You’re (probably) inflamed right now.
But it’s okay, your body is just trying to save your life.
Somewhere in your body, there is a cell that has been damaged by a harmful stimulus. This stimulus could be from foreign matter that is toxic to the body, blunt trauma, or degeneration caused by a lack of nutrition. In response to the damage, your immune system is activated to help repair or replace the cells. White blood cells and other blood components flow to the site of trauma, blood vessels begin to leak into the damaged tissues, and that area becomes more sensitive to all other potentially harmful stimuli. Once the tissue is repaired and cleaned up by the immune system the injury returns to its natural state, inflammation-free.
This process is known as acute inflammation. This is the way your body heals any damage that is done to your cells, and it only lasts for the duration of the injury.
For example, you most likely experienced acute inflammation the last time you stubbed your toe. You hit your toe really hard on a piece of furniture, so fluid was drawn to the area (swelling) and white blood cells came to the rescue. The damaged tissue was repaired, waste was discarded, and after a couple days you forgot that anything ever happened to your toe. But sometimes inflammation can stick around for months, years, or even decades.
When The Toe Stubbing Doesn’t Stop
If you keep stubbing your toe, the cells will never be able to heal and the inflammatory process will keep happening. Inflammation that doesn’t go away is known as chronic inflammation. But if you have chronic inflammation, it is (hopefully) not being caused by you repeatedly stubbing your toe.
Chronic inflammation is caused by having an internal environment that damages our cells. Consider diet. Food that not conducive to cell health damages cells. Chronic inflammation happens because the body is consuming substances that cause damage.
Reversing Chronic Inflammation
The causes of chronic inflammation are influenced by our environment, our genetics, and most importantly, our habits. Many of us don’t have nearly enough control over our environment to ensure it is the healthiest possible, and genetic manipulation is still l a ways off. For almost everyone, chronic inflammation can be prevented and even reversed by eating the right foods and eliminating the wrong ones. Spoiler alert: the right foods are whole foods and the wrong foods are processed!
What Are Inflammatory Foods?
An inflammatory food is any food that creates an inflammatory response regardless of who consumes it. But how do we know what foods cause inflammation?
Scientists tend to measure the levels of C-reactive protein and specific immunoglobulins in the blood to detect inflammation levels, but it’s not feasible for you to test your blood after every meal, so what can you do?
Pay attention to how you feel after each meal. Tiredness, anxiety, achiness, depression, a constricted feeling in the abdomen or back, a lack of energy, and decreased cognitive function in response to a meal are all signs that the food that you ate caused an inflammatory response. Food should make you feel better and function more efficiently, it shouldn’t be a crutch.
If you continue to eat inflammatory foods, your body will be in a chronic state of inflammation, which can cause and accelerate the progression of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and cancer. Inflammatory foods also damage parts of your brain that regulate your appetite and body weight, which will cause you to eat more, store more fat, and become diabetic.
Fortunately, when we reduce our consumption of inflammatory foods, the cells in our brain, blood vessels, and body can finally heal.
The Foods That We Should Never Eat
Highly Refined Foods
All highly refined foods create an inflammatory response. This includes “foods” like cookies, cakes, chips, doughnuts, pizza, cereal, soft drinks, and french fries. These and many other common “food” products are so far removed from real food that they contain high sugar, high fat, rancid oils, synthetic chemicals like pesticides and flavorings, and almost all of the fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are removed. This is a recipe for inflammation.
Think about your favorite highly refined “food” – the one you think you can’t do without. Now, let’s explore what happens in your body when you eat that food.
As every bite of that food reaches your small intestine, your body diverts its attention to dealing with the excess fat, sugar, and potentially harmful chemicals. Your body tries to keep your blood sugar at safe levels by shuttling the excess energy into your cells, so it can be used as fuel by the mitochondria (the part of your cell that produces all of its energy).
During this process, harmful molecules called reactive oxygen species are created, which impair the function of the cells throughout your body as they accumulate. To clean up the reactive oxygen species and the damage they cause, our body uses antioxidants. However, the level of antioxidants in your body depends on the food you eat.
For example, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and glutathione are some of the most powerful antioxidants we use to protect and heal our cells, but we can’t create Vitamin C and E on our own and we need specific amino acids and sulfur-rich foods to help boost glutathione levels.
After weeks of eating these highly refined foods, your mitochondria will start to malfunction and your body will become chronically inflamed because it is getting too much fat and sugar with almost no help from vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Eventually, you’ll go to the doctor, and she or he may diagnose you with a disease like heart disease or diabetes, an autoimmune condition, or cancer. It will most likely be a condition that you are genetically predisposed to, but your genetics are only partially to blame. Eating high calorie, high fat, or high sugar foods that lack fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are most likely the main culprit.
Eliminating all highly refined foods from your diet is a great way to radically change your health for the better, however, there are many other food items that can cause inflammation regardless of their calorie content.
Dietary fat comes in many different shapes and sizes. For example, vegetable, seed, and soybean oils are filled with polyunsaturated inflammatory Omega 6 fats. Inflammatory omega 6s create an inflammatory response. When most of the fat in our diet comes from omega 6s, this will create higher levels of inflammation within the body.
Unfortunately, all of the most easily commonly accessible oils and processed foods are filled with unhealthy, inflammatory oils. There are anti-inflammatory fats, many of which are within the Omega-3 category. These fats promote the inflammatory reduction process. There are also healthy fats the aid int he inflammatory process. We need both. Both are good for us. But heavily cooked, overly processed, rancid fats are never good for us. And these fats lead to the inflammation cycle that is the cause of most modern diseases.
Rancid Oils and Trans Fat
Before you rush to the store to get a salmon filet or fish oil that is packed with omega 3s, it is important to know that all polyunsaturated fats, including omega 3s, are highly unstable. This means that sunlight and heat can render omega 6s and omega 3s rancid, which will make them both toxic to the body. This happens with cooking fish too, but the method of cooking can make a difference, and less well-done fish has more beneficial fatty acids left. The same thing happens when we ingest trans fats, which includes all fully and partially hydrogenated oils.
Factory Farmed Animal Products
Many studies show that animal products like heavy cream and red meat cause a spike in inflammation after consumption. However, it is important to consider the source of the animal products. It is rare to find a study that will pay attention to the quality of the animal products that are used. Scientists are most likely using cheap animal products that are sourced from sick animals that were fed pesticide ridden foods and antibiotics. This leads to animal products that cause a massive spike in inflammation.
Animal products that come from pastured, humanely-raised animals contain more CLA, glutathione, and other beneficial compounds than their conventional, factory-farmed counterparts. CLA and glutathione are both anti-inflammatory molecules that play a major role in reversing many diseases and releasing fat from the body. Pastured animal products are also likely to have less omega 6s.
Charred, Smoked, Overcooked, and Fried Foods
How you cook your meat and vegetables could make a nutritious meal into a cancerous substance. When we char or smoke our food, it vastly increases its carcinogenic properties and creates a potent inflammatory response in the body.
Cooking your fats and fatty foods at high temperatures will also render the fats rancid, especially if you are using any vegetable oils or other oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats.
It is best to cook your meat at low temperatures for a longer period of time (think “low and slow”). This ensures that the fat will be stable, the meat won’t be charred, and you will be able to reap all the health benefits of high-quality meat (The same applies to pastured eggs, although it may be best to consume them raw).
But even the highest quality meat and dairy products should be eaten in moderation because they may still cause an increase in inflammation and cancer cell growth. If you accompany your meat with vegetables and herbs, you can get all of the benefits of meat with little to no inflammatory response.
Related: Advanced Glycated End Products
Other Things to Consider
Artificial sweeteners like sucralose, MSG, and pesticides like glyphosate all have a substantial impact on our inflammatory response. Sucralose and other artificial sweeteners may actually blunt our immune response, creating an ideal environment for infectious bacteria and parasites.
MSG directly creates an inflammatory response in the liver and can lead to central obesity and type 2 diabetes. Glyphosate creates inflammation indirectly by damaging the gut wall, which causes the immune system to overreact to previously harmless foods. This means consuming pesticide ridden foods like GMOs and conventional fruits and vegetables can cause leaky gut and food intolerance.
The Quickest Way to Reduce Your Inflammation Levels
We covered a lot about inflammatory foods and their effects, but we still didn’t come close to explaining it all.
Let’s sum it up with the four inflammatory food groups that should never be in any human (or animal) diet:
- All highly refined foods, high sugar, high fat, and low fiber foods (cookies, cakes, candy, cereal, doughnuts, etc.)
- All vegetable, seed, and soy oils
- All pesticide ridden foods like GMO corn, GMO soy, and most conventional fruits and vegetables
- All factory-farmed, non-pastured animal products
And never buy these things again.
Replace all of those inflammatory foods with foods that contain anti-inflammatory compounds like organic vegetables, fruits, and herbs that are minimally cooked, and raw nuts and seeds. Each one has a variety of vitamins and minerals, high fiber, and other unique beneficial compounds that improve your health. Make sure you eat a wide variety of different vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, and seeds. These should make up almost all of your main course with a side dish of high quality pastured animal products at some of your meals.
By eating in this way, we will provide our body the nutrients and antioxidants we need to stave off mitochondrial dysfunction and promote the health of every cell in the body. In other words, your cells will rarely stub their toes.
How to Check Your Inflammation Levels
To track your inflammation levels, get a normal blood panel and check your C-reactive protein levels. C-reactive protein is created by the liver when there is inflammation in the body, so it is a great indicator for the level of inflammation in the body. It is commonly suggested to keep your C-reactive protein level Below 1 mg/L, but Dr. Chris Masterjohn suggests that it is better to keep it lower than .07 mg/L.
Read through The Most Potent, Anti-Inflammatory Everyday Foods to find out the specific foods that are best at lowering your inflammation levels.
- What Causes Chronic Inflammation, and How To Stop It For Good
- Heal Gum Disease and Cavities Naturally – Step by Step
- Everything You Should Know About Fat
- MSG’s Many Side Effects and Aliases
- Caloric Restriction and Chronic Inflammatory Diseases — NCBI
- Diet-induced weight loss, exercise, and chronic inflammation in older, obese adults: a randomized controlled clinical trial — Research Gate
- Obesity is associated with hypothalamic injury in rodents and humans — JCI
- Radiologic evidence that hypothalamic gliosis is associated with obesity and insulin resistance in humans — NCBI
- Immune response — MedlinePlus
- 8 Food Ingredients That Can Cause Inflammation — Arthritis
- Cancer: Inflammation by remote control — Nature
- Systemic inflammation and disease progression in Alzheimer disease — Neurology
- Major dietary patterns are related to plasma concentrations of markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction — AJCN
- A high-fat meal induces low-grade endotoxemia: evidence of a novel mechanism of postprandial inflammation — AJCN
- Differential Effects of Cream, Glucose, and Orange Juice on Inflammation, Endotoxin, and the Expression of Toll-Like Receptor-4 and Suppressor of Cytokine Signaling-3 — NCBI
- Dietary intake of trans fatty acids and systemic inflammation in women. — NCBI
- trans Fatty acids and systemic inflammation in heart failure — NCBI
- CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid): A Detailed Review — Authority Nutrition
- Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance — NCBI
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia. — NCBI
- Molecular Strategies for Targeting Antioxidants to Mitochondria: Therapeutic Implications — NCBI
- Why Grass-Fed Trumps Grain-Fed — Chris Kresser
- What to Do About High Cholesterol — Chris Masterjohn PhD
- Smoked food and cancer. — NCBI
- Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk — National Cancer Institute
- Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids — Oxford Academic