The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Is Food Causing You Pain?

If you have constant inflammation and can’t figure out why you might want to look at your plate. Many health conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, asthma, and autoimmune disease, are linked to inflammation.[1]https://medlineplus.gov/autoimmunediseases.html Yet, food is one of the root causes of inflammation in your body.[2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12551878 I suggest trying an anti-inflammatory diet for my clients with unexplained inflammation. 

I know all too well about the frustrations of having excruciating pain and being told there’s nothing wrong with me. The agonizing pain in my foot went on for nearly a decade, and modern medicine passed me from specialist to specialist for 10 years. I underwent invasive testing, including two glucose tolerance tests, and had enough blood drawn to fill a blood bank. We only figured out that I didn’t have diabetes or the markers to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.[3]https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353653

Frustrated with nowhere else to go, I found an article about how food affects our health and deeply delved into the world of functional nutrition. Once I changed my diet, my foot pain got better. As a certified nutritionist, I can tell you that food is at the root of many health problems. Once I eliminated inflammatory foods from my diet, my foot pain disappeared. 

I will tell you about how food causes inflammation in your body, the foods to eat and avoid, and the anti-inflammatory diet. Before we begin, let’s discuss why your body produces inflammation. 

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s defense against infection from outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses.[4]https://www.webmd.com/arthritis/about-inflammation When your body comes in contact with a foreign invader or suffers an injury, it alerts your immune system, which releases inflammatory cells and cytokines to the spot of the injury. These cells trap the bacteria and begin healing injured tissue. The result is pain, swelling, bruising, or redness. 

In most cases, inflammation is acute such as cutting your finger or hitting your knee on a table. Sometimes, inflammation can be chronic, and your immune system constantly sends inflammatory cells to healthy parts of the body. When your immune system is continuously in this state, it cannot tell the difference between healthy cells and bacteria. For example, in multiple sclerosis, inflammatory cells attack the protective covering on your nerves.[5]https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS?

Signs of inflammation

If you’ve been bitten by a mosquito or cut your finger, you may experience flushed skin at the site of injury, pain or tenderness, swelling, or heat. Chronic inflammation symptoms may be a little harder to recognize. 

Signs of chronic inflammation include:[6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/

  • Abdominal pain or regular bloating
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin rashes
  • Chronic pain

Many conditions are associated with chronic inflammation, including Alzheimer’s, asthma, heart disease, arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, and type 2 diabetes.[7]https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-acute-and-chronic-inflammation

Chronic inflammation also affects those with autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, Chron’s disease, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Interestingly, the foods you eat can significantly increase the inflammation in your body. Yet, it’s not always the first place modern medicine will look at as the cause of your inflammation.

What Foods Cause Inflammation?

Our modern diet is full of processed foods full of additives, refined sugar, genetically modified organisms, and preservatives. Nothing good can come from any of those chemicals. Two of the most common foods that cause inflammation are gluten and dairy.[8]https://medium.com/thrive-global/the-shocking-truth-about-food-and-inflammation-3f4537e42efc

For most people, gluten doesn’t cause any issues; however, it’s the No. 1 food that causes inflammation in your body.  

It’s essential to remember that there is a difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. Why am I bringing up food allergies? A common misconception is that unless you have an allergy to a food, it will not cause inflammation. This line of thought is not true. In fact, red meat is one of the most common foods that cause inflammation, yet you don’t hear about people having an allergy to red meat. Here are five foods that cause inflammation. 

1. Gluten 

Gluten is a protein found in grains, including wheat, barley, and rye, that gives bread its gooey-like texture. It’s common in foods such as bread, pasta, pizza, and cereal, and gluten has no nutritional value at all.

If you have celiac disease, you have an immune system reaction to gluten, which causes inflammation and damage to your gut when you eat gluten. Only 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease. 

 If you’ve not been diagnosed with celiac disease but still experience inflammation, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain after eating foods containing gluten, you likely have a sensitivity.  

2. Dairy

Gluten is the biggest offender in inflammation, and dairy is a close second, specifically cow’s dairy. This inflammation causes bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. The dairy problem can be traced back to two factors – sugar and the proteins whey and casein. 

As you age, your body stops producing digestive enzymes that help break down the foods you eat. Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in cow’s dairy. People with lactose intolerance have lost the lactase enzyme. 

If you still have the lactase enzyme, but respond poorly to dairy products, then it’s likely a sensitivity or intolerance to the proteins in milk – whey and casein. Casein has a similar molecular structure to gluten, so if you notice that you’re having issues with gluten, you will likely have problems with dairy. 

3. Refined Sugar 

Carbohydrates come in two forms – simple and complex. In moderation, simple sugars are fine. However, the Standard American Diet (SAD) contains refined simple sugars and high-fructose corn syrup. Table sugar (sucrose) is 50% glucose (a sugar your body needs) and 50% fructose. 

Your body needs glucose for energy, which is why not all carbohydrates are bad for you. Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruits. However, fruits and vegetables are complex carbohydrates that take longer to absorb. 

The added sugars such as artificial sweeteners and sucrose have no nutritional value and can cause inflammation, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.[9]https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/19534.htm

 Instead of table sugar and artificial sweeteners, try using honey or maple syrup as a sweetener; both are natural and contain complex carbohydrates. 

4. Trans Fats

There are two broad types of trans fats in foods: naturally occurring and artificial trans fats. Naturally-occurring trans fats from some animals and foods from these animals (e.g., milk and meat products) may contain small quantities of these fats. 

Artificial trans fats (or trans fatty acids) get made through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.

Trans fats are easy to use, inexpensive to produce, and long-lasting. Trans fats give foods a desirable taste and texture. Many restaurants and fast-food outlets use trans fats to deep-fry foods because oils with trans fats can often be used in commercial fryers. 

Trans fats raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and lower good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Both actions can increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

5. Omega-6 Fatty Acids

While technically not trans fats, omega-6 fatty acids are fats your body uses for energy but cannot produce on its own. There are some health benefits to omega-6 fatty acids, such as boosting your metabolism, and they also contribute to the good kind of inflammation in the body that helps heal you. 

Foods rich in omega-6s include corn, canola, safflower, peanut, and mayonnaise. However, you need to balance omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and too many omega-6s can cause consistent inflammation. 

6. Red and Processed Meats

Red meat causes uric acid levels to rise in people with gouty arthritis. Yet, you don’t need gout to get inflammation from red meat. Processed meats, including ground beef that is not grass-fed or organic, is slatted, cured, or full of preservatives and GMOs. Research shows both processed and red meat are high in saturated fat, which causes inflammation.[10]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26143683/

Red meat is any meat that comes from cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. Examples of processed meats include bacon, hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, sausage, and some deli meats. 

If you’re going to eat red meat, I always suggest to clients that they buy grass-fed, organic beef. I noticed a big difference when I made the switch. In addition, some of you may find it beneficial to limit alcohol, nightshade vegetables, and citrus fruits. 

So, what can you eat? Let’s talk about foods to eat following an anti-inflammatory diet. 

Foods to Eat Following the Anti-Inflammatory Diet

An anti-inflammatory diet doesn’t refer to a specific diet but an eating style. It should consist of nutrient-dense foods, antioxidants, and healthy fats. It should not include processed foods, such as sweets, snack foods, processed meats, soda, and fried foods. Even “healthy foods” like trail mix and baked chips are processed. 

Foods to eat while trying an anti-inflammatory diet include: 

  • Oily fish such as salmon and fresh tuna 
  • Fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cherries. Berries are rich in antioxidants
  • Lemons and Limes
  • Leafy green vegetables, including kale, spinach, and broccoli 
  • Legumes and beans
  • Olive and avocado oil. Coconut oil is an excellent substitute for cooking fats. 
  • Fiber
  • Spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger
  • Herbal teas
  • Avocados
  • Dark Chocolate and cocoa (at least 70% cocoa)

It’s essential to remember that results vary from person to person based on intolerance and the severity of your inflammation. The biggest hint is that the anti-inflammatory diet is working if you start to feel better. Schedule a free consultation with me if you’d like to learn more about food intolerances and determine if the anti-inflammatory diet is right for you.