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Avoid These 5 Foods That Cause Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a long-term and persistent condition. Find out what foods cause inflammation to help keep your health in check.

A group of people taking french fries from a plate of fish and chips

Current health trends have shown that we need to be mindful of the kinds of foods we eat if we want to reduce the risk of chronic conditions. What you eat is important because there are certain foods that can cause inflammation in your body.

Doctors and nutritionists agree that high-inflammatory foods do more harm than good. It can damage your organs and lead to illnesses like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Do any of the foods you regularly eat cause inflammation? What should you eat instead to help reduce oxidative damage in your body?

Foods that Cause Inflammation

A bowl of noodles served with a portion of rice, a small plate of chilli sauce, and a bowl of soup
If you enjoy eating noodles with rice, break the habit!

Overeating foods that cause inflammation will make you feel more tired, develop bad skin, and raise your risks of developing chronic health conditions. Many studies confirm that chronic inflammation can cause obesity, high blood sugar, dementia in the elderly, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), chronic inflammation manifests into disharmony in the body. Chief Physician Chu I Ta from Real Health Medical Clinic says people with inflammatory symptoms may have the following body constitutions: 

  • Heat Syndrome: More prone to acute inflammation. 
  • Deficiency Syndrome: Easily tired and sleepy. 
  • Cold Syndrome: Cold limbs, diarrhoea, and loose and watery stools after eating cold and raw foods (like fruits). 

People who have excess phlegm and Dampness or experience Blood Stasis have high risks of experiencing chronic inflammation too, which shows the food you eat can affect your long-term health.

Here are foods that contain high inflammatory properties. 

1. Refined starch 

Refined starch usually contains less dietary fibre and causes blood sugar to rise rapidly after ingestion. When the human body experiences high blood sugar spikes for an extended period, it promotes the secretion of substances that cause cell inflammation and, eventually, chronic inflammation.

In TCM, sugar overconsumption can damage your Spleen and cause you to crave more sugar. Craving sugar is a sign of a weak digestive system. Excessive sugar intake causes Dampness, which can lead to sinus issues and water retention. This is bad news as your Spleen is responsible for digesting food, metabolising water, and your menstrual cycle.

White rice, white noodles, and white toast, for example, are all classified as refined starch. In addition to refined starch, added sugar, fructose, and corn syrup can lead to chronic inflammation. So, beware of the sugar in your morning cup of coffee or your favourite boba tea!  

Research in humans and mice has shown that too much ingestion of fructose can increase the body’s inflammatory index. 

2. Processed meats  

Processed meats like sausages, chicken nuggets, and bacon readily available in supermarket freezers usually contain various chemical additives and inflammatory substances such as AGEs (advanced glycation end-products).

When meat is cooked at a high temperature, the protein it contains will chemically react with the sugar in the seasoning to form AGEs. Studies confirm that processed meat is associated with cardiovascular disease, high blood sugar, and stomach and colorectal cancer.

While you should limit your intake of processed meats, it’s still a good idea to include meats like chicken, fish and beef in your diet. “Grains as nutrition, fruits as a supplement, meats as enhancement, vegetables as fulfilment. Together they form a synergistic combination that benefits our life essence,” says Real Health Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew.

3. Fried foods  

Several academic papers show that consuming too much omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids and too little omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids can easily cause inflammation in the body. Foods rich in omega-6 include vegetable oils commonly used in cooking, such as soybean oil, sunflower oil, and rapeseed oil.

The low stability of unsaturated fat causes it to deteriorate into bad fat when it encounters high-temperature cooking methods. This prompts the body to secrete substances that cause inflammation.

Frying food, according to TCM, is considered yang (Heat). The process dries, hardens and shrinks food, making it more difficult to digest. It’s recommended that people who are yang in nature avoid this method of cooking.

4. Sugary foods 

Foods that cause inflammation include those with too much sugar. These are harmful to those who want to curb chronic inflammatory illness because it contains excessive amounts of fructose. Fructose can be natural or added sugar, depending on where the sugar is derived from.

Small amounts of fructose, such as what we consume through fruits and vegetables, have little impact. However, added sugar in large amounts can cause obesity, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease. Foods high in fructose as an added sugar include candies, soft drinks, pastries, and chocolate.

5. Alcohol 

High amounts of alcohol can lead to severe problems, including chronic inflammation. Heavy drinkers can develop a condition called “leaky gut,” a digestive problem where bacteria and toxins “leak through” the intestinal wall. A leaky gut causes inflammation that can result in issues affecting your body and organs.

From TCM’s point of view, excessive alcohol results in an accumulation of Dampness and Heat in the body. This disrupts the flow of qi (vital energy) and blood circulation, as well as the functions of different organs in the body.

Foods that Fight Inflammation

Examples of foods rich in omega-3
Omega-3 rich foods such as avocado, salmon, and nuts contain EPA and DHA, shown in studies to benefit anti-inflammatory issues.

An anti-inflammatory diet usually contains greens, coarse grains, and fruits rich in antioxidants. These can remove toxins from the body. Physician Chu mentions that these food recommendations benefit everyone, especially those with recurring pain. “Patients with autoimmune diseases, gout, lupus, aching joints, Sjögren’s syndrome, mouth and throat ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can see great results from adopting the anti-inflammatory diet,” he explains. 

So what are the foods that fall under this category? 

1. Foods rich in Omega 3 

Foods such as tuna, salmon, and nuts are great examples of foods rich in omega-3. Omega-3 contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which benefit anti-inflammatory issues such as cardiovascular diseases. You can also take omega-3 supplements such as fish oil. Fish oil with a high EPA concentration has better anti-inflammatory results. 

2. Vegetables and spices 

Foods such as cruciferous vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are great sources of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Spices and TCM herbs such as ginkgo leaves (yin xing, 银杏叶), ginseng (ren shen, 人参), wolfberry (gou qi, 枸杞子), Ganoderma lucidum (lingzhi, 灵芝), Gynostemma pentaphyllum (jiao gu lan, 绞股蓝), Schisandra chinensis (wu wei zi,味子), Panax notoginseng (san qi, 三七), Fallopia multiflora (he shou wu, 何首乌), Salvia miltiorrhiza (dan shen, 丹参), Astragalus (huang qi, 黄芪), Rhodiola rosea (hong jing tian, 红景天), Ligusticum sinense (gao ben, 川芎), and turmeric (jiang huang, 姜黄) also help keep inflammation down.

3. Berries 

Berries are a great source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also rich in antioxidants, which make them ideal for an anti-inflammatory diet. Eating berries help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Make sure to minimise portions of foods that cause inflammation in your daily meals. Other than reducing inflammation, a balanced diet can have a noticeable effect on your emotional health too.

Using low-temperature cooking methods to reduce the possibility of food spoilage, such as steaming, boiling, and stir-frying can help keep chronic inflammation at bay. If you have a chronic health condition, check with your doctor to know other dietary restrictions you should follow. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “导致慢性发炎的3大食物,你还在吃吗?”, which first appeared on Health 123 website.

References

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you? [online], [Accessed on 8 September 2022]  
  2. American College of Cardiology. 2020. Avoiding Inflammatory Foods Can Lower Heart Disease, Stroke Risk. [online], [Accessed 8 September 2022] 
  3. National Library of Medicine, 2012, Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life, [online], [Accessed 8 September 2022]
  4. Impact.edu.au, Clear evidence for a link between pro-inflammatory diets and 27 chronic diseases, [online], [Accessed 8 September 2022]

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