17 Foods That Cause Inflammation in the Body
The word “inflammation” seems to be tossed around like candy at a parade these days. But, the funny thing is that most people have no clue what it actually means and most people definitely do not realize there are foods that cause inflammation in the body.
Let me ask you something.
If you knew there was a chance that changing your diet could potentially alleviate your suffering- whether it be fatigue, GI issues, joint pain, chronic sinus infections etc., wouldn’t you at least try to learn a little more? I can’t even begin to tell you the number of individuals I have helped avoid medications, surgeries and other invasive procedures simply by helping them decrease full-body inflammation by altering their food choices.
And to be totally transparent, I once thought inflammation only referred to visible redness and swelling. Or, maybe a scrape, bruise or big open wound. While these are clear signs of inflammation, they are more acute vs. chronic. Chronic inflammation and its relationship to food is the more elusive component of inflammation and it’s exactly what this article is all about.
So, if you’ve ever wondered what the term “inflammation” truly means, I want you to keep reading. In this post, we are going to review the basics of inflammation and the most commonly asked questions regarding inflammation: what are the foods that cause inflammation, does dairy cause inflammation, are eggs inflammatory, and my favorite, can you just provide me with foods that cause inflammation list?
What Does an Anti-inflammatory Diet Look Like?
On a very basic level, eating an anti-inflammatory diet means that you are choosing to eat foods that support your body in a way that allows it to work and function optimally. When you eat poor quality food, you are then encouraging the breakdown of your body as it has a constant struggle to function.
Eating poor quality food may be compared to driving a car by constantly slamming the gas and brake peddle. Wear and tear is going to happen quicker than necessary as engine parts heat up and are under constant stress.
An anti-inflammatory “diet” is not actually a diet at all but instead, a special way of eating that counteracts disease. It is not to be followed for a specific amount of time. It is a process that I encourage my clients and professional athletes to gradually adapt over time with the hope that they will sustain this way of eating for life.
Eating in a way that promotes better health is the single most powerful thing that you can do in your life in order to experience the best possible quality of life.
(Please read that again. I feel like I should silkscreen that onto a t-shirt.)
Think about this…You can’t do too much about the genetics you were given. Many times you can’t completely control the environment in which you are living and working. But, every human being on this planet can make better food choices.
To be fair, our food supply has changed so dramatically over the last 70 years and as a result, it is not nearly as easy to eat well. Real food in its purest form consists of three components:
- Macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat).
- Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
- Phytonutrients (chemical compounds naturally occurring in plants that are known to improve human health).
Simple enough, right? Well, unfortunately, food companies have now processed the heck out of real food in an attempt to improve shelf-life.
Why? Longer shelf-life equals greater profit. Hence why many companies rely on sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, manufactured fats such as partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat), and heavily processed grains. Not to mention, agricultural practices are much more toxic than ever before.
Combine all of this together and before you know it, many of us are eating this way for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even if you consider yourself to be a health-conscious person, there is a great chance that you are consuming processed chemicals several times throughout the day. Our bodies were never, ever meant to be fueled in this fashion, and we certainly weren’t meant to eat this way on a daily basis.
It’s no wonder the vast majority of us are chronically inflamed. It’s just not sustainable and I promise you, your organs will eventually let you know.
I know many of you are thinking O.K. fine, I see your point but “It’s too much effort,” or “Too much money -you fill in the blank- “in order to eat well.” However, I beg to differ.
Many years ago, my dietetic internship was completed in New Orleans, Louisiana. I was there a few years after Hurricane Katrina ran its course and there were families living in shacks with dirt floors. Once they were taught which foods caused inflammation and which did not, and how to eat well on a budget, they were able to make it happen. All it takes is a desire to learn and a little bit of discipline to carry it through. In other words, no excuses on your end!
(Usual disclaimer: FWDfuel Sports Nutrition is a participant in the Emerson Wellevate Associates Program and Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.)
The principles of Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
So, let’s outline what I would consider the core principles of eating an anti-inflammatory diet:
1. Eat Real Food.
Why? Because high-quality food actually sends codes to your DNA!! Food tells every cell in the body how and when to act. Literally, it’s just a bunch of constant messaging. Junk food sends terrible messages and “clean” food if you will, sends positive messages to every single cell in the body. When I say, “clean” I mean 90% of your diet should consist of fresh, whole foods that do not contain a barcode.
Examples: You’re choosing the apple and not the processed snack bar. You’re drizzling olive oil on your salad, not chemical-laden Ranch. You’re squeezing fresh lemon in your water and not artificially sweetened/dyed flavored powders.
2. Each Meal Should Contain at Least 2-3 Different Bright Colors.
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “eat the rainbow”? And to all my candy lovers out there, NO I am not talking about Skittles. Eating color is crucial because the more bright, beautiful color you ingest, the more your body is able to reverse damage on a cellular level. How crazy is that?!!
I wish I had understood these concepts in my youth. So, quite literally, I would like you to eat something red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple each day. Add blueberries to your oats and a cooked sweet potato to your smoothie. Dip red and green pepper slices in hummus for a snack and enjoy roasted eggplant as part of your dinner. Try grilled pineapple for dessert. The possibilities are endless!
3. Variety, Variety, Variety.
Variety truly is the spice of life. It crushes my soul a little bit when someone comes to my office with a perfectly calculated plan of macros and they are eating the exact same food every. single. day. I know this will happen from time to time but on the whole, its best to eat a wide variety of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, protein, and starches/grains. That is how we grow a diverse ecosystem of bacteria in our gut. The more diverse our ecosystem, the greater our health will be.
If chicken was on the menu for this week, let’s try salmon next week. If apples are usually your jam, try a kiwi or a plum instead. Are you a rice fanatic? What about quinoa, millet, teff, or amaranth?
4. Choose Functional Foods
I want you to focus on eating for fuel and for purpose. What is that bag of caramel corn or fruit snacks doing for you? Virtually nothing. However, by choosing foods that serve a purpose in your body, you will begin to look and feel like a different human. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower help us to detoxify. Omega 3 rich foods such as salmon, sardines, hemp seeds and walnuts promote optimal brain function. Chia seeds allow us to stay better hydrated. (Check out the list at the end of this article for more ideas.)
5. Don’t Skip Your Daily Multi!
Not only is it difficult to eat a perfectly balanced diet each day, but the quality of our soil is nothing like it once was, especially if you are not buying organic foods. A comprehensive multivitamin with built-in antioxidants to fight inflammation is the best-known safety net. Those of you who have worked with me know that Metagenics Phytomulti is my favorite. Most will do best with the Phytomulti without Iron but talk to your doctor or functional dietitian to determine which is best for you. Be sure to take with food for best absorption.
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Does Dairy Cause Inflammation?
I’d love to address two questions that I am asked on a frequent basis: does dairy cause inflammation and are eggs inflammatory?
Some of you will read this and think those are the most absurd questions you’ve ever read. Although, most of you are likely reading this blog because you don’t feel your very best and those questions probably resonate with you.
Answer: Yes and no.
I would be lying to you if I said I did not see hundreds upon hundreds of people react negatively to eggs and dairy products. There is more research than ever before on the subject, especially when it comes to autoimmune disease.[2,3,4]
However, at the same time, you will not find as much research on this topic as it deserves for several reasons: 1) Who wants to fund such a study when so much money is being made off the sale of these food products, especially by the dairy industry? 2) We are all so biochemically unique, therefore it is incredibly hard to design a study to pinpoint the what and the why behind such adverse food reactions.
Also, it’s worth noting that just because you do not have stomach pain or sprint to the bathroom with diarrhea after eating does not necessarily mean you tolerate that food. If you are sleepy after eating, or you experience a dull headache, mucus or congestion in your nose or throat, farts, stiff joints…the list goes on, after eating, that is likely a food sensitivity or intolerance.
So, does dairy cause inflammation and is there such a thing as dairy inflammation symptoms?
For many of us, the answer is yes but the “why” behind the yes can vary. Here is a bit of professional insight:
- Sometimes, the issue is just plain genetics. For example, a variant in the MCM6 gene often suggests a greater risk for lactose intolerance.
- Other times the issue is that our gut health is so funky from years of stress, meds, and poor diet and our bacteria in our gut is so out of balance that top allergen foods (that we repeatedly consume) such as wheat, dairy, corn, and egg tend to further exacerbate the issue of imbalance.
- In certain situations the individual is reacting to what the animal ate or how the animal has been treated (antibiotics, poor living conditions etc.). I have had children come to my office who are so sensitive to corn, that they are not able to consume dairy or beef from a predominantly corn-fed cow. I’ve had women suffering from a severe autoimmune conditions who were not able to tolerate certain grains and therefore felt sick after consuming chicken that were fed only grains.
- Some will try to argue and say the quality of the animal protein consumed does not matter, however, how do you explain client after client that I see who has no trouble consuming the grass-fed grass-finished beef but feels ill after the conventionally raised feed-lot beef? Or the clients who have no trouble consuming organic, pastured eggs, but are symptomatic after consuming eggs made from chickens in contaminated living environments.
- We also know that the type of cow, for example, Guernsey vs. Holstein plays a role in tolerance. These cows produce milk with differing proteins and it is thought that many individuals have a better time digesting the A2 milk protein from the guernsey cow.[5,6,7] There is also belief that the homogenization process used to sterilize milk for safe consumption can interfere with digestion and the human immune response.
Are Eggs Inflammatory?
In addition to many of the concepts above that overlap, there is growing evidence in functional medicine clinical practice that eggs, particularly the yolk, harbor mycotoxins and viruses/bacteria such as salmonella. While this makes great sense and is true in many situations due to the living conditions and quality of food provided to the chickens, you will not find mounds of research on the notion.
Last but not least, I want to address one more popular question: If what you are saying about these foods are true, why do so many people seem to tolerate them just fine?
Answer: Plenty of people do NOT tolerate them just fine, they simply have no idea that their symptoms are being provoked by these foods. Symptoms are often subtle, gradual, and delayed! Eczema is not normal. Chronic sinus issues are not normal. Chronic acne is not normal. Chronic fatigue is not normal. Daily headaches are not normal. Something is wrong, I do not care how old you are or how hard you work or train. Your immune system is not happy and I would strongly suggest that you start digging for answers!
Also, if you’ve read my previous article on the ultimate elimination diet meal plan, you know that the immune system acts like a bucket. For those of us who have more “full buckets” than others (stress, medications, poor sleep etc.) and our intestinal lining is hyper-permeable, (AKA “leaky gut”) we are more likely to react to these foods when consumed routinely.
Speaking of the immune bucket…
I once had a physician say to me, “I have 2-3 ladies in my practice who are approaching 100 years old and do you know what they eat all day? Toast, coffee and a bowl of soup at night with some crackers. They enjoy dessert as well.”
Take a look at their medical chart and really dig in there. What you will find is that these women did not grow up on chemical “Franken-food” and they made just about everything from scratch until their children were grown.
They didn’t have to worry about buying organic or eating anti-inflammatory because it just was. The harms of pesticides like glyphosate were not even a thought when they grew up.
These women were fortunate enough to stay at home with their children. They were not working full-time in factories full of heavy metals nor did they teach in old school buildings full of mold.
And most importantly, they never experienced the extreme stress of today and fast-paced lifestyle where we are chugging coffee with one hand and texting rapidly between social media apps on the other.
So, yes, these women are living in their 90s, eating processed food, and doing just fine but you have to look at the big picture.
Can You Just Provide me with a Foods that Cause Inflammation List?
Ah, yes, perhaps my favorite question of all time! Here is a snapshot of a foods that cause inflammation list. Please note that some of these are ingredients and not actual foods themselves.
Foods That Cause Inflammation List:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Partially Hydrogenated Oil (Trans Fat)
- Food Dye ( Example: Red Dye No. 40 or Blue Dye No. 1)
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil (Surprised? Canola oil is highly refined and genetically modified)
- Vegetable oil
- Conventionally raised animal protein. Aim for high-quality sources such as 100% grass fed beef, organic free range chicken and eggs, and wild caught fish.
- Processed meats
- Excessive alcohol
- Produce that is a part of the dirty dozen and is NOT organic (Organic vs. conventional produce? Check out our recent post comparing organic vs non-organic produce to learn more)
- Refined flour based products such as bread, pasta and crackers
- Genetically modified foods (GMO’s) such as corn and soybeans
- Non-organic grains (Rice, barley, rye etc.). Non organic grains are typically treated with chemicals, most often round-up. Check ou tour post on Is Gluten Free Really Healthier? to learn more on this topic.
- Any packaged food with a laundry list of ingredients that you do not recognize!
Cheers to health, happiness a whole heck of a lot less inflammation my friends!
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Great info. Thanks. I guess I have to reduce Processed meats in my diet from now on.
Good work Neha!