If you currently have a cut, a runny nose, a minor infection, a sore ankle, a rash or stiff joint, you are experiencing inflammation. Inflammation is a defense mechanism; it serves as a necessary protective response against injury or infection. However, inflammation is also the underlying cause or component for most every health problem we face, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, fatigue, weight gain, hormone and endocrine problems, heart disease, skin conditions and autoimmune diseases. Even low-grade inflammation occurs in a loop which stresses the organs and causes damage, or, cell death, which is ageing. How does stress and diet affect this result?
Consider this scenario – on an average day, healthy humans produce enough glutamine to perform its plethora of functions. Glutamine is a semi essential amino acid, it performs hundreds of metabolic functions: it is a precursor to the structural unit of DNA and RNA (that’s kind of important), its primary function is in immune support and maintaining healthy gastrointestinal integrity and is activated by need. To be converted effectively from glutamic acid, the body requires vitamin B3 and B6. Now let us add inflammation and stress to this picture and see what happens.
Inflammation, trauma, injury, and illness all deplete the body of glutamine, requiring it to seek additional vitamin B3 and B6 to covert more. Add stress to that mix, and your vitamin B’s are required to produce energy and mental focus and are burned rapidly during stressful situations. So now, the body is depleted, inflamed, and stressed out. Sound familiar?
In modern society, we LIVE this scenario. Inflammation has become so synonymous with our daily lives that common drugs like NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), are predicted to reach global sales of USD 24 Billion dollars by 2027. We’re getting too use to living with stress and inflammation and it is ageing us rapidly.
Let us consider the daily diet of a healthy active adult between the age of 21-65. On an average day they will consume 95 mg caffeine, 1 cup of dairy, 5 oz meat, 2- 4 slices of wheat bread, 2 serves of vegetables and 1 serve of fruit. But then consider the scenario above and assume they have inflammation. To get sufficient glutamine rich foods to deal with the scenario above an adult would have to eat 5 cups of greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, brussels sprouts), 5 oz of fish, 1 cup of legumes, a large vegetable juice, a beet and spinach salad and half a papaya. This is an example of an anti-inflammatory autoimmune diet plan. But I am guessing that the majority of those living with inflammation aren’t eating this on a daily basis. What we can do though, is start thinking about how what we eat does play an intrinsic role in how our body responds to inflammation.
Functional medicines studies point heavily to lifestyle and food choices being the primary method for reducing inflammation that leads to disease. Many of our inflammatory reactions are determined by triggers such as stress levels, diet and pollutant exposure, the rest is up to genetics. This shows we hold quite a bit of power over our health and how we respond to inflammation. Diet, nutrient and herbal medicine protocols are showing significant scientific advances in chronic inflammatory conditions. The addition of lifestyle modifications is critical in reducing premature ageing and treating inflammation, these are: stress management, drinking at least 48oz (6 glasses) of water per day and getting a minimum of 8 hours sleep.
Reducing Inflammatory causing foods is your first step, this article focuses on outlining the foods that both cause inflammation and those that should be consumed in abundance to help treat inflammatory conditions.
There are foods that are known to exacerbate inflammation and should be avoided altogether in the case of auto immune disease:
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, wheatgerm, farro, barley, rye, spelt, bulgur, farina and kamut and is notoriously difficult to digest. Gluten is the swearing sailor of inflammation. Gluten is the crass uncle that really has no business being invited to the party. While it makes pizza stretchy and bread spongy, gluten leaves a residue when undigested causing inflammation and digestive problems. People with an allergy to gluten, such as those with celiac disease, will have a severe reaction when eating even a trace of gluten. Interestingly, celiac disease is becoming more common every year. In fact, a 2020 meta-analysis shows the incidence of celiac disease has increased an average of 7.5% per year over the past several decades, with incidence highest in females and children.
Eating a gluten free meal 2-3 times per week can minimize digestive bloating and discomfort and can assist in reducing systemic inflammation. People with chronic inflammatory disorders or disease would benefit greatly from adopting a gluten free diet full time. It should be noted gluten can hide in processed packaged foods like gravy, deli meats and salad dressings, it’s worth reading ingredients list carefully. Alternatives to gluten are varied and it should be said that there are overly processed gluten free products that I address further in this article. There are great advances in gluten free baking, and using flours such as sorghum, almond flour, brown rice flour and tapioca flour can produce wonderful baked goods. See my eRecipe book Bakery for breads, cakes, loafs and muffin recipes.
Dairy involves any product made from a cow, sheep or goat. Infants are weened, cows, sheeps and goats are weened, and yet we are still ingesting food produced for short term nutrients for infants, why? On top of this, dairy has been subjected to multiple processes which change the proteins causing mucus formation and inflammation. Industrial farm animals are routinely fed antibiotics and steroids which disrupt our own hormone levels and cause liver congestion and inflammation. It should be noted that goats milk resembles breast milk in composition. It contains A2 casein which is better digested than regular milk and may be eaten comfortably by some people, even still should be consumed only occasionally. Alternatives to dairy include oat, almond or hemp milk, cashew yogurt, dairy free butter. This industry is getting more products daily, you can now find dairy free parmesan and crème fraiche.
Refined/processed sugar, or white sugar is incredibly disruptive to our health. Sugar stimulated fatty acids from the liver to regulate blood sugar, when the body digests these fatty acids it causes inflammatory processes. Systemic inflammation will be exacerbated by ingesting refined sugar, avoiding these can alleviate inflammation and reduce digestive discomfort. Better options for sweeteners are coconut sugar, pure maple syrup, raw organic honey, monk fruit, or agave nectar.
Industrially processed animal products such as meat, eggs, poultry, and fish that is farm raised are routinely fed hormones and antibiotics, this has caused a range of conditions from hormone fluctuations in teens to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. As a practice, commercially raised animals are fed genetically modified corn and wheat, which isn’t their natural diet, this causes a change in the meat nutrient profile which is both inflammatory and less flavorful. Whenever possible, try and buy organic meat, poultry, eggs and avoid farm raised fish, but instead seek wild caught. These quality meats are more expensive, but should be consumed only 3-4 times per week, and not 7. Adopting to plant-based meals 3-4 times per week is both health promoting and can help offset the cost of choosing more expensive organic animal protein.
The following are foods that should be eaten minimally to reduce acute inflammation and support long term healthy inflammatory responses:
Corn is a vegetable that has been overly resourced and genetically modified. Due to its low cost and abundance, corn biproducts are in nearly every processed product on the shelves. High fructose corn syrup is an intensely sweet derivative of corn starch, it causes huge spikes in blood sugar and can cause digestive inflammation and affect mood.
Caffeine in large quantities and on an empty stomach can have very damaging affects on stomach acid, can stress the nervous system, disturb sleep patterns, suppress appetite, and disrupt hormone levels in particular cortisol. Studying your caffeine habits and modifying intake can benefit many aspects of inflammatory health protocols. Switching up coffee to antioxidant rich green tea and drinking it mid-morning after breakfast is a way to adapt your daily habits.
Alcohol, as with caffeine study your daily habits and modify to keep alcohol consumption low. The Mediterranean diet is known for adopting 1 glass of red wine 3 times per week for antioxidant health benefits. However, try avoiding sugar baring ciders, or mixed drinks that will spike an inflammatory response. Listen to how your body responds to alcohol and modify accordingly.
Processed foods are packaged, precooked or pre prepared meals. They are always packed with preservatives, which fall into the pollutant exposure category, they need to be processed by the liver and cause congestion, digestive upset and inflammation. Cooking your own food whenever possible is the only way to avoid these additives.
For addressing inflammation and everyday health, these foods should be eaten in abundance!
Berries: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, pomegranate (technically a seed), cranberries, mulberries, marionberries all contain proanthocyanadins, a powerful phyto antioxidant which improve cellular detoxification and can assist inflammation.
Green leafy vegetables contain glutamine, vitamin Bs, and mountains of antioxidant rich phytonutrients. The Arthritis foundation (arthritis.org) offers chronic arthritis sufferers eat 3 cups daily of steamed, sauted or raw vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, swiss chard, bok choy and brussels sprouts.
Omega 3 rich foods, ideally you want a greater ratio of omega 3:6 foods in your diet. Omega 6 has outstanding health benefits, but if consumption is higher than omega 3 foods, it can negatively impact inflammation. You want to eat avocados, deep sea oily fish such as salmon, mackeral, herring and sardines. Nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds.
Herbs and spices: garlic and onions offer a range of antioxidant benefits if eaten raw or lightly cooked. Aromatic spices like turmeric, basil, cinnamon, chili and ginger increase circulation to the digestive tract and offer antioxidant properties and volatile and essential oils that are anti-inflammatory in nature.
Bone broth offers mega doses of minerals, amino acids, and collagen all profoundly healing and nourishing to the digestive tract helping to reduce inflammation. Making broth from organic bones and off cuts is easy, you can find a recipe here. Or, you can buy from many supermarkets conveniently packaged, just be sure you buy organic!
Ordinarily inflammation can present as pain, redness, swelling, discomfort, cramping and fatigue. If you are currently experiencing inflammation and don’t know where you sit on the scale, you may consider asking your doctor to perform these routine tests that can help ascertain how much inflammation your body is dealing with. C-Reactive Protein is a blood test marker for inflammation in the body. It is a common test used as an indicator for a range of inflammatory conditions such as infection, arthritis, heart disease and inflammatory bowel disease. A raised CRP test indicates it’s time to get serious about healthier eating and lifestyle habits. Cortisol is another test that can identify inflammation in your body as it is a hormone produced in response to stress and inflammation. Extended high levels of cortisol may be associated with weight gain and increased blood sugar levels.
It is never too late to take a step towards wellness and seek a structured dietary and lifestyle plan to help reduce inflammation and premature ageing. For recipes that are free of gluten, dairy and refined sugar see my offering of eBooks for inspiration. For a personalized anti-inflammatory protocol including nutrition and herbal medicines please contact me to make an appointment via this link.
King JA, Jeong J, Underwood FE, et al. Incidence of celiac disease is increasing over time: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2020;115(4):507-525. doi:10.14309/ajg.0000000000000523
 Cole, W.(2019). The Inflammation Spectrum. Avery, Penguin Random House, New York. Ch 1, P19.
 E.A.Jeong et al.(December, 2011). “Ketogenic Diet-Induced Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor-Y Activation Decreases Neuroinflammation in the Mouse Hippocampus After Kainic Acid-Induced Seizures,” Experimental Neurology 232, no2. 195-202. www.nci.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939657