Inflammatory Foods: A Guide for Reducing Inflammation – Part 3

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD

Read Part 1 | Part 2

Inflammatory Foods to Avoid

Avoiding Inflammatory foodsThere are a multitude of inflammatory foods that should be avoided. The list would be lengthy if it were produced, and some of the most common foods would be included.

For starters, the “3 Ps” should be avoided: processed, packaged, and prepared foods. All of these are inflammatory foods because of the additives, oils, sugars, and artificial sweeteners in them. Fast foods top the list.

Many baked goods contain hydrogenated oils and trans fats. These include margarine, shortening, and lard. Margarine is especially bad; it is essentially a poison developed many years ago to alleviate a shortage of butter.

Meat and poultry also increase inflammation. Wild-caught fish are the exception. Small portions of meat and poultry should be alright, but make sure your meals have larger portions of vegetables.

Plant based meals decrease inflammation. If you’re a meat eater and must have meat, try to find grass-fed beef, chicken, turkey, and eggs, or at least those without hormones.

Some people may experience increased pain levels for up to three weeks with even a taste of wheat, sugar, potatoes, juice, or soda. Others will feel more pain for up to four months after eating hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

Some go so far as to class margarine and aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet, as poisons for your body. The hydrogenated fat in margarine has been associated with many chronic illnesses. Aspartame undergoes conversion in the body into formaldehyde and methanol. Formaldehyde, besides being embalming fluid, has strong links to cancers. Methanol can cause brain damage and increases pain sensations. The amount of methanol in two diet sodas per week is more than your body can detoxify. This allows it to accumulate in your body and cause damage. You may require two months to detox satisfactorily once you stop ingesting aspartame.

White flour and sugar are two of the most common inflammatory foods. White flour actually changes into sugar in the presence of the digestive enzymes found in your mouth. A lot of sugar in your diet leads to an increase in advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), or proteins bound to glucose molecules. When your body works to break this bond, proinflammatory cytokines are produced. And you’ve already seen what these cytokines lead to.

Some inflammatory foods cause allergic reactions in your body. Some allergies throw your blood sugar into imbalance, which then can lead to increased inflammation. This then causes your pancreas to release more insulin, which can lead to more cortisol being secreted by the adrenals. Cortisol causes you to retain belly fat instead of burning for energy. High amounts of belly fat are an indicator of chronic inflammation.

It’s important for you to keep in mind the hidden sugars in many foods as well. For example, many brands of catsup contain significant amounts of sugar. And these simple carbohydrates can be hidden in unexpected places. For example, a nine-ounce bag of potato chips contains 32 teaspoons of sugar. If you drink a soda with chips, you’re adding another 16 teaspoons of sugar – or more! A small size Dairy Queen Blizzard contains the equivalent of 21 teaspoons of sugar.

The American Journal of Cancer Nutrition reported a study that supported the findings that sugar increases inflammation. The study found a large amount of sugar in foods raised the CRP serum level in those who consumed those foods.

Three cups of cooked pasta is equal to 25 teaspoons of sugar in your body. And, of course, this means a greater level of inflammation.

Inflammatory foods and preservativesFood additives create more inflammatory foods. These additives include artificial colors, preservatives, flavor enhancers, and stabilizers. These substances include benzoates, sulfites, and most food colors. Many of the foods directed at children contain these inflammatory food additives.

Many dairy products contain hormones and antibiotics given to the animals they come from. These products include yogurt, butter, ice cream, cottage cheese, and cheese, among others.

Wheat is present in many forms in the grocery store. It is readily acid-forming and significantly increases inflammation in your body. It contains gluten, as do many other grains, which is also very proinflammatory.

Alcohol in its many drinkable forms also converts quickly to sugar in the body and increases inflammation readily. It’s best to leave it alone or at least use it in moderation.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Now that you know which inflammatory foods to avoid, you’ll need to know what foods can reduce or eliminate inflammation. Many of these foods act as natural inflammation remedies.

All meats are not bad. Be sure to choose the right kinds and keep the amount you consume in moderation. Free range, grass fed, and organically raised animals yield better meat as far as inflammation is concerned. The nutritional value of these meats is much greater than meat from industrially farm-raised animals. Pasture raised animals’ meat is higher in Omega-3s and lower in Omega-6s. This leads to lower levels of inflammation in your body.

Cold water fish should be eaten three times a week by adults. This gives you increased Omega-3s with all their health benefits, including decreased inflammation. These kinds of fish include salmon, herring, anchovies, and sardines.

Vegetables like garlic, leeks, artichokes, and asparagus are high in fructooligosaccharides. These complex sugars are hard to digest by your body, causing you to absorb fewer calories and avoid spikes in blood sugar. They feed the good bacteria in your gut system, helping you keep a healthy gut microbiome.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are among the best anti-inflammatory foods. The phytochemicals that help fight inflammation also give these fruits and vegetables their bright colors. These include carotenoids that give carrots and squash their orange coloring, as well as lycopene that gives tomatoes and red bell peppers their distinctive red colors.

Grapes and berries contain resveratrol, the phytochemical recently found to fight heart disease. It also aids in reducing inflammation.

Olive oil is another beneficial food choice. High in polyphenols, extra virgin olive oil heated to less than 140 degrees Celsius is the most beneficial in cooking. Olive oil is also a great source of oleic acid, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Nuts and seeds should be added to your diet as anti-inflammatory foods. They contain a number of excellent nutrients, including Omega-3s, and they can keep blood sugar at appropriate levels when used as snacks throughout the day. Walnuts especially are full of phytonutrients not found elsewhere.

Avocados are also packed with nutrients. Phytosterols, carotenoids, and alpha-linoleic acids, along with mono- and polyunsaturated fats are present in avocados. Numerous studies have shown avocado consumption to be linked to reduced inflammation, reduced cholesterol, and balanced blood sugar levels. This versatile food can be used as a garnish, a main dish, or as a substitute for butter and margarine.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are high in indole 3-carbinol and should be added to your inflammation-lowering food choices. This vegetable family is also high in sulfur which helps detox your liver.

Don’t avoid all fats. Fats give you the building blocks with which your body builds new cells and cell membranes. It’s these cell membranes that allow good things into your cells and expel bad things from the cells. It is very important to have strong cell membranes. Remember this: When you eat hydrogenated fat, every cell you make that day has this hydrogenated fat in it.

Anti-Inflammatory Supplements and Herbs

As you reduce and eliminate the inflammatory foods from your diet, you may want to consider adding supplements and herbs to increase your body’s ability to fight inflammation.

Omega-3 fatty acids. The benefits of these essential fatty acids have been covered elsewhere in this article. They come from fish and flax seed, but can also be found in supplement form. Side effects of Omega-3s include a fishy aftertaste, burping, slight nausea, and bloating. These typically are mild, but if they persist you should consult your healthcare professional. An increase in bleeding or bruising are unusual side effects but may occur. Severe side effects are rare.

Ginger. Since the 1970s, research has been accumulating that supports the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger, which have been known in other parts of the world for centuries. It inhibits prostaglandin synthesis and leukotriene biosynthesis, both part of the inflammatory response. Because of this effect, ginger can have an action similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Some mild side effects of ginger include heartburn, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort. It may increase the risk of bleeding. If you’re pregnant or nursing, consult with your healthcare provider before taking ginger.

Turmeric. Shown to be a good anti-inflammatory agent, turmeric can also be used as a flavor enhancer for foods. Typically, there are few, if any, side effects of turmeric. However, some people report stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness. If you’re pregnant, medicinal amounts of turmeric should be avoided. If you have gallbladder or bleeding problems, avoid using turmeric. For people with diabetes, turmeric may lower blood sugar. People with GERD should avoid turmeric because of the potential for increased stomach problems.

Anti Inflammatory foods you can chooseCinnamon. Also a good anti-inflammatory, the food uses of cinnamon are well known. In general, cinnamon has few, if any, side effects. It should not be taken in large amounts by mouth for a long period of time. Those with diabetes should pay close attention to blood sugar levels when taking cinnamon. If you are planning surgery, you should stop taking cinnamon two weeks prior to the surgery. If you have liver disease, avoid medicinal levels of cinnamon.

Probiotics. The benefits of probiotics are many. They improve gut health and are very good anti-inflammatory agents. The most common side effects of probiotics include bloating and stomach discomfort. Large doses may lead to gas. It’s important to keep in mind the type of biologics in the supplement you are taking.

Glutathione. There are many health benefits to glutathione in addition to being an anti-inflammatory. It appears to be effective in dealing with chronic illness conditions that result from weakened defense systems in your body. Generally, glutathione is safe for use. However, due to a lack of information about its effects during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid its use.

Vitamin E. This supplement is primarily used in dealing with heart-related conditions and diabetes. It is a beneficial anti-inflammatory as well. It is generally safe for use with no side effects for most people at the recommended dosage of 15mg. In high doses, it is likely unsafe. Some research has suggested vitamin E may increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. On the other hand, it may decrease the risk of ischemic stroke.

inflammatory foods and Vitamin DVitamin D. Everyone is familiar with the ‘sunshine’ vitamin and its health effects on bone growth and strength. Research has shown a lack of this vitamin also increased the risk of diabetes and other chronic health conditions. It is a good anti-inflammatory agent. Vitamin D is generally safe for use in recommended dosages. Taking higher doses for longer periods of time should be done with under a health professional’s supervision due to the possibility of increased calcium in the blood.

Quercetin. This supplement is a flavonoid in fruits and vegetables that may have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used for conditions of the heart and blood vessels. Care should be taken when using this as a supplement due to lack of information regarding long-term effects. It is probably safe for short-term use, or you could focus on getting it from foods and teas instead. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s probably best to avoid using it.

Bromelain. It has been used to reduce inflammation in nose and sinus surgery. However, in general, there isn’t a lot of good information regarding bromelain and its effects. Some mild side effects, such as diarrhea and stomach discomfort, have been reported. Allergic reactions may be possible, especially if you have other allergies. Your healthcare professional should be consulted before using this supplement if you do have allergies.


Most people are not aware of the potential long-term effects of consuming inflammatory foods. These foods can increase the level of chronic pain you feel in the short-term and the risk of developing chronic illnesses in the long-term. Learning the types of foods that are considered inflammatory and avoiding them should greatly improve your quality of life and may lengthen your life as well.

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© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

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