What exactly is an “Anti-Inflammatory Diet”?
Back in September I had the privilege of speaking at The Myositis Association Annual Patient Conference in Louisville, KY. My topic: Anti-inflammatory Diet and Supplements. I received extremely positive feedback from those who attended my talk, as they felt they gained a new knowledge base on what exactly an anti-inflammatory diet (AID) consists of. When myself or Erin begin talking about an anti-inflammatory diet with our patients (and even with our own friends and family members) they become a bit overwhelmed. This seems to happen because the majority of foods and drinks that most people consume promote higher rates of inflammation and there is a sense of fear along with the question “what will there be left to eat?” when those foods are removed.
In this week’s blog post, I want to give you a condensed version of my lecture, as I feel its very helpful in understanding exactly what an anti-inflammatory diet is.
What’s an Anti-Inflammatory Diet (AID)?
According to the massive amount of research that I performed for my lecture, there really is not a single, conclusive definition of what an anti-inflammatory diet is. You will, however, find the following similar themes:
Avoid processed foods (fast food, anything in a box, can or bag—for the most part)
Eat more whole foods
Vegetables, fruits, animal and plant based proteins, pre/probiotic foods, healthy fats
and all fresh (nothing from a box, can or bag—for the most part)
Avoiding sugars--Ex: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
Be careful of fruit
High in vegetables
1/2 of plate
Buy or make your own (The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook by Dr Amy Myers,
Decreases gut inflammation, supports joints, hair, skin, nails
Moderate amounts of proteins
Increased amount of fish (higher in omega 3—salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, lake
trout); be careful of fish high in mercury (tuna packed in water, swordfish, king
One AID that Erin and I counsel and educate on is the Whole 30. First, both of us have completed it twice so we have experienced it from a patient's viewpoint. Second, it seems to be the most simplistic yet informative of all AIDs out there and contains a plethora of resources and support for patients. Hence the reason we created the Whole 30 reset facebook page for support back in August (SPOILER ALERT—we plan on running another one in January so be on the look out for that announcement). Also be sure and check out Erin's previous post describing the Whole30 diet in more detail.
Why is this important?
As stated above, I spoke on this subject at a conference that focused primarily on the patient, the patient caregivers, and their disease process. John Hopkins Myositis Center (which is one of the largest multidisciplinary Myositis centers in the world) defines myositis as “a rare disease, affecting approximately 50,000 Americans [and possibly even more as myositis can be misdiagnosed for years prior to receiving the correct diagnosis]. Myositis is a general term meaning inflammation of the muscles, which can be temporary or chronic.” (1). It is suspected that there is an auto-immune component to it, but there is definitive evidence showing the relationship between inflammation, myositis, and how removing certain elements that cause inflammation can have a positive effect on symptoms.
In 2007, Rose Mary Istre discovered that patients with Myositis diseases who followed an AID for a 12 week period showed improvement in:
Arm and Leg strength movements
Improvement of activities of daily living
Decreased severity of depressive symptoms (2)
An AID is not only important or limited to improving Myositis disease symptoms. It also has benefits in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (3), obesity (4), Hashimotos’ thyroid disease (5) (6) (7), and certain cancers (8) (9).
“One person’s food is another person’s poison” Joshua Rosenthal- Founder IIN
An anti-inflammatory diet is also based on the concept of bio-individuality. Erin and I have both have spoken about this term in different blog posts and on our social media pages and refers to the fact that there is not one uniformed diet that is “perfect” for everyone. It's about crowding out and seeing what foods work for you and what foods might actually worsen symptoms of inflammation.
Carbs. Proteins. Fats. These are the major players when it comes to our dietary choices, but it is determining what subtypes within each category work well for one’s own anti-inflammatory dietary journey.
Carbs tend to be “the enemy” when it comes to AID as they can induce inflammatory signals, increase weight and risk of obesity, increase glucose, cause leaky gut syndrome, and increase symptoms of brain fog, fatigue, joint pains, digestive discomfort, and skin issues. There is a difference between “Good” carbs and “Bad” carbs.
High in protein
Must soak prior to cooking to remove protein called saponins, which can induce
High in fiber—complex carb
Can induce inflammation at times—remember “bio-individuality’??
Eat with caution due to sugar
No recommend set amount of servings but I do suggest no more than 2-3/day
Leafy greens tend to be higher in Vitamin K so careful if you take Coumadin
Use with caution due to high sugar content
Black beans, lentils, and chickpeas have less inflammatory properties
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
Increase risk of fatty liver disease along with heart disease, obesity, and diabetes—
just to name only a few
High inflammatory properties
Increase glucose—causing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome (insert blog post)
Worsen inflammation in autoimmune diseases
Automatically converts into sugar—turns into fat—increases inflammation
Causes brain to crave more bad carbs
Disrupts calcium absorption—increasing risk for osteoporosis
Disrupts gut microbiome
Linked with increased risk for Alzheimers and Stroke (keep reading on.....)
Ensure proteins are from grass-fed (and if possible organic) sources
Stay local if possible
Remember BIO-INDIVIDUALITY— red meats can occasionally flare cytokines (inflammatory markers) worsening inflammatory processes such as autoimmune diseases
Try to take in proteins high in Omega-3 fatty acids
Obesity is not caused by fat—lets start here!
Good fats (Omega 3) have an anti-inflammatory effect
EX: oily fatty fish (salmon, sardines, trout), grass-fed pork and beef, omega-3 fortified
eggs, chia seeds, flax seeds, nuts (walnuts, cashews, and almonds are highest),
AVOCADOS, ghee, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil
Bad fats (Omega 6) induce inflammation
EX: Sunflower oil, Corn oil, Safflower oil
The players in inflammation…..
So far we have explained what an AID actually is, why it is important, and what choices should be made when deciding on your carbs, fats, and proteins. But who are the antagonists? What foods/food groups are responsible for causing inflammation and what should be avoided (or at least used with caution)? This is where you need to start taking notes—if you haven’t already!
If you have been on a health and wellness journey of any sort, you know this culprit pretty well. Gluten is a protein found in rye, barley, wheat, and triticale (which is a cross between wheat and rye—yes they’re creating hybrids!). Gluten is considered the “glue” that helps form the shape of the grains listed above. I’m not going to go through all the types of foods and drinks that include gluten but just so you know it's in everything and can even some "guten-free" foods can be cross-contaminated. If you have more questions about this or want to know more specifics, you can either email us with your question(s) or message us on social media. I also suggest you read Erin's previous blog post on gluten- "Gluten- Friend or Foe?"
Another fact that you may already know is that gluten is the main culprit in celiac disease as it raises something called Transglutaminase 2 (TGs), an inflammatory marker found in muscle tissue. There is also a high association between celiac, TG2 elevation, and myositis disease —thus most patients suffering from myositis or any other inflammatory disorder (thyroid, digestive etc) are more susceptible to gluten sensitivity. Anti-gliadin, another inflammatory marker, is also an indicator of inflammation associated with gluten intake.
With this data known, when a patient diagnosed with an inflammatory disorder of any kind begins having issues with digestion, skin, mental/emotional etc, gluten tends to be one of the first antagonists that we consider crowding out for at least a 4 week period to see if symptoms resolve. If there is improvement with this process, it is then discussed what should be allowed back in your diet (slowly and steadily of course) or what just needs to stay out as much as you possibly can.
Whether or not dairy is an inflammatory food group for you is based primarily on your bio-individuality. However, some experts say that dairy is an inflammatory food and, if inflammation is a problem for you, it HAS to be taken out. Others disagree and base their suggestions on the patient's/person’s bio-individuality. For instance, dairy is a food group that is completely eliminated during the Whole30 reset due to the fact that the casein (protein) and lactose (sugar) in it can be pro-inflammatory. Both also tend to be difficult to digest. That being said, there are cases in which dairy either does not bother an individual with an inflammatory disorder, or they can tolerate certain types as the level of casein and lactose varies. Some great non-dairy sources or calcium are:
Almonds, kale, oranges, collard greens, broccoli, figs, spinach, rice/almond/hemp/coconut milk, sesame seeds and tofu
Here is a straight-forward known fact: WE ARE ALL ADDICTED TO SUGAR! It’s literally in almost everything that we consume—even in all of those healthy bars and kombuchas you consume regularly. #GuiltyAsCharged. The FDA recommends less than 50g of sugar daily (around 4 tbsp) and the average American consumes double of that daily—not even knowing it! A diet that is high in sugar causes low-grade inflammation which worsens inflammatory disorders and their agonizing side effects.
Here is a pretty remarkable MRI I found for my lecture showing what your brain looks like on sugar versus what your brain looks like when you are using cocaine—notice any similarities? Which one looks more prominent? (10)
There is a lot of question surrounding this guy… is alcohol a friend or a foe? Well, it is known that alcohol causes an inflammatory reaction and triggers cytokines (those inflammatory markers) to flare up, as well as activates something called “Kupffer cells” within the liver (11). But here is the rebuttal: Red wine is considered a possible friend rather than foe, as it contains high amounts of polyphenols—compounds that are continuously being studied for their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects in the body. Now, I am NOT saying you should go drink a bottle of wine every night, but I AM saying that consuming the recommend amount of normal alcohol intake daily (12) (and I am specifically talking red wine here) might have some benefits when it comes to inflammation. Again, bio-individuality comes into play here- along with self-control.
Bottom line is: soda is BAD FOR EVERYONE! Not only does it cause worsening carbohydrate cravings (bad carbs not the good ones), it has been found to elevate CRP (C-reactive protein) levels. CRP level elevation is a possible indication of heart disease, as well as a level measured when someone is fighting an inflammatory/autoimmune disease such as myositis. In a study published in STROKE journal (13) soda showed a very strong link with increased cardiovascular and neurological events.
“2888 participants aged >45 years for incident stroke (mean age 62 years; 45%
1484 participants aged >60 years for incident dementia (mean age 69 years; 46%
Conclusion: Increased risk of stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s
In other words, people who are drinking diet sodas on a daily basis have a 3x higher
incidence of developing dementia or having a stroke
If this doesn’t turn you off to soda, I really don’t know what will. In addition to the neurological effects, daily consumption of soda (whether artificial or “the real stuff”) increases body weight and causes a slew of other co-morbidities including, but not limited to, type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, joint pains, brain fog, and chronic fatigue.
I hope that you found this blog post helpful and informative. Like I mentioned before, if you do have any questions about anything specific or want more information don’t hesitate to contact us. We would love to be able to share ALL the fine details, but that would be a very lengthly and wordy blog post. But we are always here to help guide and support you on your health and wellness journey.
Continue to Follow Your Gut,