5 foods that fuel or cool chronic inflammation

Published: March 14, 2014
Updated: June 2, 2022

Foods to Avoid - Salt

Chronic inflammation is one of the contributing factors of many serious illnesses, including: heart disease, many cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress, lack of exercise, genetics, and exposure to toxins all contribute to chronic inflammation. But today we’ll discuss what is possibly the biggest factor in chronic inflammation: your everyday food choices.

Today you’ll learn 5 foods that either fan or cool the flames of inflammation.

A Brief Explanation of Inflammation

Despite the words used almost interchangeably, inflammation is not a synonym for infection. The two are correlated however, as inflammation is often a result of infection.

Inflammation is a survival mechanism of the organism meant to remove threatening stimuli. As well, inflammation allows the healing process to begin. This is different from infection, which is caused by a microorganism.

Inflammation is divided into two types: chronic and acute.

Acute inflammation is the cornerstone of the healing response system in our bodies. We’re all aware of acute inflammation on the body surface. It is the first response of the body to intruders and shows up as redness, heat, swelling and pain.

Acute inflammation serves us well by allotting more immune activity and nourishment to an area of infection or injury. This happens by increased movement of plasma and leukocytes from the blood into the injured tissues.

You will see acute inflammation in action in response to things like:

bronchitis, ingrown and infected toenails, sore throat, a scratch on the skin, intense exercise, acute appendicitis, dermatitis, tonsillitis, infective meningitis and sinusitis.

Without inflammation, wounds and infections and damage to tissue would never heal – tissue would become more and more damaged and the body, or any organism would eventually die.

Acute inflammation, different from chronic, starts quickly (rapid onset) and soon becomes severe. Symptoms and signs are only present for a few days, but in some cases may last for several weeks.

Chronic inflammation on the other hand means long lasting inflammation. A change from acute to chronic inflammation involves a shift in the type of cells present at the site of inflammation. Chronic inflammation is typified by simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissue from the inflammatory process.

Chronic inflammation can stick around for several months or even years. It can result from failure to eliminate the cause of an acute inflammation. Or chronic inflammation will stem from an autoimmune response to a self-antigen; the immune system attacks healthy tissue, mistaking it for harmful pathogens.

Persistent, chronic inflammation can cause diseases and conditions such as some cancers, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, periodontitis, and hay fever.

Inflammation, as you can, see is crucial for our survival. Think of it like a good friend who protects you. But to be accurate, in this analogy there’s 2 friends protecting you, one is acute one, who quickly takes care of your bully and goes home.

The other friend escalates the problem instead, is still an unwanted visitor in your guest room weeks later, and won’t stop talking about your bully. And you feel more unsafe than ever.

Chronic inflammation is just like a toxic relationship that you are better off eliminating- or at least reducing. How? Some of the causes we may not be in control of, but the foods we eat that are main culprits, we can control.

How Does Today’s Food Increase Chronic inflammation?

Chronic symptoms of inflammation that don’t let up is your immune system stuck in the ‘on’ position. Why is it stuck in a state of heightened alert and panic? Because your immune system goes into overdrive firstly in your digestive tract. Not surprising, because it was made to remove viruses and bacteria in your food before they infect your body.

Bouts of diarrhea, intestinal bloating, gas, constipation, heartburn and acid reflux are first signs of an inflamed digestive tract and are symptoms of the “modern diet.”

For hundreds of thousands of years we ate natural fresh foods high in omega-3s. But these days we inverted the ratio of helpful to harmful foods – so our digestive systems must work overtime to protect us from ourselves and our bad eating habits.

For instance, for 95% of our human history we ate a diet with equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3. Currently the ratio falls between 10:1 and 25:1.

Add to that our relatively new penchant for allergen-inducing sugar, carbohydrates, wheat and dairy and the result is chronic inflammation. Our bodies are simmering most of the time trying to deal with our tasty- but costly, modern diets.

5 Foods That Fuel or Cool Chronic Inflammation

  1. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils – Common everyday polyunsaturated vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, corn, soy and peanut) encourage an inflammatory defensive reaction.
    High levels of linoleic acid (an omega 6) in these oils are converted into arachidonic acid which encourages inflammation. Adding to the problem is the fact that these same oils contain almost zero of the digestive system-soothing omega-3s.
  2. Trans fats – Also known as “partially hydrogenated oils,” trans fats create “bad cholesterol” or LDL’s, which stimulates inflammation in your arteries. Trans fats also create free radicals cells that trigger inflammation. Watch for this ubiquitous item in: french fries and donuts, pastries, pizza dough, pie crusts, biscuits, cookies, crackers, margarines and shortenings.
  3. Sugar – Refined sugar and other foods with high glycemic values spike insulin levels. Because of how ever-present sugar is in today’s diets, it keeps your immune system running on high around the clock.
    Our ancestors ate very little sugar because it could only be found in fruits and vegetables. As with the omegas, we have turned that ratio upside down in the last few generations.
    Be very discerning about the quantity of simple carbohydrates you feed yourself. They support chronic inflammation because they spike your body’s glucose levels, and quickly. Simple carbohydrates are found in: table sugar, white flour, honey, chocolate, milk, yoghurt, fruit juice, candy, fruit, cake, jam, biscuits, molasses, soda, packaged cereals and more.

What Foods Help Cool Inflammation?

We do need carbs for energy. So aim for:

  1. Complex carbohydrates – These are carbs paired with fiber, fats or protein. This allows your body to process the sugar gradually.
    Whole grain breads, buckwheat and amaranth, brown rice, quinoa, are foods that will do your body a favor, and let it relax rather than be in constant fighting mode. Beans, whole vegetables and whole fruits are also great choices for complex carbohydrates.
  2. Omega-3 essential fatty acids – These are the “good” fats that are known to have heart-healthy effects. Found in rich supply in cold water fish, phytoplankton, and flaxseed, omega-3 rich foods are your allies.
    Many people feel that giving up their favorite foods means a life of bland austerity. However, those who do make regular healthy choices invariably find the rewards far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of “a moment on the lips.”
    And feeding your body complex carbohydrates and omega-3 rich foods signals to your body’s immune system to cease its tireless march on your healthy cells.

Article Comments

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  1. wal;ter ostendorp

    February 7, 2020 , 8:19 am

    I like it thank you

  2. Megan AlgaeCal

    February 11, 2020 , 8:21 am

    Glad you enjoyed the information, Walter!

    Feel free to check out some of our other blog articles if you’d like ?

    -Megan @ AlgaeCal

  3. Diane Montgomery

    May 10, 2022 , 5:45 am

    It was informative. Thanks.

  4. Angie C

    May 10, 2022 , 4:25 am

    It helps to know which foods to look out for and try to eliminate from our diet and which ones to include. Better bones are on the way.

  5. Elizabeth

    May 10, 2022 , 11:15 am

    Your articles provide us with healthy lifestyle choices, not just for those of us with osteoporosis, but for everyone. Thank you.
    Your research is impressive and much more in-depth than I receive from my health care providers.

  6. Sweller

    May 10, 2022 , 11:17 am

    Helpful article that ties together the importance of reducing inflammation and providing a good foundation through diet and exercise, so our bones can rebuild

  7. Hazel Freedman

    May 10, 2022 , 12:48 pm

    I try to cut out the inflammation causing things but it’s not always possible

  8. Kirby Johnson

    May 12, 2022 , 9:28 am

    Hazel,

    Nutrition is definitely a tough nut to crack and even then, tends to differ between individuals. While it’s important to work on eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet, you can also take steps to implement more tactics to reduce inflammation. You might find our blog article HERE to be a helpful resource.

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  9. J. K.

    May 10, 2022 , 3:16 pm

    I have terrible allergies and hay fever. I have tried to improve my diet with whole-grain breads and good fats.

  10. Kirby Johnson

    May 12, 2022 , 1:01 pm

    J. K.,

    Great work! You can continue to support your efforts with all the free bone-health information we have available on our blog HERE.

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  11. Sue

    May 10, 2022 , 6:27 pm

    Not much fun, but want healthy bones.

  12. Lori

    May 10, 2022 , 6:46 pm

    This was very informative. Are there any blood tests that can measure your levels of inflammation to determine if you have chronic inflammation?

  13. Kirby Johnson

    May 13, 2022 , 6:34 am

    Lori,

    There are a number of inflammatory marker tests available – you can speak with your doctor further to find the blood test most appropriate for you and steps you can take to naturally decrease your levels of inflammation. One such way is to supplement with omega 3 fatty acids, which are a tremendous way to support your bone health along with working to decrease levels of inflammation. You can always learn more about this on our blog HERE.

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  14. Lisa Bunker

    May 10, 2022 , 6:58 pm

    This article will make me more aware of focusing on good things to eat that will help my body. It also will help me stay away from harmful foods.

  15. Jacqui Lehman

    May 10, 2022 , 7:16 pm

    Excellent article – I learned a lot and increased my knowledge on the effects of consuming more nutritional foods. I already knew a lot of what was said but you can never have too much information on eating HEALTHIER and taking care of your body and that includes your bones and your muscles. Thanks for all the great information!

  16. Camille

    May 10, 2022 , 7:18 pm

    Good information! Thanks.

  17. Kathleen L. Williams

    May 10, 2022 , 7:32 pm

    Very informative!

  18. Bridget McCusker

    May 10, 2022 , 1:31 pm

    A lot of info, more than I ever heard of.

  19. Pamela Hall

    May 10, 2022 , 2:07 pm

    Helpful information, Thanks

  20. Nancy

    May 10, 2022 , 4:41 pm

    What happens when you have a weak immune system? Does that mean you have little or no inflammation? If so, how does that effect the bones and bone development?

  21. Kirby Johnson

    May 13, 2022 , 11:50 am

    Nancy,

    On the contrary, individuals with a weakened or compromised immune system may be at a higher risk of experiencing chronic or acute inflammation. This would have a negative impact on overall bone health. To read more about the importance of a strengthened immune system for bone health, you can explore our blog HERE.

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  22. Bobbie May

    May 10, 2022 , 5:10 pm

    Are there any lab tests that would alert us to the degree of inflammation in our bodies?
    How do we know our own status?

  23. Kirby Johnson

    May 12, 2022 , 2:31 pm

    Bobbie,

    There are a number of inflammatory marker tests available – you can speak with your doctor further to find the blood test most appropriate for you and steps you can take to naturally decrease your levels of inflammation. One such way is to supplement with omega 3 fatty acids, which are a tremendous way to support your bone health along with working to decrease levels of inflammation. You can always learn more about this on our blog HERE.

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  24. Elizabeth Underwood

    May 11, 2022 , 6:30 pm

    This was a helpful and clear explanation of inflammation. Thanks!

  25. G. Bushey

    May 12, 2022 , 6:59 pm

    A few more suggestions would be appreciated. I’m pretty sure phytoplankton are not available for human consumption. Maybe animals that eat phytoplankton? I’m unsure practically what advice is being given.

  26. Kirby Johnson

    May 13, 2022 , 11:28 am

    G.,

    You’re absolutely right – you might prefer to view one of our more recent articles detailing more practical information you can easily implement into your daily practice. You’ll find updated articles on our blog HERE and HERE. Let us know if these are helpful or if we can offer any other resources!

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  27. Pamela Baker

    May 14, 2022 , 2:24 pm

    For many years I have practiced a healthy lifestyle. The article provided me with information about inflammation that is helpful, especially the difference between foods that fuel and cool inflammation. I will add this to my knowledge bank for meal preparation.

  28. Jenn Schuit

    May 14, 2022 , 7:21 pm

    5 Foods That Fuel or Cool Chronic Inflammation This article is helpful to me, a good reminder of what to avoid and what supports health and reduce chronic inflammetion.

  29. Glennis Hogan

    May 15, 2022 , 4:36 am

    Oh my, I have to do better after reading through this article. I appreciate the information.

  30. Gunilla Gillberg

    May 15, 2022 , 8:40 am

    Good information presented in easy understandable manner. What can you do when you have not been able to identify the food culprit for chronic inflammation?

  31. Kirby Johnson

    May 19, 2022 , 4:45 pm

    Gunilla,

    Great question! We recommend consulting a nutritionist to develop a personalized plan to work in identifying your specific culprits. This is often a systematic approach involving elimination and replacement tactics, though this should always be done in consultation with and supervision from a certified professional. Hope this helps!

    Another helpful practice can be ensuring that you get enough omega 3 fatty acids. If you have any interest, you can read about why omega 3 fatty acids are crucial for healthy bones HERE. We also wrote a detailed article discussing adequate intake needs HERE. If you’d like any additional information, please don’t hesitate to let us know!

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  32. Barb Edwards

    May 15, 2022 , 10:26 am

    Thanks for specifically listing the foods that fuel and cool chronic inflammation.

  33. Nives Ann Sweetman

    May 16, 2022 , 9:01 pm

    Thanks for this great article – easy to follow and provides great practical information to balance inflammation.

  34. Roslyn M Gentle

    May 18, 2022 , 12:34 pm

    great info.. would like more on exactly what foods not to eat.

  35. Chelsea Dugas

    May 18, 2022 , 12:45 pm

    Of course, Roslyn! A good place to start is THIS list of foods to avoid for bone health. You can also head over to THIS article on the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. Hope this helps!

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  36. Naila Durrani

    May 19, 2022 , 7:09 am

    Very informative and well explained article.

    It was very good to be reminded again that milk and yogurt also contain sugar and should not be consumed in great quantities.

    That cream crackers contain trans fats, even though I eat only a couple a day.

    And lastly to be reminded again of the dangerous trans fats ( in savoury snacks) as well as the importance of omega 3 in preventing inflammation.

  37. bobbie smith

    May 23, 2022 , 12:47 pm

    Super helpful, thanks~!

  38. Paula Sheldon

    May 25, 2022 , 10:23 am

    I became aware of how foods affected my body when I was in my mid-50’s, and was forced to drastically change my diet to healthier options. Re-learning how to eat to benefit my body was overwhelming, and I continue to learn more today. I am impressed with the knowledge given in this article.

  39. janet mooney

    May 25, 2022 , 12:53 pm

    Article was excellent. Especially interested in focus on effects of inflammation, since I have an autoimmune disease with chronic inflammation. Am aware of good foods and bad foods but getting reinforcement is helpful.

  40. Sandra Lee Catt

    May 25, 2022 , 1:49 pm

    Thank you for this information. The link to the Omega-3 rich foods appears to be broken.

  41. Kirby Johnson

    June 7, 2022 , 3:19 pm

    Sandra,

    Sorry about that! We let our devs know and it has been removed from the article – because it was linked to an outside source, we weren’t able to relocate the original webpage. Thank you for letting us know <3

    - Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  42. Cathy Dalton

    May 25, 2022 , 5:28 pm

    Once again great information, my weakness – honey, chocolate and fruit .. working on it!

  43. Cynthia Britt

    May 25, 2022 , 6:05 pm

    Very interesting. My diet is good!

  44. Michele Zelazny

    May 26, 2022 , 5:51 am

    This was very thorough and comprehensive. I was unaware of the inflammatory qualities of soy and will definitely be aware of it in my diet.

  45. Debra Nordyke

    May 26, 2022 , 9:36 am

    I eat a very healthy diet free to sugar, simple carbs and the typical American Standard Diet. I exercise and take Algae Cal with the Triple Power. No diet soda, and lots of water. I do enjoy coffee. My doctor says I am more prone to osteoporosis because of my family history and being small boned. Can I still expect good results?

  46. Chelsea Dugas

    June 14, 2022 , 11:54 am

    Absolutely, Debra! Many of our customers who have seen success are of slighter frame and have a genetic predisposition to bone loss. If you haven’t already, you can view some testimonials HERE. Also, come join us in the AlgaeCal Community for expert and peer support!
    – hope to see you there!

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  47. Kirby Johnson

    June 14, 2022 , 11:57 am

    Debra,

    Regardless of your circumstances, we guarantee scan-to-scan bone density increases for life while supplementing with our Bone Builder Pack! Especially considering all the other fantastic work you’re doing to support your bone health, we would certainly expect you to see positive increases in your bone density. You can always further all your efforts by connecting with one of our Bone Health Consultants to discuss everything from your dietary intake to exercise 🙂 And you go right ahead with those coffees! You can read more about coffee and bone health on our blog HERE.

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  48. Dawn Kelley

    May 27, 2022 , 6:05 pm

    Wow! Learned a lot from this article.

  49. Christine M Ghioto

    May 31, 2022 , 12:46 am

    Great diet information to control inflammation.

  50. Cheryl Wright

    June 3, 2022 , 3:51 am

    So many bad choices are available it makes it hard to make good choices.

  51. Lynne Stewart

    June 3, 2022 , 11:01 am

    It’s helpful to know which foods are not good for one’s bones. Up until now, I did not realize that inflammation can harm our bones. Thanks for the beneficial and harmful food lists!

  52. El Hartman

    June 3, 2022 , 12:36 pm

    Thank you for an informative article

  53. Linda E

    June 8, 2022 , 9:26 am

    in 2019 I was diagnosed with SIBO ( small intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) ironically I was eating, what I thought was a VERY healthy diet for my bone health and had been highly nutritionally oriented for about 40 years ( now 67) . My dietary ( and functional ) had already world turned upside down due to the symptoms that I had for a couple years before diagnosis. After several sessions of traditional approach of Xifaxan (” gold standard “) antibiotics for SIbo and several relapses and herbal approaches I am doing well but REALLY watch my diet. Keeping an eye on FODMAPS and osteoporosis can be complicated. I appreciate your research and products and grateful to say my last DEXA scan showed some improvement and some status quo. To be honest I was relieved considering all the inflammation my gut had for many years and my additional issue of foot problems that had modified my hiking, and long walks. Thank you !

  54. Chelsea Dugas

    June 8, 2022 , 1:04 pm

    Hi again, Linda! SIBO is no joke – kudos to you for doing everything in your power to try and improve it. We’re so happy to hear you showed increases in your last DEXA scan! Congrats! Please keep us updated with your ongoing progress. 🙂

    – Chelsea @ AlgaeCal

  55. Beth

    June 9, 2022 , 3:56 am

    In this article, beans are good. In ‘8 Foods to Avoid for Osteoporosis’, another article you have on your website, beans are bad. How are we supposed to do the right thing when we get conflicting information?

  56. Kirby Johnson

    June 10, 2022 , 3:03 pm

    Beth,

    Thank you so much for pointing this out. If beans and legumes have served you well in your nutritional endeavors, we would encourage you to continue utilizing them 🙂 One extra step that can help protect your bone health would be to soak your beans for a minimum of 12 hours in order to reduce the presence of phytic acid in a mixture of water and lemon juice; you may also have to drain and rinse your beans to eliminate any phytic acid that has leached into the water. Hope this helps clarify our stance on legumes!

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  57. Lea Benson

    June 9, 2022 , 5:54 am

    Great information, very informative! Thank you

  58. Janet Gunn

    June 10, 2022 , 12:21 pm

    Very informative. and new info. Thanks

This article features advice from our industry experts to give you the best possible info through cutting-edge research.

Prof. Didier Hans
PHD, MBA - Head of Research & Development Center of Bone Diseases, Lausanne University Hospital CHUV, Switzerland,
Lara Pizzorno
MDiv, MA, LMT - Best-selling author of Healthy Bones Healthy You! and Your Bones; Editor of Longevity Medicine Review, and Senior Medical Editor for Integrative Medicine Advisors.,
Dr. Liz Lipski
PhD, CNS, FACN, IFMP, BCHN, LDN - Professor and Director of Academic Development, Nutrition programs in Clinical Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health.,
Dr. Loren Fishman
MD, PhD - Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Founder of the Yoga Injury Prevention Website.,
Dr. Carole McArthur
MD, PhD - Professor of Immunology, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City; Director of Residency Research in Pathology, Truman Medical Center.,