The last blog, “One Species. One Diet.” focused on the necessity of certain foods and the optimal diet for the human species. This blog expands on that concept by revealing the top inflammatory foods that contribute to chronic disease.
The root of all disease is inflammation, thus we need to find ways to decrease the amount of inflammation in the body. One of the most effective ways to reduce inflammation is by adjusting the foods that we eat. Although foods with gluten and dairy may have some beneficial nutrients in them, the anti-nutrient properties of these foods are much more significant, leading to an increase amount of inflammation in the body.
Gastrointestinal food allergies present during early childhood with a diverse range of symptoms. Cow’s milk, soy, and wheat are the three most common gastrointestinal food allergens (6). These issues lead to a number of issues in not only kids, but manifest into inflammatory issues in adults as well.
Gluten has been a buzzword for several years now, bringing trend diets and the predictable backlash into the cultural mainstream. Some people have gone so far as to try the diet for some time only to find, after completing the blood test, that no such allergy exists. Being intolerant to gluten is a pure yes/no diagnosis, however being sensitive to gluten is not. Gluten sensitivity is a spectrum, ranging from no issues to Celiac. Research estimates that 18 million Americans have a gluten sensitivity. That is six times the amount of Americans who have celiac disease. Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity have a prevalence of extraintestinal or non-GI symptoms, such as headache, “foggy mind,” joint pain, and numbness in the legs, arms or fingers. Symptoms typically appear hours or days after gluten has been ingested (1).
Dairy is also not necessary in the human diet. Nearly 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy (7). No other mammal on earth consumes breast milk past infancy and humans are the only animal in nature to drink another animal’s milk. Unless you are of Scandinavian background, specifically Swedish, you more than likely have some sensitivity to dairy. Evidence from international, case-control, and cohort studies suggests that men who avoid dairy products are at lower risk for prostate cancer incidence and mortality, compared to others (9). So, what dairy substitute calcium sources are most healthful? A moderate amount from a variety of plant sources seems to be best. There’s plenty of easily absorbable calcium in dark leafy greens, such as bok choy, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, and turnip greens, as well as broccoli, dried beans, figs, several tree nuts, and almond milk. Plus, these foods contain other cancer-fighting nutrients that just aren’t present in dairy products.
Soy and refined sugars are also among the leading causes of inflammation in the body, mostly due to the amount of compound modification during processing. Soy, in its natural form, is a phytoestrogen – estrogen coming from a plant source. Some research suggests that soy may be beneficial in health, while others suggest that the hormonal properties of soy may interfere with the endocrine system leading to complications. My single biggest concern with soy is the prevalence of genetic modification. A brand new study published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Agricultural Sciences revealed that genetically engineered soy (the GMO) increases levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and decreases glutathione, an important anti-oxidant necessary for cellular detoxification (9).
Refined sugars are the worst of the inflammatory foods. They have been linked to not only obesity and Type II Diabetes, but also non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, high cholesterol, heart disease and even cancer. High intake of refined sugars leads to disruption of insulin, a key growth hormone, that can lead to diabetes and cancer. There is a direct correlation between the rapid expansion of refined sugars in the American diet and the rate of obesity, heart disease and certain cancers.
The correlation between obesity and disease with the consumption of things like refined sugar, grains and processed vegetable oils is very clear. We have evolved to eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. When your diet is centered around basic foods like veggies, fruits, quality sources of protein and natural fats, there’s no need to count calories (or “points”). These foods will nourish you and naturally make you feel satisfied making you less likely to over-eat. More importantly, you become healthier as your body begins to learn how to run on this better source of fuel for energy rather than relying so heavily of sugar.
One of my favorite quotes is by Heather Morgan, MS, NLC “Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.” We are what we eat, literally. It’s time we give our bodies what they need, not what our brain craves.