Top 10 Most Dangerous Foods You Can Eat For Your Immune System

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Top 10 Most Dangerous Foods For Your Immune System Graphic © Background photo: Pixabay (PD)

Nutrition is a crucial part of how your immune system functions. The foods you eat could either strengthen or weaken your immune system. Regularly eating some unhealthy foods may adversely affect its functioning—leaving you at an increased risk of disease and other health issues.

According to Dr. Sten Ekberg, you can start supporting your immune system by avoiding the following foods that may impair your natural defenses. Here is his top 10 list, together with our research and scientific referencing.

1: Sugar

Your favorite desserts may be a treat to your taste buds, but they may be hurting your immune system: According to a study published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, added sugars may significantly raise blood sugar levels and inhibit the response of certain types of immune cells—hindering your ability to fight infections. [1]

Another study in the journal Nutrients suggests that high blood sugar levels can adversely affect your immune function by increasing the production of inflammatory proteins like C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6). [2]

2: Processed foods

Ready-to-eat meals, fast foods, packaged snacks, desserts, and other processed foods are tasty and convenient temptations. However, such foods are typically high in trans fats, refined carbohydrates, artificial ingredients, and sugars linked to several long-term health problems.

Research shows that highly processed foods may cause an imbalance of gut bacteria, increase gut permeability, and drive inflammation—all factors that impair your immune function. [3] They may also contain phthalates, which are chemicals that are known to disrupt your hormones and dysregulate your immune system. [4]

3: Chemical Additives

If you take a quick look at the ingredients label of most food items (especially processed foods), you’re likely to spot a chemical additive.

Some common additives include monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial food coloring, guar gum, sodium nitrite, sodium benzoate, and high-fructose corn syrup. They’re used to enhance texture, appearance, shelf life, and flavor. Unfortunately, some of these food additives may impair your immune system.

Studies show that corn syrup, salt, carrageenan, and some emulsifiers may inhibit immune response and induce intestinal inflammation. [5][6][7]

4: Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are chemical additives that act as sugar substitutes. They’re commonly found in sweetened beverages and foods.

Research suggests that overusing artificial sweeteners like sucralose and saccharin may cause immune system dysfunction, gut bacteria imbalances, inflammation in the gut, and an increased risk of autoimmune disease. [8][9][10][11]

5: Grain, Starch, Wheat

Dr. Ekberg recommends avoiding grains due to the risk of spikes in blood sugar. However, it’s important to distinguish between whole grains and refined grains.

Refined grains have been stripped of the bran and germ, which makes them lose their fiber content, minerals, and vitamins. And without fiber, refined grains tend to lead to high blood sugar and insulin levels—which negatively affects the immune system. [12] One study showed that replacing refined grain with whole grain products reduced inflammatory markers. [13]

There’s also the issue of allergic reactions to gluten in wheat and the risk of celiac disease. [14][15]

6: Dairy

Dairy refers to products made from animal milk. It includes cheese, yogurt, butter, ghee, and sour cream. Dr. Ekberg places dairy as a dangerous food for your immune system mainly due to the high risk of abnormal immunologic reactions from milk intolerance.

It’s estimated that around 65% of people worldwide can’t effectively break down lactose, the main carbohydrate in dairy. [16] Some people also have casein sensitivity, whereby consuming milk may trigger inflammation in the digestive system. [17]

7: Plant Oils

Plant oils or vegetable oils are widely assumed to be healthy. Still, they may lead to adverse health effects depending on where they are extracted and the extraction process.

The issue with most plant oils is their high concentration of omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-6s are not necessarily harmful, they should be within a healthy ratio with omega-3 fatty acids—preferably 1:1. However, a high intake of omega-6s may shift this ratio to up to 20:1. [18] This may weaken the immune response by promoting the expression of pro-inflammatory proteins. [19]

But it’s important to understand that not all vegetable oils are harmful to your health. Dr. Ekberg recommends coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil as excellent choices.

8: Margarine

Margarine is a processed alternative to butter. Similar to plant oils, margarine may be high in omega-6 fatty acids that are believed to suppress the immune response.

Another concern that makes margarine one of the most dangerous food for your immune system is its high concentration of trans fats—a form of unsaturated fats. An increased intake of artificial trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated fats) is linked to serious health consequences, including increased inflammatory markers. [20][21]

9: Anything In Excess

Moderation is key—especially when your diet is involved. Overindulging in food could have negative effects on your health and immune system.

Chronic overeating may lead to obesity, inflammation, insulin resistance, increased disease risk, and metabolic syndrome. [22] On the other hand, low-calorie intake is linked to a lower risk of disease and an increased lifespan. [23]

10: Anything You’re Specifically Sensitive To

If you have an allergic reaction to a food, it’s best to avoid it. The allergen may not be typically harmful, but your immune system perceives it as such. Eating foods that you’re sensitive to may trigger and negatively affect your immune system. As Dr. Ekberg puts it, pay attention to what your body is telling you.



[1] Jafar, N., Edriss, H., & Nugent, K. (2016). The effect of short-term hyperglycemia on the innate immune system. The American journal of the medical sciences, 351(2), 201-211:

[2] Iddir, M., Brito, A., Dingeo, G., Fernandez Del Campo, S. S., Samouda, H., La Frano, M. R., & Bohn, T. (2020). Strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress through diet and nutrition. Nutrients, 12(6), 1562:

[3] Aguayo-Patrón, S. V., & Calderón de la Barca, A. M. (2017). Old fashioned vs. ultra-processed-based current diets: possible implication in the increased susceptibility to type 1 diabetes and celiac disease in childhood. Foods, 6(11), 100:

[4] Hansen, J. F., Nielsen, C. H., Brorson, M. M., Frederiksen, H., Hartoft-Nielsen, M. L., Rasmussen, Å. K., … & Feldt-Rasmussen, U. (2015). Influence of phthalates on in vitro innate and adaptive immune responses. PLoS One, 10(6), e0131168:

[5] Paula Neto, H. A., Ausina, P., Gomez, L. S., Leandro, J. G., Zancan, P., & Sola-Penna, M. (2017). Effects of food additives on immune cells as contributors to body weight gain and immune-mediated metabolic dysregulation. Frontiers in immunology, 8, 1478:

[6] Chassaing, B., Koren, O., Goodrich, J. K., Poole, A. C., Srinivasan, S., Ley, R. E., & Gewirtz, A. T. (2015). Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature, 519(7541), 92-96:

[7] Bhattacharyya, S., Liu, H., Zhang, Z., Jam, M., Dudeja, P. K., Michel, G., … & Tobacman, J. K. (2010). Carrageenan-induced innate immune response is modified by enzymes that hydrolyze distinct galactosidic bonds. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 21(10), 906-913:

[8] Rosales-Gómez, C. A., Martínez-Carrillo, B. E., Reséndiz-Albor, A. A., Ramírez-Durán, N., Valdés-Ramos, R., Mondragón-Velásquez, T., & Escoto-Herrera, J. A. (2018). Chronic consumption of sweeteners and its effect on glycaemia, cytokines, hormones, and lymphocytes of GALT in CD1 mice. BioMed Research International, 2018:

[9] Emamat, H., Ghalandari, H., Tangestani, H., Abdollahi, A., & Hekmatdoost, A. (2020). Artificial sweeteners are related to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Microbiota dysbiosis as a novel potential mechanism. EXCLI journal, 19, 620:

[10] Pang, M. D., Goossens, G. H., & Blaak, E. E. (2021). The impact of artificial sweeteners on body weight control and glucose homeostasis. Frontiers in nutrition, 7, 598340:

[11] Cao, G., Wang, Q., Huang, W., Tong, J., Ye, D., He, Y., … & Yin, Z. (2017). Long-term consumption of caffeine-free high sucrose cola beverages aggravates the pathogenesis of EAE in mice. Cell discovery, 3(1), 1-16:

[12] Iddir, M., Brito, A., Dingeo, G., Fernandez Del Campo, S. S., Samouda, H., La Frano, M. R., & Bohn, T. (2020). Strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress through diet and nutrition. Nutrients, 12(6), 1562:

[13] Vitaglione, P., Mennella, I., Ferracane, R., Rivellese, A. A., Giacco, R., Ercolini, D., … & Fogliano, V. (2015). Whole-grain wheat consumption reduces inflammation in a randomized controlled trial on overweight and obese subjects with unhealthy dietary and lifestyle behaviors: role of polyphenols bound to cereal dietary fiber. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 101(2), 251-261:

[14] Poole, J. A., Barriga, K., Leung, D. Y., Hoffman, M., Eisenbarth, G. S., Rewers, M., & Norris, J. M. (2006). Timing of initial exposure to cereal grains and the risk of wheat allergy. Pediatrics, 117(6), 2175-2182:

[15] Tonutti, E., & Bizzaro, N. (2014). Diagnosis and classification of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Autoimmunity reviews, 13(4-5), 472-476:

[16] Lukito, W., Malik, S. G., Surono, I. S., & Wahlqvist, M. L. (2015). From’lactose intolerance’to’lactose nutrition’. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition, 24(Supplement):

[17] Pal, S., Woodford, K., Kukuljan, S., & Ho, S. (2015). Milk intolerance, beta-casein and lactose. Nutrients, 7(9), 7285-7297:

[18] Simopoulos, A. P. (2016). An increase in the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio increases the risk for obesity. Nutrients, 8(3), 128:

[19] Miles, E. A., & Calder, P. C. (2015). Fatty acids, lipid emulsions and the immune and inflammatory systems. Intravenous Lipid Emulsions, 112, 17-30:

[20] De Souza, R. J., Mente, A., Maroleanu, A., Cozma, A. I., Ha, V., Kishibe, T., … & Anand, S. S. (2015). Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Bmj, 351:

[21] Mozaffarian, D., Pischon, T., Hankinson, S. E., Rifai, N., Joshipura, K., Willett, W. C., & Rimm, E. B. (2004). Dietary intake of trans fatty acids and systemic inflammation in women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 79(4), 606-612:

[22] Grundy, S. M., Brewer Jr, H. B., Cleeman, J. I., Smith Jr, S. C., & Lenfant, C. (2004). Definition of metabolic syndrome: report of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute/American Heart Association conference on scientific issues related to definition. Circulation, 109(3), 433-438:

[23] Willcox, B. J., Willcox, D. C., Todoriki, H., Fujiyoshi, A., Yano, K., He, Q., … & Suzuki, M. (2007). Caloric restriction, the traditional Okinawan diet, and healthy aging: the diet of the world’s longest‐lived people and its potential impact on morbidity and life span. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1114(1), 434-455:

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