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5 Foods Secretly Increasing Inflammation In Your Body, Say Dietitians

Ditch these items if you need to cut out irritating foods.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

Anyone who wants to embrace healthy eating can't go wrong by tracking what foods in their diet can lead to inflammation. According to The Cleveland Clinic, your body triggers an immune system response when it thinks bacteria or other pathogens have invaded. Your body initially sends cytokines and other inflammatory cells to fight the problem and start the healing process, leading to swelling, pain, flushed skin, and more.

Sometimes, acute inflammation occurs when you injure yourself, but chronic inflammation can also occur. This type of inflammation takes place when your body triggers an immune system response, despite not being in danger. Chronic inflammation can lead to a variety of diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's disease. While certain medical conditions can lead to this malady, those who smoke, have high BMIs, and drink alcohol excessively can experience this condition.

Certain foods, like fried food or processed meats also trigger inflammation. Keeping track of what items make this condition worse can help you feel better in the long run. While many items clearly make inflammation worse, some items sneak by and can trigger a response.

Knowing which popular foods secretly inflame your body, we spoke with dietitians on foods to limit to reduce inflammation in your life. And if you want to take your diet to the next level, make sure to include the 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods into your eating plan.


Sirloin Steak

You may have heard that processed meats trigger an inflammatory reaction, but animal protein, in general, can also lead to the same condition.

"[Meats] are inflammatory in part because of their fat content and type (saturated fats) which can be inflammatory," says Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes PhD, MPH, RD, and author or Recipe For Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life. "Certain amino acids in meat can also be inflammatory and lead to alteration in the gut microbiome, as well as overall digestion and metabolism."

"People who eat a lot of meat… are also taking in nitrates which are inflammatory as well," Hunnes continues. "Consuming too many high-fat foods and meat products can also alter insulin sensitivity and increase weight gain as well as gastrointestinal inflammation. We hear so much about ketogenic diets and paleo diets for weight loss, that we don't take into account how unhealthy and inflammatory they actually are."

Instead, Hunnes recommends a plant-forward or plant-based diet "high in whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, vegetables, etc.—all of which are anti-inflammatory, full of fiber, water, and slow-digesting carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals."

Salad dressings

Vinaigrette dressings for salads

"Research shows that consumption of dietary sugar, consumed in high amounts in the Western diet, contributes to increased inflammation," Johna Burdeos, RD.

"Salad dressings… are foods people may not think of as pro-inflammatory, but they likely have added sugars to them," says Burdeos. "Replace store-bought salad dressing and make your own olive oil-based dressing. Olive oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which may inhibit inflammation. Blend with avocado (also rich in omega-3) for a creamy texture."

If you feel like whipping up your own signature take on a classic salad dressing, check out 10 Healthy Salad Dressing Recipes You Can Make in Minutes for a bit of easy inspiration.

Granola bars

chocolate granola bars

While salad dressings can pack in excess sugar, other popular grocery items also have the capacity to sneak in processed carbs that lead to inflammation spikes. If you need a quick snack, make sure you check the nutritional contents of your favorite granola bars. Otherwise, you might have just dug into a snack that can unknowingly cause some noticeable inflammation.

"Granola bars can be replaced with a piece of fruit and plain nuts with no added sugar," says Burdeos. "The combination will give you the sweetness and crunch texture similar to a granola bar but without the added sugar. You'll also get the benefit of fiber from fruits and nuts, which have been shown to reduce inflammation markers."

Frozen yogurt

frozen yogurt

"Not all frozen yogurts are made equally," says Susan Kelly, RD at Pacific Analytics. "Some manufacturers contain excessive sugar."

You may think of frozen yogurt as the wholesome cousin to ice cream, but certain frozen yogurts load up the dessert with enough sugar to counteract any healthy image they may have tried to get across. If you love this treat, don't panic. You can still Eat Frozen Yogurt and Lose Weight with a few tricks and pieces of advice.

Seasoning packets

seasoning blend

"Undoubtedly, seasoning mixes give an effortless and quick flavor to any dish, but they [may] contain artificial coloring," says Kelly. "These artificial colors can… lead to inflammation. Therefore, it's better to add limited seasoning mixes to your dishes."

More and more studies pop up that link food dyes to inflammation and diseases stemming from this condition. A scholarly article retrieved from Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine linked certain food dyes to intestinal inflammation and neurological conditions. A study from Cell Metabolism also found that food dyes were linked to the development of a form of IBS. Seasoning packets aren't the only foods that use these coloring agents. Make sure to avoid 17 Surprising Foods That Contain Chemicals & Food Dyes.

Erich Barganier
Erich Barganier is a health and food writer. Read more about Erich