6 Foods That Cause Inflammation

From Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS.

For some of us, the word “inflammation” brings to mind images of arthritic senior citizens hunched over canes. But the truth is that inflammation plays an important role in our bodies on daily basis—even when we’re still young. Inflammation is actually critical to our health and safety (it’s what makes a cut get red and puffy to stop blood flow, for example), but when inflammation becomes a chronic condition, that’s when trouble arises.

When the immune system is overstimulated—whether from exposure to toxins, food or environmental allergies, excess stress or other factors—it begins attacking healthy body tissue, thus causing inflammation. Then, when the root cause of that inflammation in left unaddressed, it leads to other health conditions. In fact, inflammation is at the root of most diseases and is a primary factor in the development of health conditions like Crohn’s disease, arthritis, Celiac disease and leaky gut.

While it’s not always easy to pinpoint the specific factors that can cause inflammation and start the domino effect of sickness and disease, we do know that certain foods are known to stimulate it. So if you want to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation, these six foods should be kicked out of your kitchen for good.

Canola oil:

More than 90 percent of canola oil is made from genetically modified ingredients, which are often toxic and can lead to allergic reactions. Canola oil is also highly refined and partially hydrogenated, two factors that increase inflammation within the body and can cause calcification of the arteries, a risk factor for coronary heart disease. And, at high heats, canola oil goes rancid (hello, even more toxicity), as it’s not meant to withstand high temperatures.

So what should you use instead? Extra virgin olive oil is delicious on fresh salads or drizzling over cooked veggies. When cooking, go for an oil that can withstand high heat, like coconut oil, avocado oil or ghee.

Conventional meat:

Industrial farming produces cheap—but dangerous—products, so when it comes to meat, you get what you pay for. Cows that are pumped with grain-based feed, antibiotics and hormones all lead to meats with a lower nutritional content than their organic counterparts, and that also have more fat, lower levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and fewer antioxidants. And, ultimately, all of these factors can trigger inflammation.

Purchasing organic poultry and grass-fed beef is your best bet when choosing meat. And if you’re looking to cut costs, eating less meat overall (a serving should be about the size of a set of cards or a bar of soap) and enjoying more veggie-based meals can help keep your grocery bill down while still allowing you to buy a high-quality—and healthy—product.

Pasteurized dairy:

Ultra-pasteurized milk (which is what you’ll find at most grocery stores), is heated to 280F to kill harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, this high heat also kills good bacteria—which are one of dairy’s healthiest features.

Pasteurization also causes milk to go rancid and, when consumed, it increases the growth of free radicals in the body, which damage healthy cells and trigger inflammation. Finally, because the pasteurization process kills the enzymes that help your body digest dairy, drinking pasteurized milk can actually lead to lactose intolerance and even more inflammation.

If raw milk is available in your area, I definitely recommend giving it a try. It’s incredibly nutrient-dense and helps strengthen your immune system, reduce allergies and increase nutrient absorption. If you can’t get your hands on it, I’d stick to options like coconut milk or almond milk, which also have health-boosting benefits.

Refined carbohydrates:

Refined carbs like white bread, pasta and rice might taste good, but they wreak havoc on your body. Whereas complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes break down over time and release their natural sugars gradually, refined carbs are converted to sugar almost immediately, sending your body—and blood sugar—on and up-and-down roller coaster.

Refined carbs have been linked to inflammation, allergies and diabetes, along with heart, kidney and liver disease. Because your body does need carbohydrates to function properly, opt for healthier versions like whole grain pastas, sprouted breads and sweet potatoes.


Speaking of sugar, if you want to reduce inflammation in the body, eliminating refined sugars is one of the best things you can do. Refined sugars now comprise over 15 percent of the average American’s diet, leading to conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity—as well as inflammation—throughout the body.

Sugar is also addictive; when we eat refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, our brains think we’re getting the nutrients we need. But because we’re not, our appetite and food cravings are re-triggered as our bodies search for real food. This can lead to overeating, even though you’re still not getting enough of what you actually need.

Lessen your dependence on refined sugar and artificial sweeteners by sticking to natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey and coconut sugar instead.

Trans fats:

Trans fats are scary little compounds. In reality, they’re toxins to the body, but our digestive systems don’t recognize them as such, so instead of being eliminated, they’re incorporated into our cells, throwing our cell metabolism out of whack and increasing inflammation.

As if that’s not enough, trans fats also lower good cholesterol levels while raising the levels of bad cholesterol, thus increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity, all while weakening the immune system.

When it comes to trans fats, there is no healthier option. If you see partially hydrogenated oils in an ingredient list, that’s a sure sign that there are trans fats in the product—even if the label claims there aren’t. (By law, food companies can list trans fat content at zero as long as there is less than 0.5 grams.)

Want more from Dr. Josh Axe? Read his guide to foods that make you feel crappy or check out the best foods for building muscle here.