar control, and feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut (
Researchers suggest that the refined carbs in the modern diet may encourage the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria that can increase your risk of obesity and inflammatory bowel disease (
Refined carbs have a higher glycemic index (GI) than unprocessed ones. High GI foods raise blood sugar more rapidly than low GI foods (
In one study, children and adolescents with cystic fibrosis who followed a low GI diet for 3 months experienced significant reductions in markers of inflammation compared to a control group (
Another review had similar findings, reporting that a low GI diet could decrease levels of interleukin-6, a marker of inflammation, more effectively than a high GI diet in people with diabetes (
Refined carbohydrates are found in candy, bread, pasta, pastries, some cereals, cookies, cakes, sugary soft drinks, and all processed foods that contain added sugar or flour.
High fiber, unprocessed carbs are nutritious, but refined carbs raise blood sugar levels and promote inflammation that may contribute to disease.
Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits (
However, higher amounts can lead to severe problems.
In one 2010 study, levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, increased in people who consumed alcohol. Those who had more than two drinks per day had the highest CRP levels (
People who drink heavily may develop problems with bacterial toxins moving out of the colon and into the body. This condition — often called “leaky gut” — can drive widespread inflammation that leads to organ damage (
To avoid alcohol-related health problems, intake should be limited to two standard drinks per day for males and one for females (
Heavy alcohol consumption may increase inflammation and lead to a “leaky gut” that drives inflammation throughout your body.
Consuming meats cooked at high temperatures — including processed meats like bacon, sausage, ham, and smoked meat — is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer (
Other high heat cooking methods include grilling, barbecuing, roasting, frying, toasting, and searing.
Cooking meats at high temperatures leads to the formation of inflammatory compounds known as AGEs (
In addition to promoting inflammation, AGEs are also thought to contribute to chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes (
Interestingly, marinating meats in acidic solutions, such as lemon juice or vinegar, before grilling or roasting can reduce the amount of AGEs by half (
Another way to minimize the formation of AGEs is to cook meats for shorter periods of time and opt for moist heat cooking methods, including boiling, steaming, poaching, or stewing (
Meats cooked at high temperatures, including processed meats, are high in AGEs, which have been linked to inflammation and chronic disease.
Inflammation can occur in response to many triggers, some of which are hard to prevent, including pollution, injury, or sickness.
However, you have much more control over factors like your diet.
To stay as healthy as possible, keep inflammation down by minimizing your consumption of foods that trigger it and eating anti-inflammatory foods.