Your immune system is a very complex network made up of cells, tissues and organs that all work together to help protect your body and fight off foreign invaders, such as germs, bacteria, viruses and parasites.
The problem is that it isn’t just germs or parasites that put our health at risk, sometimes it is the foods that we choose to eat, that actually initiate an immune response.
You may have heard that certain foods can cause inflammation in your body? This inflammation is due to an immune response to something that your body perceives as potentially harmful. You don’t even have to be allergic to foods for this to occur, however, if you are allergic then the response can be very severe and even life-threatening
When you ingest foods that cause an inflammatory response (we will have a look at what kind of foods do this in a moment), your immune system detects it as a threat, which then triggers an immune response that displays itself as inflammation in specific areas within your body.
This inflammatory response, caused by specific types of foods, is believed to be linked to a number of health concerns including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. For a little more information on this, have a look at Chris Kresser’s article ‘ How inflammation makes you fat and diabetic (and vis versa)’
So firstly, let’s look at the types of foods that are known to trigger an inflammatory response:
Dairy: Though natural yogurt is full of probiotics, which helps balance out the good bacteria in your guts, most dairy has been linked to disrupting the internal microbiome of the guts and displacing the good bacteria for bad bacteria. This is a real no-no, when it comes to inflammation, as the good bacteria work to reduce inflammation and aid in the digestion process. There is also the consideration that dairy ranks quite high on the allergen list, with 1:4 adults having trouble digesting dairy.
Refined grains: Refined grains, such as white flour or pasta, have had most of their fibre and nutritional goodness stripped from them, leaving a simple carb that will be quickly digested causing a spike in your blood sugar levels. This will in turn raise your insulin levels, which has been associated with a proinflammatory response.
Sugar: Sugar really is the bane of the human diet. Not only does it weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to infectious disease, by suppressing the effectiveness of your white blood cells in protecting your body against germs, it also increases the number of pro-inflammatory messengers, called ‘cytokines’, moving through your body. This means sugar is right up there on the list of foods that initiate an inflammatory response.
Bad fats: Fats from vegetable sources, hydrogenated fats and fats that have a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in them. These come from sources such as canola oil, deep-fried foods and other refined oils that have been connected to triggering white adipose tissue inflammation. This white tissue (fat tissue), is the kind that stores energy rather than burning it. The more unstable and refined fats you eat, the larger these cells become. As they become larger they increase the amount of pro-inflammatory agents they release, that trigger systemic inflammation.
Processed meats: Most processed meats contain large levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), an inflammatory compounds created during the processing of the meats. Couple this with the fact that these meats are injected with numerous preservatives, artificial colorings, artificial flavorings and numerous other chemicals that also register as a threat to your immune system, potentially triggering further inflammatory responses.
Artificial sweeteners/Additives: Artificial sweeteners are believed to increase the risk of glucose intolerance. This inability to properly metabolize glucose leads to an increase in inflammatory cytokines in the body. Another downside to artificial sweeteners that should be considered is that they disrupt the natural bacteria in the gut and cause an increase in bad bacteria, which again can lead to inflammation.
The good news is that though these above foods are known to cause inflammation within the body, there are numerous types of foods that are not only rich in essential nutrients, but that also have antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory properties that
help combat any inflammation in your body.
Fish: Specifically oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines or mackerel, as these fish are high in omega 3 fatty acids which help to reduce inflammation.
Nuts: Almonds and walnuts are examples of nuts that are packed full of antioxidants, as well as a specific omega 3, called ‘alpha-linolenic acid’. Both of these properties make nuts an excellent source of anti-inflammatory foods.
Berries: Berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, all have bright colors, and it is the anti-oxidant flavonoids, ‘anthocyanins’, that give them both their bright colors and their anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger & Turmeric: Both these spices, prevalent in many Asian countries, are believed to help fight off inflammation in the body. Turmeric works by switching off NF-Kappa B, which is a key component in triggering the inflammation process. Ginger is believed to work during digestion to target inflammation reduction in the gut.
Onion & Garlic: Both onion and garlic boast powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic contains a compound called ‘Organosulfur’ that is believed to lower the substances in the blood that can cause inflammation, while onions contain a flavonoid called ‘quercetin’, that works to inhibit inflammatory properties in conditions such as arthritis
Olive oil: Olive oil contains a substance, known as ‘oleocanthal’, which is believed to have a similar effect within the body as ibuprofen (an anti-inflammatory/pain reliever medication). That and the fact that it is a healthy fat, make olive oil a go-to choice when deciding which oils to use.
The bottom line –
The truth is that the foods that cause inflammation are ones that you want to avoid having in your diet anyway. So by substituting them for foods that actually work to reduce inflammation in your body, you are going to be enhancing other aspects of your health as well.
The key is to always opt for fresh produce, such as lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, over processed foods. Avoid refined sugars and consuming dairy in excess. Use wholesome oils, such as coconut oil, ghee, grass fed butter and olive oil instead of other refined ‘vegetable oils’ like canola, sunflower, soybean, corn or peanut oil etc.