Dr. Z’s Top 6 Inflammatory Foods

As a functional allergist, Dr. Z is always looking beyond the symptoms to find the root cause of illness. Over and over, he finds that the food we eat has a major impact on our health. “Food really is medicine,” he says, “so what you put in your body can have either a healthful and beneficial effect or it can be harmful, cause inflammation, and lead to a variety of health problems—including allergies.” What foods should you stay away from? Here’s Dr. Z’s top 6 inflammation-causing foods (in alphabetical order). 

Dr. Z’s Top 6 Inflammatory Foods

Artificial Sweeteners

This category includes aspartame (Nutrasweet®, Equal®) and sucralose (Splenda®). Because our bodies are not designed to process (digest) artificial ingredients, artificial sweeteners like aspartame can trigger an immune response causing inflammation, which can cause allergy. Sucralose has been shown to alter the gut microbiota, which plays a key role in digestion and overall health.

Corn (GMO)

Unless it’s organic, about 85 percent of the corn produced and consumed in the U.S. is GMO, or genetically modified. GMO corn is engineered to resist insect pests and herbicides, and grow bigger, faster. While corn and its derivatives in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and corn oil are in many, many common food products, the majority of GMO corn is used to feed livestock and poultry. “One of the disadvantages of GMO corn is its potential to trigger allergies,” explains Dr. Z. “Because genetic material from a potentially allergenic food may be transferred to the corn.” 

Common Ingredients Derived from Corn


Milk and dairy products contain many important nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and proteins. However, dairy has also been linked to increased inflammation because they are rich in saturated fats, which can worsen inflammation. 


Wheat, rye, and barley all contain the naturally occurring protein known as gluten. For some people, gluten can trigger an inflammatory immune response, resulting in joint and body pain, mucus production, and tiredness. If you have celiac or a gluten sensitivity, it’s essential to cut gluten out of your diet. 

Processed Foods

According to Dr. Z, our bodies do not recognize processed foods and therefore we have a negative reaction to them. What are processed foods? This category includes any food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged, or otherwise changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving, or preparing in different ways. “The biggie on this list is glyphosate, an herbicide, that has been found in popular foods, including cereals, crackers, and snack chips,” says Dr. Z. 


When it comes to chronic inflammation, sugar is one of the worst offenders. Dr. Z recommends dramatically reducing the amount of refined sugar in your diet, as these foods increase inflammation, weaken the immune system, and have little nutritional value. Cutting out sugar drinks like soda, sweetened coffee and tea is an easy place to start and can make a big impact on your health.

If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it

Remember, all things in moderation. Be sure to check nutrition labels to avoid anything high in saturated fats, sugars, sodium, and chemicals you can’t pronounce. “The food you eat determines what nutrients you absorb, and that’s what creates your own unique gut microbiome, which affects many aspects of your health—including allergies,” says Dr. Z. 

Create a plan to make fresh, simple ingredients the focus of your diet—keeping fatty, sugary, or salty processed foods below 20 percent of your daily food intake. Schedule a consultation today to learn more about how eating a healthy diet high in nutritionally dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats and proteins, can reduce inflammation and improve overall health.