What are Inflammatory Foods? Signs, Symptoms and Swaps

Last Update: February 25, 2024

Feeling frequent stomach pain or discomfort after you eat? What about skin irritation or mood swings? It could be that you’re eating inflammatory foods—but luckily, there are swaps you can make to get you back on track. 

Read on for common food swaps, a list of anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet, and a full day’s anti-inflammatory meal plan from Registered Dietitian Hannah Muehl of the Conscious Nutritionist. 

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s response to irritation or trauma. To better understand how it happens, think of inflammation of the skin: at the site of, say, an insect bite or allergic reaction, you may notice swelling, redness, or a rash as the body tries to fight off the foreign irritant. 

Internally, inflammation often happens when you eat a food that your body can’t digest—aka, an inflammatory food. Gut inflammation may present as stomach pains, nausea, diarrhea, or even skin issues like acne. It’s best to avoid eating foods that are known to be inflammatory, because over time, chronic inflammation may lead to disease. 

Inflammatory Foods 


Why it may cause inflammation: Studies show that eating sugar in excess is linked to many inflammatory gut issues, obesity, and even chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
What to eat instead: 

  • Fresh fruits and juices
  • Natural sweeteners, like honey or maple syrup
  • Sugar alternatives, like monk fruit, stevia, and xylitol

High fructose corn syrup

Why it may cause inflammation: Consuming too much HFCS is associated with greater risk for diseases like heart disease, obesity, gout, and even cancer, all of which begin with inflammation. 

What to eat instead: 

  • Organic cane sugar (in moderation)
  • Honey 
  • Maple syrup
  • Stevia 
  • Molasses  


Why it may cause inflammation: Excessive alcohol consumption causes inflammatory responses that lead to organ dysfunction, including liver disease and even decreased brain function.
What to drink instead: 

Processed meats

Why they may cause inflammation: Meats like hot dogs, sausage, bacon, and cured meats often contain synthetic nitrates and are high in saturated fats, which may increase inflammation.
What to eat instead: 

Fried foods 

Why they may cause inflammation: Fried foods are high in toxins called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), which lead to inflammation and diseases like diabetes and heart disease. 

What to eat instead: 

  • Baked foods
  • Foods grilled or sauteed in olive oil 
  • Foods cooked in an air fryer 


Why it may cause inflammation: While it doesn’t affect all people, for those with a gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, the gluten in grains like wheat, rye, and barley can be very inflammatory and cause damage to the small intestine.  

What to eat instead: 

Anti-Inflammatory Foods 

While cutting out inflammatory foods will help to ease your pain and discomfort, you could also go a step further by adding anti-inflammatory foods that fight inflammation into your diet. Here are a few of the most popular: 

Fatty fish

Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which your body metabolizes into protectins that help to reduce inflammation. 


Berries like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are loaded with polyphenols that reduce inflammation.

Green tea 

Green tea contains epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a compound that studies show has anti-inflammatory effects against cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases. 


Turmeric is a spice that’s long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine because of the anti-inflammatory properties in curcumin, its active component.  

Olive oil

Olive oil is loaded with polyphenols that may help to reduce the effects of intestinal inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease. 

Dark chocolate 

The flavanols in dark chocolate may help to prevent or treat diseases caused by chronic inflammation. 

Anti-Inflammatory Meal Plan 

What does one full day of anti-inflammatory eating look like? According to Registered Dietitian Hannah Muehl of the Conscious Nutritionist, a day without inflammatory foods isn’t boring—it’s creative, colorful, and deliciously filling. 


“This breakfast option contains protein, fat, and fiber to keep you full, and it packs in four anti-inflammatory foods,” Muehl says. “Blueberries, chia seeds, walnuts and cinnamon all are full of nutrients, and the chia seeds and walnuts provide you with anti-inflammatory alpha linoleic acid.”

Blueberry Cinnamon Overnight Oats Recipe 


1/3 cup dry rolled oats
1/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 scoop Thrive Market Vanilla Collagen Peptides
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 1/2 cups milk of choice
1 teaspoon cinnamon 


Mix all ingredients in a container.

Let sit overnight to enjoy the following morning.

Optional: Top with optional 2 tablespoons of walnuts or walnut butter. 


For lunch, Muehl recommends topping a bed of quinoa and fresh veggies (like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers) with grilled or rotisserie chicken and a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar

“This lunch features olive oil, an amazing anti-inflammatory fat,” Muehl notes.  It also contains lean meat from the chicken, quinoa (a gluten-free grain alternative), and fresh, nutrient-dense vegetables. 


For dinner, Muehl recommends grilled salmon, sautéed kale, and a baked sweet potato with a side of avocado.

“This dinner provides dark leafy greens, whocoh are full of nutrients and easier to digest when cooked in olive oil. Salmon is packed with DHA/omega-3 for healthy skin and anti-inflammatory benefits, while avocado provides healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber.”

Anti-Inflammatory Snacks:

If you get hungry throughout the day, avoid the fried foods or snack packs loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Instead, here are some of Muehl’s favorite anti-inflammatory snack pairings.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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