Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Sept. 11, 2023. It has been updated.

Reducing the amount of inflammatory foods you consume can contribute to better health.

There are two main types of inflammation, per Harvard Health Publishing. The first is your body’s response to an infection and the second is a response to “unwanted substances in the body, such as toxins from cigarette smoke or an excess of fat cells.” This type of inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, can pose health risks.

There are certain foods that are inflammatory — as opposed to foods that fight inflammation, like tomatoes or spinach. Here’s a look at five foods that may contribute to inflammation.

What foods fight inflammation? An anti-inflammation diet food list and recipes

Red meat and inflammation: What you need to know

Eating red meat (and meat in general) may contribute to inflammation because of its saturated fat content, according to a study published in Public Health Nutrition. Red meat includes more than just hamburger and steak — it’s also lamb, goat and venison. Chicken and turkey are not considered red meat.

Instead of eating ground hamburger, ground chicken and turkey may be better options. Black bean burgers are a substitute for hamburgers, while cauliflower can be a substitute for steak (season it like you would a steak).

The impact of packaged sweets and soda on inflammation

While whole grains are healthy, the combination of white flour and sugar can contribute to inflammation. “Sugar causes your body to release inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Soda and other sweet drinks are the main culprits,” WebMD reported.

Sweet drinks include soda, sweetened teas, fruit juices with added sugars, milkshakes and smoothies with added sugars. Instead of finishing the day with a processed sweet, fruit may be a better choice. Fruit can be enjoyed with oatmeal or in a smoothie made with fresh vegetables, herbs and Greek yogurt. If you prefer something with chocolate to a dessert with fruit, you could even try a square of dark chocolate, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

How fried foods contribute to inflammation

Fried foods can contribute to inflammation, according to Mount Sinai. “AGEs are harmful substances that are abundant in Western diets, and proliferate when foods are heated, pasteurized, dried, smoked, fried or grilled. Once absorbed in the body, AGEs adhere to tissues and oxidize them, causing inflammation which in turn can lead to disease.”

Foods like french fries, chicken tenders, egg rolls, beignets, churros, tater tots and more are foods that may contribute to inflammation. There are some easy substitutions you could make, like instead of eating deep-fried chicken tenders, you could try to bake chicken instead (use whole wheat bread crumbs if you would like some crunch).

Processed meats: A hidden source of inflammation?

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Processed meat may contribute to increased inflammation in the body, according to a 2017 article published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. The category of processed meat usually includes foods like hot dogs, bacon, pepperoni, cold cuts, beef jerky and more.

There are some substitutes you could make here as well to avoid processed food that causes inflammation. For example, instead of purchasing cold cuts at the grocery store, you could bake your own chicken and thinly slice it for sandwiches. Instead of using meat for sandwiches, you could make the switch to fresh vegetables like cucumbers and carrots.

Alcohol and its role in inflammatory responses

One of the impacts alcohol may have is increasing inflammation. In fact, heavy consumption of alcohol has been found to correlate with chronic inflammation, per a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.

Instead of consuming alcohol, there are other drinks you could try. Mocktails can be a way to make an alcohol-free drink with no added sugar. Consider taking plain seltzer and adding berries and mint to it for an alcohol-free, no-added-sugar drink.

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