5 Foods that Cause Chronic Inflammation

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5 Foods that Cause Chronic Inflammation

What’s Chronic Inflammation?

Have you ever twisted your ankle? Two years ago, I had a grade 2 ankle sprain after accidentally stepping into a hole. My right ankle was bruised, swollen to the size of a tennis ball and hurt so bad. According to the doctor, the pain and swelling were due to something called the inflammation process. It is part of our body’s defense mechanism by which the immune system recognises and removes harmful stimuli and begins the healing process1. Sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? In the case of my sprained ankle, such inconvenient pain and swelling were due to acute inflammation, which thankfully went away completely after 4 weeks.

result of unhealthy lifestyles

But what if inflammation persists, day in and day out, even when we aren’t injured or threatened by any foreign invader? That’s when inflammation becomes our enemy because chronic inflammation can eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Chronic inflammation is linked to the development of many major diseases that plague us, including cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease2.

So what are the symptoms of chronic inflammation that we should watch out for? They include fatigue, fever, mouth sores, rashes, abdominal pain or chest pain lasting for several months or years. If you have more than one of the above symptoms like me, let me reassure you that we aren’t doomed yet! I personally prefer to think that it is just a reminder for us to take better care of ourselves.As I know we all want to maintain good health to enjoy life to the fullest, read on for my list of 5 foods causing chronic inflammation, together with how to substitute them with yummy alternatives. Check them out and perhaps you might be inspired to try out one or two new ideas this weekend!


On a scale of one to ten, how much of a sweet maniac are you? I know I’m definitely a ten out of ten. But sadly, my love affair with sugary items was leading me down the path of chronic inflammation. According to a study, low to moderate sugar-sweetened beverage consumption impairs glucose and lipid metabolism and promotes inflammation3. Sounds terrible, right? But if you have a sweet tooth like me, cutting down on sugar seems like an impossible mission. How now, brown cow? Here are some tricks up my sleeve for lower added sugar intake.


  • Opt for homemade smoothies: I love to throw strawberry, banana, beetroot, cucumber, mint and a spoonful of unsweetened dark cocoa powder into a blender, add cold water or ice and blend well. The naturally sweet banana, the comforting smell of cocoa and the refreshing taste of mint leaves always make me feel fabulous and ready to start the new day. It’s the perfect solution to break away from that pancake with syrup or that sugar-laden iced coffee on the way to work.
  • Make friends with herbal or fruit teas: I used to think that tea was super boring, until I discovered a whole new world with herbal and fruit teas, and the options are literally endless. For chilly nights, a cup of hot lemongrass and ginger teaalways makes me feel warm and cozy. On lazy hot summer days, some cold-brewed green tea with mint leaves is the best. And if I want something fancy, cold-brewed green tea with water melon cubes, cucumber cubes and a handful of mint leaves are definitely irresistible and look way more appealing than those store-bought apple juice cartons.
  • Swap sugar-heavy desserts with fruits or dark chocolate: Craving for that sweet slice of apple pie?Try some fresh apple slices with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. If you can’t take your eyes off of those fudgy brownies, some dark chocolate with a hint of sea salt might be just as satisfying. These alternatives not only help to reduce sugar intake but also increase the fiber, vitamins and minerals in my diet.

Refined Carbohydrates

quinoa salad

Similar to sugar, there is evidence that suggests that consumption of a Western diet, enriched with saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and food additives, is associated with increased risk for inflammatory bowel disease, which encompasses a group of disorders affecting the gastrointestinal tract characterized by acute and chronic inflammation4. In another study, young, healthy men who ate 50 grams of refined carbs in the form of white bread experienced higher blood sugar levels and an increase in a particular inflammatory marker, which suggests the relation between carbohydrates, glycemic index and the risk of chronic diseases5. Therefore, over the past few years, my family have tried to cut down on our beloved white bread, white rice, bagels, donuts, waffles and pastries.

Does this mean you have to eat quinoa salad every single day? Not necessarily. Every single member in my family loves bread and simply can’t live without it, so my mum always makes whole wheat sourdough bread or spelt bread every Sunday. One freshly baked batch of bread usually lasts for at least 4 to 5 days. Since then it has become a family tradition, as my sister and I also bake whole-grain bread for our families instead of buying. If you’re not really into baking your own bread, perhaps you may want to give 100 percent whole-grain bread, brown rice and whole-grain pasta a try. These are also great ways to help increase your daily fiber intake whilst keeping chronic inflammation in check.

Trans Fat

My dad used to enjoy a dollop of butter on freshly baked bread or baked potato, yet felt a pang of guilt when putting that golden pat on his plate. Therefore, he dutifully switched to margarine. However then the hazards of trans fat in margarine came to light, which made him feel betrayed. So what is trans fat and why is it bad for our bodies?

Simply put, margarine is a highly processed food product made from vegetable oils. However, since vegetable oils are liquid at room temperature, food scientists change their chemical structure to make them solid like butter via a process known as hydrogenation, and unhealthy trans fats are formed as a side product. According to research, intake of trans fatty acids induce vascular inflammation, which is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease6.

olive oil

If you are extremely concerned about trans fat whilst cooking, olive oil and avocado oil are definitely good alternatives. If you’re a fan of ready-to-eat foods, unfortunately you may want to watch out for more than just those margarine tubs. Trans fat exists in almost every convenient food because it helps to enhance the taste, texture and make foods last longer. Below are a few offenders that I would avoid without any hesitation.

  • Cakes, cookies or donuts with frosting
  • Biscuits, chips and crackers
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Fried fast foods
  • Frozen pizza, hamburger and pies

Processed Meat

What’s for breakfast today? For me, simply slap some cold cuts on a sandwich or in a wrap, no cutting or cooking required, and I could head out to work in no time. A similar combination of ham, cheese and bread also became my tasty lunch whenever I was in a hurry. But I can’t have it so often any more since processed meats contain more advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are known to contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation7.

So what are some other tasty alternatives for meals without processed meats?

  • Add chicken or hard-boiled egg salad to sandwiches: I recently tried mixing the ingredients with Greek yogurt or avocado instead of mayonnaise. It’s lighter, healthier and definitely a must-try!
  • Raw vegetables with hummus in a wrap or with pita wrap: If I had to turn vegan, this is definitely my go-to meal. The creamy, unctuous hummus and the crunchy veggies can definitely tame my cravings for meat.

pea soup

  • Plant-based soup: From the classic roasted tomato basil soup to the trendy chipotle black bean tortilla soup, the sky is the limit when it comes to flavourful soups to satisfy your taste buds. Yum!


Since I started my first full-time job, I had been to a couple of parties and drank a lot even during weeknights. And in the wee morning hours I woke up with a splitting headache, and by noon I still felt queasy on the way to lunch. But one day, I decided to take a break from booze altogether because my stomach ulcer was getting worse. Thankfully I did because later on, I found out that excessive consumption of alcohol also contributes to chronic inflammation. According to scientists, chronic alcohol use impairs not only gut and liver functions, but also multi-organ interactions, leading to persistent systemic inflammation and ultimately, organ damage8. This is definitely something that we all don’t want.

But if you enjoy alcohol, drinking moderately is the key to minimise the negative impact of alcohol on our bodies. According to the Dietary Guideline for Americans 2015 – 2020, up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men is regarded as moderate alcohol consumption9.

Wondering how to recognise symptoms of inflammation in your body? Interested to learn how to start reducing your chronic inflammation and get back to good health? We’ve got you covered! Do check out this on-demand Inflammation Ninja course and feel free to share what you think about the course with us.

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