Inflammation is an essential process that increases blood flow to an infected area of the body, and carries in immune system cells to heal it.

But it can be uncomfortable, and chronic inflammation can damage healthy cells while creating a series of unpleasant symptoms such as joint stiffness, muscle pain and digestive issues.

As a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical school, I’m often asked how to fight inflammation. This is tricky, because it can be caused by many uncontrollable factors like autoimmune diseases.

But over the last few years, we’ve learned that foods have a large impact on inflammation. Some foods decrease healthy, anti-inflammatory bacteria in the gut, while others produce compounds that decrease inflammation and improve healing.

Here are four foods that cause inflammation — and what to eat instead:

1. Fatty meats

Research shows that fatty meats like beef, pork and lamb are associated with low-grade inflammation.

Animal fats and saturated fats can alter your gut bacteria by increasing lipopolysaccharides, which can trigger inflammation. They can also cause changes that decrease short-chain fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and important to colon health.

What to eat instead:

2. Ultra-processed foods

These foods go through processes like extrusion or molding and tend to contain many additives or substances extracted from foods. Think: a hot dog instead of lean pork.

Their high amounts of saturated fat, salt and added sugar are associated with inflammation. They often lack the antioxidant properties of the whole foods they replace.

For example, white bread is missing the antioxidants of the wheat grain that make whole-grain breads anti-inflammatory.

What to eat instead:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in compounds called polyphenols that inhibit inflammation.
  • Whole-grain foods contain antioxidants of the wheat bran and germ, and can be anti-inflammatory.

3. Sugary drinks

4. Coconut and palm oil

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