Foods that Promote Inflammation

“The more severe the pain or illness, the more severe will be the necessary changes. These may involve breaking bad habits, or acquiring some new and better ones.” -Peter McWilliams

You are not helpless in your fight against inflammation! Your diet plays a major role in activating or suppressing a protein called cytokines that causes inflammation. I can’t stress this enough. For that and other reasons that will be discussed shortly, I would like you to start thinking in terms of: “Is what I’m swallowing making me healthier or sicker?” There is little if any neutral ground. It is as if everything that you swallow is sending a signal to your immune system to either cause more inflammation or less.

The following are groups of foods that you should avoid because they send a signal to your body to produce more inflammatory cytokines. They are also toxic to your body in multiple ways, polluting the internal terrain of the body and promoting inflammation.

Most Meat, Except Oily Fish

We often hear the phrase “all things in moderation”. Meat, especially red meat, is an exception to this rule. Even what most would consider a “moderate” amount of red meat can produce an intolerable number of cytokines and bring on autoimmune symptoms.

For some, the “low-carb craze” has meant an increase in meat consumption. If eating the low-carb way means that you are eating a lot of meat, you are making your autoimmune condition worse. Protein from meat raises the levels of the toxins uric acid and urea in the blood. The body pumps excessive amounts of water into the kidneys to help flush out these toxins. The result of a high animal-based protein diet is very quick water “weight loss”. The downside of this “weight loss” is that it causes the body to lose essential minerals. Mineral deficiencies cause autoimmunity. A better protein choice comes from vegetable-based proteins. These proteins improve mineral retention in the body.

One doctor has reported that within two weeks of his lupus patients not eating meat, most showed significant improvement in their skin lesions.

The Swank Diet calls for giving up red meat for one year. Then, after the first year, allowing yourself four ounces of red meat per week. This diet has made a significant improvement in the lives of people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Dr. Swank studied more than 150 of his patients with MS for a thirty-four year period of time. Those who followed the diet died at the rate of 5%, while patients not following his diet had a death rate of about 85% during the same time period.

However, reducing meat intake isn’t just about living longer, it is about living well! This recommendation is for everyone, not just those whose collection of autoimmune symptoms are called lupus or MS. No matter where in your body cytokines gather or what they are attacking, eating red meat will increase their numbers. The way that meat is prepared also makes a difference. Charbroiled and grilled meats of any kind are much worse for you and should be completely avoided.

Fish is the exception to the meat rule. Fish does not raise cytokine levels. It actually reduces them. The problem is that much of our fish is contaminated with toxic mercury. Unless you are sure that your fish source is mercury free, you should limit your fish intake to one serving per week and use fish oil supplements instead. Some people will even be sensitive to one contaminated serving of fish. Check your local health food stores for fish farmed in “mercury-free” tested water. Additionally, salmon is a fish that is readily available and least likely to be mercury contaminated.

Egg Yolks

Egg yolks and dairy products are high in arachidonic acid. This is the same substance that makes meats so inflammatory. If you are going to eat eggs, you should only eat the whites. On a food label, eggs can be listed as albumin, globulin, ovamucin, or vitellin.

Dairy Products

“…countries with the highest dairy consumption, such as the United States and Sweden, because of their high animal protein diets, have the highest rates of osteoporosis, a disease involving the weakening and potential breaking of bones.”

-Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.

Research published in the Lancet Medical Journal described a small group of patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) in Norway. For four years, they experienced substantial improvement by excluding milk and wheat from their diets. Reintroducing these foods into their diets caused a significant rise in the patients’ cytokine levels along with an increase in pain.

Besides increasing cytokines, milk further aggravates asthma because of its casein content. When the protein of another animal is introduced into the human body, the immune system responds with an allergic reaction. Casein is a milk protein. Eating casein causes your body to produce histamines, which result in excess mucus production.

Those with CFS and asthma are not alone in their sensitivity to milk. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, July 30, 1992, studies suggest that a certain milk protein is responsible for the onset of diabetes because patients produce antibodies to cow milk proteins.

Milk’s vices are many. As strange as it may sound, the digestion of milk proteins can create an addictive substance that acts like endorphins, our own personal narcotics. The same can be true of gluten and wheat. These endorphins have the ability to disrupt brain chemistry and cause addiction.

I am sorry, but this has to be said: Last year, the average liter of milk in America contained 323 million pus cells. Sick and infected cows have cell counts above 200 million. A count of 323 million is not even healthy by dairy industry standards. Drinking pus is a bad idea for anyone. It is a terrible idea for someone with a tendency towards immune dysfunction.


Gluten is a component of grains such as wheat, oats, barley, and rye. Besides being inflammatory, doctors have reported a higher than average number of people with autoimmune disorders are allergic to gluten. They suggest complete avoidance for at least one month to see if benefits will occur.

Studies have also shown that wheat and corn can irritate patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis and raise cytokine production in the colon and rectum of those with celiac disease.

Corn, Corn Oil, Corn Syrup (Fructose)

Corn, besides promoting cytokines, has been called the leading cause of chronic food addiction in this century. To give you an idea of how powerful the addiction can be, all cigarettes made in the U.S. since World War I have contained added sugars, usually from corn. Do you think the cigarette companies chose corn syrup for the great taste it adds to their products?

Corn syrup (fructose) is cheap and twice as sweet as cane sugar. In 1994, the average person ate 83 pounds of fructose. Corn syrup causes an increase in blood lactic acid, especially in people with diabetes. Fructose from corn syrup inhibits copper metabolism and decreases mineral availability, two factors in autoimmunity. Fructose also breaks down into a substance that weakens your body’s natural anti-inflammatory molecules. The body does not metabolize fructose the same as other sugars. Fructose converts to fat more than any other sugar. Corn fructose certainly isn’t the diabetic-friendly and harmless sugar substitute that it is advertised to be.

Studies have shown that corn can irritate patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) suggests corn should be avoided because it can aggravate Fibromyalgia.

Remember that if corn products can increase cytokine levels in those with RA and Fibromyalgia, it can increase cytokine levels for anyone.


We Americans are eating an average of 153 pounds of sugar a year. Refined white sugar makes

it more difficult for your body to absorb vitamins and minerals, a major contributor to the cause of autoimmunity. Sugar also suppresses immune function, leaving us open to infection. Just eight tablespoons of sugar, which is the equivalent to the sugar in less than one 12-ounce can of soda, can reduce the ability of your immune system to kill germs by up to 40%.

Like salt, sugar is dehydrating to the body. Dehydration increases histamine, which can

worsen asthma and any other autoimmune disease because histamine increases cytokine production. As recommend by the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA), sugars should be avoided because they can worsen the condition. Sugar feeds Lyme-causing bacteria and Candida yeast, the significance of which will be discussed later. Eating sugar also causes an insulin surge, which contributes to chronic inflammation.

Honey is sugar. It may be “all natural”, but it is still sugar. It is higher in calories than table sugar and can be contaminated by pesticides. Consuming “all natural” delicious tasting pesticides is not what you want to be doing.

A good non-toxic substitute for sugar is the nutritional supplement stevia. Stevia has been used by millions of people without reported side effects. In Japan, stevia sweetened products represent 41% of the market share of sweet substances consumed.

Stevia is an herb originally from Paraguay. South Americans use it as a sweetener and also for medicinal purposes. This herb is anywhere from 30 to 100 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia does not affect the blood sugar levels of most diabetics. Stevia also does not feed fungus in the intestines like sugars do.

Stevia has a strong, sweet flavor that can overwhelm a recipe, so it should be used sparingly. Because you only use such a small amount at a time, recipes must be adjusted for the lack of bulk. Stevia can often be purchased with helpful inulin added to it for bulk. Also, cakes and cookies sweetened with stevia do not brown as much as their sugar-sweetened counterparts.

Flour/Processed Foods

For you simple carbohydrate-lovers (addicts), the next sentence is going to be one of the most painful ones in the book. If you want to get rid of cytokine inflammation, you must give up processed foods and junk foods. They tend to be full of everything you shouldn’t eat. This list includes most breakfast cereals, muffins, breads, crackers, cookies, and doughnuts.

White flour contains alloxan, which is the chemical used to make flour look clean and white. Alloxan destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. It does so by initiating free radical damage to the DNA in the pancreas. Researchers believe that some people have weak defenses to free radicals in these beta cells. Alloxan is so potent that researchers who study diabetes use it to give diabetes to lab animals. While not everyone who eats white breads and processed foods will get diabetes, the connection is clear: Alloxan causes diabetes in those genetically susceptible to the disease.

The Nightshade Family

Vegetables in the nightshade family include white potatoes, tomatoes, all peppers, cherries, tobacco, and eggplants. Research indicates that these vegetables produce pain and inflammation in arthritis patients and aggravate Fibromyalgia according to the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA). However, not everyone will be sensitive to nightshade foods. The only way to know for sure is to avoid them for a period of weeks then reintroduce them into your diet.

Everyone should avoid tobacco, which is a toxic member of the nightshade family, permanently.


Despite being inflammatory, coffee has had its medicinal purposes. My own ancestors used it to treat asthma. I have friends outside the U.S., who are still dependent upon coffee to treat asthma. Certain caffeine-type chemicals in coffee have been proven effective at stimulating bronchial dilation in people diagnosed with specific types of asthma. Some modern day asthma medications are even made from chemicals in the caffeine family.

For those using coffee as a natural asthma medication, you should keep in mind that caffeine is a toxic chemical. Its purpose in plant life is to act as an insecticide. In people, caffeine suppresses the enzymes needed for memory making. It also raises both blood sugar and insulin levels, causing cytokine production and aggravating diabetes.

Simply drinking decaffeinated coffee isn’t the answer either. Women who drink more than one cup a day of decaffeinated coffee are considered at a much higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The theory is that chemically decaffeinated products are causing the increased risk of autoimmunity. If you are going to drink decaffeinated coffee anyway, be sure that it uses a non-chemical based decaffeinating method and that the coffee was organically grown. Those who do not drink organic coffee, are exposed to too many man-made pesticides.


The wine industry has America convinced that a glass or two a day is good for your heart. However, John Folts, Ph.D of the University of Wisconsin, has done studies, which show that to receive those heart-healthy benefits, you would have to consume enough wine to be declared legally drunk. Grape juice is a healthier alternative. Dr. Folt’s study also found that only ten to twelve ounces of purple grape juice was associated with lower blood clotting, thus a lower risk of heart disease than promised by red wine.

Besides being pro-inflammatory and addictive, alcohol breaks down to a toxin in the body called aldehyde. Toxins are dangerous chemicals that the liver does not recognize as useful. Toxins attack and destroy cells and attract germs. Aldehyde accumulates in the brain, spinal cord, joints, muscles and tissues, where it causes muscle weakness, irritation, and pain.


“Within each of us lies the power of our consent to health and sickness … It is we who control these, and not another.”

-Richard Bach

It is up to us as individuals to read labels and avoid those foods that are causing inflammation in the body and making us sick. With many of these foods, because you consume them on a daily basis, you don’t even recognize they are causing you symptoms. Unless you totally give them up for a month or so, you won’t know how these inflammatory foods have been affecting you.

Foods that Promote Inflammation by Heidi Whitaker

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