The path to reducing inflammation and cultivating a healthier body involves not only embracing beneficial foods but also exercising discretion in our dietary choices. In our ongoing journey towards health and well-being, it is essential to recognise and reduce consuming pro-inflammatory foods. These culprits, which we should approach with caution, encompass a range of processed and high-sugar offerings, as well as those laden with unhealthy fats.
What are pro-inflammatory foods?
Pro-inflammatory foods are those that have been associated with triggering or exacerbating the body’s inflammatory responses. Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism that helps the body fight off infections and heal injuries, but chronic inflammation is linked to various health issues, including chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and chronic pain. Consuming pro-inflammatory foods regularly may contribute to the development or worsening of these conditions.
Previous research found that nurses who ate a western diet had higher inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) than those who ate more whole foods. Both CRP and IL-6 are associated with chronic pain. A western diet high in red and processed meats, refined sugar, foods with trans fat, and refined grains is considered pro-inflammatory.
When pro-inflammatory foods are broken down. Oxidants such as superoxide radicals or hydrogen peroxide are produced. These oxidants or free radicals can activate the NF-κB pathway, which promotes inflammation. Furthermore, refined starches and sugars can rapidly change blood glucose and insulin levels. Post-eating hyperglycemia can increase production of free radicals as well as proinflammatory cytokines, which can lead to chronic inflammation.
Why do refined carbs cause inflammation?
Refined sugar has become a ubiquitous ingredient in the modern diet. While it’s well-known for its ability to enhance the taste of various foods, the widespread consumption of refined sugar raises concerns about its potential impact on health, including its role in promoting inflammation.
Refined sugar is derived from sugar cane or sugar beet. After undergoing extensive processing, it becomes the familiar white crystals that we use in our everyday foods. This processing strips away the natural fiber, vitamins, and minerals present in the original plant source. What is left behind is a concentrated source of empty calories.
One of the ways in which refined sugar may contribute to inflammation is through its impact on insulin resistance. Frequent consumption of sugary foods and beverages can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels, causing the body to release insulin to regulate the sugar. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance. When this happens, cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin. Insulin resistance is associated with chronic inflammation and an increased risk of various health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, excessive consumption of refined sugar can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, leading to an imbalance in the gut microbiome. This imbalance, known as dysbiosis, has been linked to inflammation and a range of health issues. High sugar intake can contribute to obesity, which contributes to a low-grade inflammatory state in the body.
Choose wisely with Nutri-Grade labelling in Singapore
The “hidden” nature of refined sugar in many processed foods makes it easy for excessive consumption without even realising it. Soft drinks, candies, baked goods, and even savory snacks can contain significant amounts of added sugar. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting added sugar intake to less than 10% of total daily calories. Further health benefits are experienced when intake levels are below 5%.
In 2019, the Ministry of Health (MOH) unveiled the Nutri-Grade label system, categorising beverages into four grades, ranging from A to D. This labeling initiative, while controversial, covers all beverages from fruit juices to soft drinks.
This step towards implementing labeling requirements aligns with Singapore’s plan to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages. In doing so, we can prevent diseases like diabetes.
According to the Ministry of Health, sales of drinks with lower sugar and saturated fat content increased from 37% in 2017 to 71% in 2021. This increasing preference for healthier options corresponds with a decline in median sugar levels within pre-packaged drinks, dropping from 7.1% in 2017 to 4.6% in 2021.
Given its success, it is no surprising that the Nutri-Grade labelling will extend to freshly prepared drinks. By the end of 2023, food and beverage establishments will be mandated to incorporate Nutri-Grade labels on their menus. Beverages with elevated sugar and saturated fat content would have to be specifically highlighted. This requirement encompasses a range of offerings from freshly squeezed juices to bubble tea.
Processed food is not only link to cancer but also inflammation
In the modern food landscape, highly processed foods have become a part of many diets. These convenient and often tasty options, however, come with a downside that extends beyond their appealing flavors and easy accessibility.
High processed foods are typically loaded with added sugars, unhealthy fats, and a cocktail of artificial additives and preservatives. Consuming them in excess can disrupt the delicate balance within our body and trigger an inflammatory response. Research has shown that diets rich in highly processed foods can lead to an increase in levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a marker of inflammation that is often associated with chronic pain.
An example of a highly processed food that is commonly consumed in Singapore is luncheon meat. While luncheon meat may be a convenient and delectable option for quick meals, it falls into the category of highly processed foods.
Luncheon meat is often packed with unhealthy additives, excessive sodium, and saturated fats. These chemicals can disrupt the body’s natural balance and promote inflammation. Excessive sodium intake, as found in luncheon meat, can also lead to water retention and increased blood pressure. Luncheon meat is largely an unhealthy food that can contribute to inflammation and potentially lead to chronic health issues.
Moreover, the cooking methods typically used for luncheon meat can make the situation worse. Frying or pan-searing can contribute to the formation of harmful compounds like advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These compounds are known to promote inflammation and oxidative stress.
While indulging in luncheon meat occasionally may not have an immediate and drastic impact, its regular consumption, especially in the context of a diet rich in other highly processed foods, can contribute to chronic inflammation over time. To make a positive impact on your health and well-being, consider minimising your intake of luncheon meat and other highly processed foods in favor of whole, nutrient-dense options that promote a balanced and anti-inflammatory diet.
Trans fat ban in Singapore
Trans fats is commonly found in fried and processed foods. They have garnered a notorious reputation for their pro-inflammatory effects. These artificial fats not only raise bad cholesterol levels but also interfere with the body’s natural anti-inflammatory processes. By eliminating or greatly reducing trans fats from your diet, you contribute to the overall dampening of inflammation.
In a significant move towards promoting public health, Singapore took decisive steps to address the issue of trans fats in the nation’s diet. In 2013, the country implemented stringent trans fat limits applicable to fats and oils found in both supermarket products and dining establishments. This proactive measure aimed to curtail the presence of harmful trans fats, which have been linked to various health concerns.
Building upon this commitment to healthier dietary practices, Singapore continued to refine its approach in 2021. The introduction of a ban on partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) represented a pivotal moment in the country’s ongoing efforts. This ban serves as a resolute stance against artificial trans fats, reinforcing the commitment to safeguarding the well-being of Singaporeans.
Red meat linked to both heart diseases and inflammation
Another factor to consider is the consumption of red meat. While red meat does offer a rich source of essential nutrients like protein, iron, and B vitamins, its excessive consumption can lead to many health implications.
One of the primary concerns associated with consuming red meat in excess is its high content of saturated fats. These fats, when consumed in large quantities, have been linked to an increased risk of inflammation within the body. Chronic inflammation can contribute to the development of various health conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even certain types of cancers.
Moreover, the cooking methods employed for red meat can also influence its inflammatory impact. As discussed earlier, grilling and frying can result in the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These compounds are known to promote inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Therefore, it’s essential to be mindful of the frequency and methods of cooking red meat to minimise the potential inflammatory response.
Avoiding red meat may help with your back pain
Some research suggests a potential link between consuming red meat and some types of inflammation, including chronic back pain. N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc) is a type of sugar molecule found in red meat. It hasN been associated with inflammation and immune responses in the body.
Neu5Gc is not naturally produced by humans but can be incorporated into our cells when we consume red meat. Some studies suggest that the presence of Neu5Gc in the body can lead to an immune response, which may contribute to back pain.
When it comes to back pain, inflammation can play a role in exacerbating discomfort and pain. While research is ongoing, limiting the consumption of red meat might still be worth considering.
The relationship between Neu5Gc, red meat consumption, and inflammation is still an area of active research. Individual responses to dietary components can vary. If you are experiencing back pain, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional. A chiropractor or a dietitian can provide personalised guidance on dietary choices and pain management strategies based on your specific condition and needs.
An Empowering Journey Towards Wellness
Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet isn’t merely a change in eating habits. It’s a transformative journey that honors your body’s innate capacity to heal. It’s about embracing a holistic approach to nourishment that not only addresses physical well-being but also fosters mental and emotional harmony. By embarking on this path, you take a proactive stance in nurturing your health. This will contribute to your vitality, and nurture a positive relationship between the food you consume and the life you lead.
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