The standard American diet is filled to the brim with inflammatory foods. It’s no wonder the health of Americans is trending in a downward spiral. What you eat can really impact your health. There are many common foods or ingredients we eat on a daily basis that may be triggering inflammation in our bodies. So it is important to know what those are and how to start limiting them. Here are my top inflammatory foods and tips to keep eating the things you love without risking your health.
Oh, gluten. Gluten is the main protein in wheat that is formed when you mix wheat with a liquid. Gluten gives the wheat that amazing elastic quality to dough and it helps construct that rigid yet fluffy texture to bread. It is also one of the most commonly used additives in processed foods.
Why is gluten inflammatory?
For one, gluten is the main protein that triggers an autoimmune response and people with celiac disease. For those who don’t have celiac, it can still be inflammatory. Gluten contains gliadin, a glycoprotein, and is very difficult for humans to digest. Gliadin also releases zonulin from the intestinal lining as it is being absorbed. Zonulin, an inflammatory protein, triggers those tight junctions between your intestinal cells to relax, making your intestinal lining more permeable. When your lining becomes permeable, other large substances can sneak through and cause an inflammatory reaction. Other potential issues with gluten and ingestion include:
- Dysbiosis in the gut microbiome leading to more inflammation
- Dampens the antioxidant defense mechanism of the intestinal lining
- Affects mental function
- May increase behavioral issues
- May be a trigger for autoimmune diseases.
What do you do if you know that gluten triggers inflammation for you?
- Always get tested. Don’t remove gluten until you know you don’t have celiac disease.
- There are plenty of alternatives to gluten, especially these days. There is even gluten-free flour that is a fantastic substitute for regular flour. I personally love Bob’s Red Mill one-to-one flour mix.
- Shifting to a more nutrient-dense diet really absorbs the need for bread, flour, and other grains that are not that nutrient-dense. You will get more bang for your buck by choosing alternative starches such as fruits and vegetables.
Sugar is a small molecule that is readily digested and absorbed into your bloodstream so your cells can use it for energy. When you eat a large amount of simple sugars, you quickly digest and absorb them, which spikes your blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels. Your body responds by releasing insulin, a hormone that facilitates the movement of glucose into your cells. Once glucose enters your cells, blood sugar levels return to normal. However, constant consumption of simple sugars can cause something known as insulin resistance, where your cells become less sensitive to insulin. When this happens, blood sugar levels remain higher for longer, and elevated blood sugar can cause chronic low-grade inflammation.
Effects of Sugar
The effect of sugar has been studied extensively. In healthy subjects, a low to moderate intake of sugar over a short period of time can
- Affect the LDL particle size. LDL is your bad cholesterol
- May increase fasting blood glucose levels
- Has been shown to increase inflammatory markers (1)
Sugar can also cause our gut microbiome to shift and become less diverse. When this happens the production of lipopolysaccharides ( LPS) may increase. These endotoxins have been shown to increase gut permeability and if they sneak through the gut lining and into the bloodstream, they may also trigger an inflammatory response.
How do you lower your sugar intake?
It is important to remember that there’s a distinction between sugar and added sugar. Sugar naturally occurring in foods is generally okay as long as it’s in moderation. Added sugars are the ones that need to be watched out for. Luckily now there is a line item on nutrition labels that it makes it easier to know if something has added sugar. You want your added sugar to be as low as possible.
This is controversial. I’m guessing that many of you probably thought I was going to say dairy for the last one. Well, I’m throwing canola oil and other processed oils under the bus. You probably thought canola oil was good for you and good for your heart. Well, think again. Many of the oils used in processed foods come from commodity crops, soybean, rapeseed, canola, corn, sunflower safflower, so they are cheap to make and grow.
What are processed oils?
Almost all the commodity crops in the United States are genetically modified and or sprayed with glyphosate, a highly toxic pesticide that has been linked to serious health complications, including cancer. Additionally, these oils are made by exposing the seeds of these plants to high temperatures and pressure and toxic solvents such as hexane. The problem with this is that polyunsaturated fats and these oils, which deem them healthy, cannot handle the high heat, light, and pressure. They start to break down and oxidize. This means that the oils contain free radicals, that when ingested, cause more inflammation in your body.
Canola oil itself has a pretty shady history. It was originally banned by the FDA because it contains too much uric acid, which has been shown to cause heart damage. Then Canada apparently genetically modified rapeseed to have less of this fatty acid. So the name canola actually means Canadian oil low acid.
Another issue with processed oils is most of them are high in Omega 6’s. Omega 6’s are fine, but the problem lies in the rest of the diet. If you don’t eat fatty fish or other foods rich in Omega 3’s, such as nuts seeds, and seaweed. If you eat a lot of processed foods or cook with processed oils, your Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio is going to be skewed. This can affect inflammation.
How do you reduce process oils in your diet?
- The easiest way is to limit processed foods. Most processed foods are made with these cheap commodity-based oils such as soybean, canola, and safflower oil. So cutting out processed foods will greatly reduce your processed oil intake.
- The second way to reduce processed oils is to make a switch to using olive oil or avocado oil. These oils can withstand high heat and are not as processed as other vegetable oils. So they don’t have as much oxidation and can and will do less harm.
While there are other inflammatory foods, gluten, sugar, and processed oils are the top three easiest ones to start reducing. If you are having trouble adjusting your diet to a more anti-inflammatory lifestyle, please reach out and schedule a free discovery call with me. Learn more about my approach and how I can help you make these changes more seamlessly in your life. You can follow me on Instagram at @the.autoimmune.dietitian or Facebook at @annierubinnutrition or my website.