Chronic inflammation occurs in diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 2 diabetes. Some people with these conditions may find specific foods increase or decrease inflammation.

Research indicates that people with such diseases may have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their bodies. Although many factors are involved in inflammation, certain foods may either increase or decrease the symptoms.

This article looks at foods that may worsen symptoms. It also discusses inflammation and its effect on health. Finally, it looks at anti-inflammatory foods, including vegetables and fruit, and anti-inflammatory diets such as the DASH and Mediterranean diets.

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Many foods may worsen the symptoms of inflammation. Such foods include sugar, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, and red or processed meats.


A diet high in sugar may affect chronic inflammation by increasing inflammatory markers in the blood, according to a 2018 systematic review of several studies.

In addition, excessive sugar consumption may increase inflammatory markers in children and lead to chronic inflammation, according to a 2018 study. The study compared a daily sugar reduction of 46% with an 11% reduction of proinflammatory markers in 11 children. The researchers suggest that a reduction in the amount of sugar-sweetened drinks consumed during childhood may result in future health benefits.

Another 2018 article suggests that fructose might cause cell inflammation. Excess fructose may also increase fat around the abdominal organs and increase the amount of fat in the liver.

Learn more about sugar and inflammation in the body here.

Trans fats

Trans fats may increase inflammatory markers and the risk of chronic inflammation, which can lead to diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Trans fats may also raise the levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) while reducing high-density lipoproteins (HDL), a combination that may increase the risk of heart disease.

Learn more about cholesterol here.

Although beef and dairy products contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats, most trans fats occur when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil. Trans fats may appear on labels as hydrogenated oil and can be in processed foods, baked goods, fried foods, and margarine.

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates have a high-glycemic index, which can increase a type of protein called advanced glycation end (AGE) products, which may increase inflammation.

Refined carbohydrates include white flour products such as:

  • white bread and rolls
  • some crackers
  • white rice
  • some cereals

Red and processed meat

Red and processed meats are high in saturated fats, which can cause inflammation in fat tissue.

A 2016 study suggests red and processed meat is linked with an increased inflammatory response in the body and may increase the risk of colon cancer.

There are two main types of inflammation, acute and chronic.

Acute inflammation is a quick response from the body to injury or infection, which increases blood flow to the affected area. White blood cells help rebuild damaged tissue, and acute inflammation generally stops when the wound heals.

Chronic inflammation is a long-term condition that can develop gradually over months and years. Causes of chronic inflammation can include:

  • prolonged infection
  • exposure to toxic chemicals
  • autoimmune disorders
  • autoinflammatory disorders
  • repeated cases of acute inflammation
  • oxidative stress in the body

Risk factors for chronic inflammation include:

  • older age
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • low levels of testosterone and estrogen
  • physical and emotional stress
  • sleep disorders

Processed foods, saturated fats, trans-fats, and refined sugar can increase the risk of pro-inflammatory molecules. This may especially be the case if a person is overweight or has diabetes.

Learn more about inflammation here.

According to the National Cancer Institute, inflammation can create DNA damage that may lead to cancer. Chronic inflammation is also linked with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which may increase the risk of colon cancer.

Inflammation is commonly present in people with heart disease and stroke and may have a link to plaques forming in the arteries.

Other inflammatory conditions include:

  • diabetes
  • chronic kidney disease
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • autoimmune conditions, such as lupus
  • neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • arthritis and joint conditions
  • allergies and asthma
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Inflammation is generally part of the body’s healing process, and can also help fight illness. However, if a person has recurrent or persistent low-level inflammation, some foods and diets may help a person reduce the symptoms.


While foods high in sugar or processed foods may worsen inflammation, a healthy eating regime based on fresh foods, such as vegetables and fruits, may help reduce symptoms.

Foods which may have anti-inflammatory effects include:


In addition to a healthy eating regime, some people may find that specific diets have a beneficial effect on inflammation.


Research suggests the Mediterranean diet may have a strong anti-inflammatory effect, protecting the body against the symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

The diet may also help lessen the symptoms, and reduce the effects, of inflammation on the cardiovascular system.

The Mediterranean diet includes:

  • high intake of plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, and olive oil
  • moderate intake of fish, seafood, yogurt, cheese, and milk
  • low intake of red and processed meat
  • low intake of foods high in sugar

Learn more about the Mediterranean diet here.


Another diet that may help to lower the symptoms of inflammation is called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Research into the diet to manage blood pressure was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A 2017 review of studies looking at the effects of DASH found it improved circulating inflammatory biomarkers in adults and may help reduce inflammation in the body.

A DASH diet limits the intake of saturated fats and trans fats, sugary drinks and sweets, and salt. It focuses on the consumption of the following:

  • vegetables and fruits
  • whole grains
  • fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • poultry
  • fish
  • beans and nuts
  • vegetable oils

Learn more about the DASH diet here.

Inflammation is part of the body’s healing process but some medical conditions have a detrimental effect on the immune system, causing recurrent or persistent low-level inflammation.

Some foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, oily fish, nuts, pulses, and olive oil may help alleviate the symptoms of inflammation. In addition, some anti-inflammatory diets may also reduce or prevent inflammation.