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Eating Habits to Avoid if You Want to Lower Inflammation, Says Dietitian

Chronic inflammation can cause some serious damage to your body, and your eating habits play a big role in causing that inflammation.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Inflammation can be a blessing or a curse depending on the situation. On one hand, acute inflammation can be an important part of the healing process in the body. But chronic inflammation, or inflammation that lingers in the body for a long period of time, can cause some serious damage to your cells and tissues, possibly increasing your risk of experiencing outcomes like rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and even certain cancers.

And while acute inflammation, which typically stays in the body for a short period of time, is caused by factors like infection and injury, chronic infection can be a result of lifestyle choices, including smoking cigarettes, being obese, being in a constant state of stress, and choosing certain "pro-inflammatory" foods over anti-inflammatory choices.

Tackling many of these factors is pretty straightforward. For example, since smoking cigarettes increases your chances of experiencing chronic inflammation, quitting smoking may help lower it.

When it comes to eating habits, there are many choices that may contribute to this health condition. If you are trying to lower your chronic inflammation, here are 11 eating habits to avoid. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.


Only eating land-based protein foods

Processed deli meat cold cuts

From beef to chicken to even tofu, there are tons of protein choices to choose from when building your plate. But if fish and shellfish are not on your protein rotation, you may be missing out on some inflammation-combatting nutrients.

If you are a seafood lover, enjoying a Mahi sandwich or some fish tacos may help you manage chronic inflammation in your body, thanks in part to the omega-3 fatty acids that these foods contain.

The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are found primarily in marine sources, and adequate levels of these nutrients have been linked to reduced chronic inflammation.

For generally healthy people, the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating at least 8 ounces of seafood a week. Just make sure that you aren't choosing a fried option, as eating foods that are prepared in this style may work against your goals.

Following a vegan diet and avoiding seafood? No sweat! An algae-based DHA supplement may help manage inflammation and is a completely vegan source of this key nutrient.

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Drinking too much alcohol

pouring red wine

You may want to put down that extra glass of chardonnay when you are out with your friends.

While light to moderate drinking may actually reduce inflammation in the body, heavy drinking may result in increased inflammation and should be avoided.

Keep track of your booze and don't overdo it if you want to manage your inflammation levels.

READ MORESide Effects of Giving Up Alcohol, According to Science


Eating refined white bread instead of whole grain

white bread

White bread may hit the spot when a sammie craving hits, but choosing it instead of whole-grain may be wreaking havoc on your inflammation management.

To make white bread, grains used as an ingredient are refined. In this process, nutrients like fiber, healthy fats, and certain vitamins and minerals are removed.

Thanks to the lack of nutrients like fiber and fat, eating refined starches, like white bread, can rapidly alter blood glucose and insulin levels, and in turn, increase the production of pro-inflammatory factors.

Swapping out your refined white bread with a whole grain choice can be a simple way to help lower the inflammation in your body. Try The #1 Best Bread to Eat, According to a Dietitian.


Drinking soda that has high fructose corn syrup

cola carbonated liquid fresh and cool iced drink in a glasses

High fructose corn syrup is a type of corn-based sweetener that is used to sweeten foods instead of sugar thanks to it being a cheaper option. It provides carbohydrates and calories and essentially no other nutrients.

Drinking soda or anything else made with this syrup is linked to increased inflammation, although eating regular table sugar doesn't appear to be any better for you. Your best bet is sugar-free sparkling water or good old-fashioned water. Check out these 25 Healthy, Low-Sugar Soda Alternatives.


Drinking flavored milks

Chocolate milk

Whether you are choosing almond, soy, or classic dairy, drinking your milk may be contributing to your inflammation if you are opting for a flavored choice (like chocolate or vanilla) if the variety you choose is flavored with sugar, as sugar can promote inflammation in the body. And since some flavored milks can have around 25 grams of sugar per serving, checking out the nutrition label before you guzzle your beverage is a wise idea.

Opting for an unflavored choice will serve you well in the inflammation department.


Eating too much fast food

Man eating an hamburger while driving car

Unless you are hitting up the drive-through for meals like a salad with grilled chicken on top, eating fast food may be hurting your chances of having well-managed inflammation.

In fact, a study published in the journal Cell suggests that a diet heavy in fast food-type choices triggers an inflammatory response and can even cause damage to your immune system.

It may be a better choice to pack your own lunch instead of downing a supersized meal to support your health.


Eating more processed meat than fresh meat

Processed meats sausage hot dog red meat deli meat

Processed meats – think bacon, sausage, and lunchmeats – contain advanced glycation end products( AGEs), a component that may cause inflammation in the body.

AGEs are formed when reducing sugars react with proteins under high heat. These compounds can make food taste great, but may not be great for our overall health.

You are better off choosing fresh and less processed meat choices to fuel your body. Or better yet, opt for a meat-free meal once in a while.


Snacking on candy

chocolate candy

Candy can certainly satisfy a sweet tooth. But eating too much of the sweet stuff can increase inflammation, thanks to the sugar it contains.

Whether it is from candy, cakes, or other sweet treats, eating large amounts of sugar can promote inflammation in healthy adults.

Swap your candy with naturally sweet berries. You will still get that awesome taste without the risk of contributing to inflammation.


Using artificial sweeteners

artificial sweeteners

We know that eating too much sugar can contribute to inflammation. But swapping out your sweet stuff with artificial sweeteners may not be the best solution.

In a study published in Nature, results show that consuming artificial sweeteners can change the composition of the bacteria found in the gut. Specifically, the amount of "good bacteria" that help release anti-inflammatory compounds can be reduced.

If you must have some sweetness, try some 100% pure maple syrup from Canada. This syrup contains a unique compound called quebecol that has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. A little bit actually tastes pretty good in coffee!


Forgetting to eat enough fruit or vegetables


Fruits and vegetables are jam-packed with natural compounds that help support the health and wellness of our body. And when it comes to combatting inflammation, higher fruit and vegetable intakes may actually help lower this effect.

Only 1 in 10 Americans are eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. So unless you are the exception, you likely need to do a better job eating some produce.


Frying your foods instead of baking

fried chicken

If you prefer your chicken and potatoes fried instead of baked, you may be inadvertently contributing to your elevated inflammation levels.

When foods are fried, they tend to have higher levels of dietary advanced glycation end products (the same potentially harmful compounds found in processed meats), which could induce inflammation.

Try breading and baking your foods instead of frying them to help lower your inflammation.

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Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC
Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian, book author, and recipe developer who has been in practice for almost 20 years. Read more about Lauren