Foods that cause inflammation (And What to Replace Them With)

inflammatory foods and their healthier alternatives

Think of inflammatory foods as the villains in your body. They push your immune system to unnecessarily go into defensive mode to block possible foreign bodies from entering. The chemicals your immune system releases push against your nerves, causing you pain. In fact, the root of most painful chronic diseases has been found to be persistent low-grade inflammation. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease, IBS, and cancer. 

Here's the good news: you can help stop the pain with a diet full of anti-inflammatory foods. These natural foods have properties that can stop the effects of an inflammatory diet. 

Many foods trigger inflammation. Unfortunately, the four main contributing foods are common in plenty of households and restaurants. The trick is to find healthy replacements for these ingredients. Your body will thank you for it.

Four inflammatory foods and their healthy substitutes


Small amounts of sugar from whole fruits and vegetables are fine. These are natural sugars and are difficult to consume in excess. it's the added sugars in sweet pastries, soft drinks, confectionery, cereals, and other processed foods that are harmful.

Studies have found that added sugars cause weight gain; in many cases, obesity. An excess of body fat is linked to inflammation. This is cause for concern especially in Australia, where 67 percent of adults (12.5 million) were recorded as being either overweight or obese, according to the National Health Survey of 2017–18.

Use these instead: pure maple syrup or raw honey

It's always better to avoid sugar. But if you really want to satisfy your sweet tooth, go natural. Aside from these being all-natural, pure maple syrup and raw honey have anti-inflammatory properties and have lots of nutrients. Pure maple syrup has 24 antioxidants as well as nutrients such as potassium, manganese, and iron. On the other hand, raw honey contains propolis (which bees use as glue for their honeycombs). Propolis is anti-inflammatory and has anti-cancer properties.

Read: Boost your Immune System Naturally with These 10 Tips

Hydrogenated oils (a.k.a. artificial trans fats)

Compared to healthier oils, artificial trans fats are cheaper, easier to use, and have a longer shelf life (think vegetable oil and margarine). That's why highly processed foods and items on a fast food restaurant's menu use these oils in abundance.

The problem is, unlike naturally occurring trans fats, this artificial counterpart causes inflammation. Additionally, it lowers good cholesterol and interferes with the proper functions of arteries. This raises the risk for heart disease, which, in 2018, was the leading single cause of death in Australia, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Use these instead: Extra virgin oil and coconut oil

The high antioxidant content of extra virgin olive oil ushers in its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, one of the compounds in this oil, oleocanthal, can have the same effect as ibuprofen, which is an anti-inflammatory drug.

Similarly, virgin coconut oil gives strong anti-inflammatory effects, helping to ease pain, through its antioxidant component.

Processed meats

Regardless of how they are prepared, processed meats are high in saturated fat. Examples include bacon, jerkies, pepperoni, salami, hotdogs, and deli meats. Aside from saturated fat, they are also high in salt content, which acts as a preservative. Put together, these ingredients can raise the risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease, which all go parallel with inflammation.

Fortunately, although Australia was considered the meat-eating capital of the world in 2015, there's been a steady decline in Australians' appetite for red meat since then. Chicken is now the preferred meat in Australia.

Eat this instead: Fatty fish

Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are delicious and healthy alternatives to red meat. They are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which is important since your body can't produce them. Think of fatty fish as the natural supplier of your body's Omega-3 requirements. Not only does Omega-3 improve cardiovascular health; it also nips inflammation in the bud.

Read: 5 Natural Anti-Aging Habits You Can Start Today

Refined carbohydrates

While carbohydrates generally give you energy, which is good, the energy you get from refined carbohydrates—such as white bread, pastries, white rice, cereals, and processed snacks—simply doesn't last. These refined carbs—which can be found in over-milled grains and sugar—have also been stripped of the naturally occurring B vitamins, iron and dietary fibre, which is present in whole foods.

Ultimately, refined carbs bring on inflammation.

Since the body has a hard time breaking these down, refined carbohydrates mimic the effect of sugar on your health. It raises your blood sugar levels quickly with nothing blocking its way. Inflammation happens whenever there's an elevation of blood sugar.

Eat these instead: Fruits, vegetables, and foods with whole grains

There are a lot of healthier alternatives to refined carbohydrates. For instance, instead of flour tortilla wraps, use lettuce cups. Instead of making pre-mixed pancakes, whip up a batch using whole-wheat flour mixed with bananas. If you're in the mood for pizza, use a whole-wheat flatbread for a base instead of the traditional crust.

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