Inflammation: Foods that cause Inflammation and the anti-inflammatory diet (A Full Guide)
“the absolute worst piece of advice we have ever gotten, is to eat a low fat diet. Mother’s milk is 50% fat and nature makes no mistakes.” – Dr. Bill Seers
Inflammation is the immune system’s response to specific negative stimuli such as injuries or allergic reactions. It is essential in small amounts, as it’s an indispensable part of our immune system’s reaction to foreign invaders.
Once the invader has been dealt with and the system functions adequately, the immune system removes the inflammation. In chronic inflammation, the situation is different. Chronic inflammation is most commonly caused by the food we eat.
In fact, most chronic diseases are caused by continuous low-grade inflammation usually triggered by food. In many cases, this level of inflammation is not easily perceptible, and goes unnoticed until serious pathologies such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, autoimmune disorders, etc. are developed.
Inflammatory foods, which many of us eat on a daily basis, cause the immune system to induce inflammation. Over time, this leads to weight gain, skin problems, digestive problems, inflamed joints; eventually leading to severe chronic diseases.
Those who have sluggish digestion, low energy or are unable to lose weight will benefit from replacing all inflammatory foods with anti-inflammatory and wholesome foods.
Taking care of our Mitochondria
Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells. They help turn the energy from food into energy we can use. Mitochondria may very well be the most important part of our biology and keeping them healthy is essential for health and wellness at all levels. Dr. Bill Seers, an internationally well-known paediatrician and author of over 45 books says “Inflammation is what matters more than anything else. What causes inflammation? Mitochondrial dysfunction. You cannot have inflammation unless you have mitochondrial dysfunction or at least damage or stress”.
He continues to say, “the absolute worst piece of advice we have ever gotten, is to eat a low fat diet. Mother’s milk is 50% fat and nature makes no mistakes.” The human brain is 60% fat and our mitochondria thrive on good wholesome fats. So a diet high in good and wholesome fats is indispensable to enjoy good health.
What causes Decay
The second law of thermodynamics says that everything eventually decays. This is a universal law, which is applicable to everything from planets to our very own bodies. Thus, life itself causes decay within the body. For instance, when we inhale carbon monoxide from cars in traffic. The carbon monoxide creates a free radical within the body, which is basically just an oxygen atom which has lost its electron. Such atoms, stick to anything and then oxidise it. Just like steel gets rusted when oxidised, oxidative damage made by free radicals is the main cause of decay within the body. It is also one the main cause of inflammation in the body, as the immune system actively tries to fight free radicals.
These are regular events, which the body is able to handle through the immune system and temporary inflammation – provided the adequate nutrients are present within the body. However, if we eat inflammatory foods, it becomes very difficult for the immune system to fight external invaders.
Foods that cause Inflammation
Table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. It cannot be processed quickly enough by our digestive system, so it releases pro-inflammatory messengers called Cytokines. Also, sugar suppresses the effectiveness of white blood cells, which weakens our immune system making us vulnerable to infection. Remember sugar is not only present in sodas and sweet foods, it is added to many foods such as cereal bars, pre-packaged fruit juices, some salad dressings, cooking sauces, white bread, etc.
Avoid: Table sugar, fructose syrup.
Instead: Organic raw honey, dark chocolate (over 75% cocoa) and fruit in small amounts.
2. Artificial Trans Fats
Artificial trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats. Sometimes they’re referred to as hydrogenated fat. Unsaturated fats are liquid, so they’re hydrogenated to give them the stability of a solid fat. They aren’t natural so our body does not have the ability to metabolise and break them down adequately. Our immune system registers them as foreign invaders, stimulating an immune reaction which triggers systemic inflammation.
Most margarines contain trans fats, and they are often added to processed foods in order to extend shelf life. Trans fats cause inflammation, lower good (HDL) cholesterol and impair the functioning of the endothelial cells lining the arteries.
Avoid: Fries, microwave popcorn, margarines, packaged cakes, cookies, pastries, processed foods, soybean oil, palm oil, sunflower oil.
Instead: Avocados, unsalted raw nuts and if you’re not vegan, organic free-range eggs are an excellent source of good fats.
3. Saturated Fats
Fat cells secrete hormones which bind to themselves and are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. These hormones are secreted according to our immune systems requirements, and are usually balanced. However high intake of saturated fats triggers white adipose or fat tissue inflammation. This tissue stores energy rather than burning it, which makes the fat cells get bigger and bigger. When fat cells grow too much, they get imbalanced and release higher amounts of pro-inflammatory hormones than anti-inflammatory hormones, which results in systemic inflammation.
Avoid: Pizza, cheese, full-fat dairy, grain-based desserts and red meat.
Instead: Avocados, unsalted raw nuts and if you’re not vegan, organic free-range eggs are an excellent source of good fats.
4. Vegetable and Seed Oils
Vegetable oils are highly concentrated in omega6 (inflammatory fat), and low in the omega3 (anti-inflammatory fat). Omega-6 is an essential fatty acid that the body needs for normal growth and development, however taking care of the Omega6-to-Omega3 ratio is of upmost importance when it comes to health. The ratio should be a 1:1 ratio, however people eating vegetable oils on a daily basis can sometimes have ratios of up to 20:1. When there are too many omega6s, they eat up all the enzymes, preventing the Omega3s from getting into the cells, triggering the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals.
Avoid oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower, grape-seed, soy, peanut, vegetable and mayonnaise.
Instead: Organic extra-virgin olive oil (eaten raw), organic raw sesame oil, organic coconut oil and organic grass-fed butter or ghee.
5. Cooking with oil
Certain oils get oxidised when heated. Oils such as extra virgin olive oil should always be eaten raw. Even though olive oil is very resistant to heat, it does lose many of its nutrients when used for cooking. It is best to use oils which are solid at room temperature such as coconut oil. (However those with high cholesterol levels should use ghee or grass-fed butter instead of coconut oil.) Just think of it this way: Olives are mostly grown in warm climates such as in the mediterranean countries, whereas coconuts are grown in tropical hot countries such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines. Nature makes no mistakes.
Avoid: Cooking with most oils.
Instead: Cook with organic coconut oil, organic grass-fed butter or organic-grass fed ghee.
6. Fried Foods
Vegetable-oil fried foods are high in AGEs, which are produced whenever food is fried.
AGEs are toxic compounds which are produced when proteins or fats combine with sugar in the bloodstream, a process also known as Glycation. AGEs also form in foods, especially in foods that have been fried, grilled, toasted or exposed to high temperatures. When too many AGEs are consumed, the body is unable to eliminate them and the immune system immediately responds with inflammation.
Oil used in fried food is usually highly oxidised, which double up the resulting inflammation in the body. More importantly, fried foods block endothelial cells from normal functioning.
Avoid: All fried foods.
Instead: Try steaming, pressure cooking or low temperature baking your food.
7. Refined Flour
Refined wheat flours have their slow-digesting fibre and many of their nutrients removed. This means the body digests them too quickly, which makes blood sugar levels spike. This in turn triggers a spike in insulin levels which causes an inflammatory response. Refined Flour is one of the main drivers of escalating rates of obesity and other chronic conditions. It is also considered one of the biggest causes of cancer. These high glycemic index foods fuel the production of AGEs and products that stimulate inflammation.
It is also important to note that fibre promotes fullness, improves blood sugar control and feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Avoid: Candy, white-bread, pastries, processed cereals, cookies, cakes and processed food that contains added sugar or flour.
Instead: Wholemeal breads, oatmeal, quinoa and sweet potatoes.
Breaking down alcohol generates toxins that damage liver cells, promote inflammation and weaken the body’s immune system. Besides, alcohol increases all the inflammatory markers within the body. Consuming over one glass of wine can lead to bacterial toxins moving from the colon into the body, which can drive widespread inflammation within the body.
Avoid: Drinking over one glass of wine or beer a day. Avoid spirits and cocktails.
Instead: A single glass of sulphite-free organic red wine or organic ‘brut nature’ sparkling wines and champagnes. (Brut nature sparkling wines and champagnes are very low in sugar.)
9. Grain-fed meat
Most cattle, chicken and other farm animals bred for human consumption are now grain-fed. However, this is an unnatural process, which means they have to be fed antibiotics to prevent them from getting diseases due to their artificial diet or the way they are confined in small spaces.
Also, most farm animals are either fed corn or soy, which results in meats high in saturated inflammatory fats with greater levels of omega-6s, creating an imbalance in our omega6-to-omega3 ratio. Furthermore, the levels of antibiotics and growth hormones present in the meat, trigger an inflammatory immune response.
Avoid: grain-fed meat.
Instead: Try organic free-range eggs and wild caught salmon. Limit your meat consumption as much as possible, unless you are aware of the farm it comes from and know how the animal is treated. Organic meat is not necessarily good for you, as the animals could have still been fed antibiotics, growth-hormones and organic grain. Dr Bill Seers said “ I eat a big juicy venison burger twice a week. But unless I personally know the farmer, the farm and the way the animal was treated, I wont even touch it.”
10. Processed Meat
Processed meats are even worse than grain-fed meats and are filled with inflammation causing agents. They are usually grain-fed and contain high levels of AGEs which are created when the meats are processed – when they’re dried, smoked, pasteurised or cooked at high temperatures. Also, most processed meats have preservatives, colourings and other artificial additives which our immune systems also consider foreign invaders.
Processed meat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stomach cancer and colon cancer.
Avoid: All processed meats, sausages, cold meats, etc.
Instead: Try organic free-range eggs and wild caught salmon.
11. MSG and Artificial Additives
Artificial foods are not natural, so the body has no way to metabolise them. An immune response is triggered when artificial colourings, emulsifying agents and other additives are ingested, which activates an inflammatory reaction.
Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavour enhancing additive most commonly found in prepared Asian food, soy sauce, fast foods, prepared soups, soup mixes and salad dressings. It can trigger two important pathways of chronic inflammation.
Avoid: avoid fast food, prepared meals, dressings, sauces, foods with emulsifiers, etc.
Instead: Flavour your food with organic spices, such as cumin, ground ginger, black pepper, himalayan rock salt and turmeric.
12. Gluten and Casein
Many store-bought breads have very short periods of fermentation which reduces the amount of gluten the yeast can predigest for us. This makes digesting gluten in bread much harder, causing inflammation in the intestines. People who have joint pain and are sensitive to gluten – found in wheat, barley and rye – or casein – found in dairy products – may find relief by avoiding them. There may be an overlap in which some people with arthritis also have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Avoid: store-bought packaged breads, white breads and excessive gluten.
Instead: Wholemeal breads, oatmeal, quinoa and sweet potatoes.
13. Aspartame and artificial sweeteners
Aspartame is a non-nutritive, intense artificial sweetener found in over 4000 products worldwide. The body reacts to the foreign substance by attacking it, triggering an inflammatory response in turn.
This is also the case with many other artificial sweeteners, which are also one of the top five leading causes of cancer. When artificial sweeteners are ingested, the body releases cytokines.
Avoid: Artificial sweeteners.
Instead: Opt for 100% natural stevia (in leaves) or raw organic honey.
14. Dairy products (sometimes)
Saturated fats in dairy are a common cause of inflammation if taken often. Dairy is also a common allergen; millions of people worldwide are intolerant to dairy. All allergens cause inflammatory reactions by releasing histamines. It is important to note, that most people are not intolerant to dairy, they are intolerant to milk from grain-fed cows, which live in confined spaces and are given antibiotics and hormones on a regular basis.
Avoid: Dairy products if you’re intolerant or feel bloated after ingesting dairy products. (Except grass-fed organic butter and grass-fed organic ghee).
Instead: Try vegan options such as organic almond milk or organic oat milk. You can also try consuming organic grass-fed dairy to see how you feel. Milk should not only be organic and grass-fed but also raw, as the process of pasteurisation turns milk into a strong inflammatory.
15. Packaging in fast foods and drinks
Phthalates – which are endocrine-disrupting toxins and are found in most plastic packaging – get filtered into the food covered by the packaging. Phthalates and BPAs in plastics cause immediate inflammation, as the toxin is considered a threat by our immune system.
Avoid: Vegetables, fruits and other foods pre-packaged in plastic.
Instead: Buy unpackaged organic fruits and vegetables and keep them in paper or cotton bags.
16. Meat Alternatives: Tofu, Seitan, Tempeh.
Meat alternatives are some of the biggest causes of dietary inflammation.
Food such as tofu and tempeh are made of soy. Soy is popularly fed to grain-fed farm animals for human consumption as it increases lean biomass in animals, thus increasing the amount of lean meat farmers can produce. For this reason, soy is genetically modified to satisfy demand from the meat industry. According to a 2016 report by the ‘International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA)’, the global area planted with genetically modified crops is of 185.1 million hectares. Soybean remains the most adopted GM crop, covering almost 50% of all GM crops worldwide with over 91 million hectares.
Seitan is made entirely of wheat-hydrated gluten, a common allergen. Eating Seitan is literally like ‘eating inflammation’ and is especially dangerous to people with a gluten intolerance.
Avoid: Soy, tofu, seitan, tempeh and all processed meat substitutes.
Instead: Try other sources of protein such as organic legumes, spinach, broccoli, nuts and organic free-range eggs.
Foods that are natural anti-inflammatories
Berries – mainly strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries – are high in anthocyanins, which have an overall anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
2. Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale and Brussels sprouts.
Cruciferous vegetables are high in antioxidants which lower cytokines.
Avocados are loaded with potassium, magnesium, fibre and healthy monounsaturated fats. They offer many beneficial compounds, which protect against inflammation.
4. Green Tea
Green tea has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) – a substance in green tea – inhibits inflammation by reducing cytokine production and damage to the fatty acids in our cells.
Bell peppers and chili peppers are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants which have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Grapes contain anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation
Turmeric is a spice which contains curcumin, one of nature’s most potent anti-inflammatories. It is highly effective in reducing inflammation related to arthritis and diabetes.
8. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Raw)
Extra-virgin olive oil is packed with monounsaturated fats and contains oleocanthal, an antioxidant sometimes compared to ibuprofen. However, when cooked, olive oil loses some of its nutrients and induces inflammation. It must always been eaten raw.
9. Dark Chocolate ( over 75%)
Dark chocolate is rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants called Flavanols. Make sure the chocolate is at least 75% cocoa.
Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, potassium and a powerful antioxidant called lycopene.
Cherries are packed with anthocyanins and catechins which are strong anti-inflammatories.
Vegetarians and inflammation
People following a vegetarian diet generally have higher levels of plasma AA, a marker of overall health that is directly associated with lower levels of inflammation and heart disease.
Inflammation and Stress
One of the often overlooked causes of inflammation, is the communication between the immune system and the central nervous system. When under stress, the nervous system activates the pro-inflammatory pathways in preparation for attack or injury, a condition which is only worsened in those who suffer from chronic stress. Moreover, stress also promotes ingesting inflammatory and unhealthy foods, which over time further aggravates stress and creates adiposity.
It is recommendable to practice regular meditation and deep breathing, in order to reduce stress levels and ensure effective communication between the immune system and the central nervous system.
The Importance of Exercise
Many of us have heard the phrase “A man is as old as his arteries”, said by Thomas Sydenham, a physician from the 17th century. A quote which remains accurate today. Our arteries supply blood to all of our organs and tissues, and our organs can only be as healthy as the blood they receive.
Our arteries have a thin wall called the endothelium, which is in direct contact with our blood cells. Endothelial cells are crucial to vascular health; they release enzymes that control blood clotting, immune function and platelet adhesion. They also release substances that control vascular contraction and relaxation.
Endothelial cells are stimulated with exercise. When endothelial cells are stimulated, they produce nitric oxide, which in small amounts is vital for the proper functioning of the circulatory system. Nitric oxide keeps the lining in our arteries smooth, preventing white blood cells and platelets from sticking and causing inflammation.
Exercise and movement are vital for proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. However, if overdone, they can cause the opposite effect. After exercising, it is always advised to lie down in shavasana or corpse pose (lying face-up with the eyes closed) and practice deep breathing until the breath and heart rate fall to normal levels.
Conditions that can be improved by an anti-inflammatory lifestyle
Arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, crohns disease, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, esophagitis, lupus and certain cancers.