What encompasses an anti-inflammatory way of eating?
Anti-inflammatory eating is multi-faceted and highly individual. Eating an array of whole foods, rich in antioxidants and nutrients, as well as good hydration, are key foundational factors; however, to calm inflammation and address an autoimmune disease process, the first and most important dietary step is to identify and remove the foods that are causing an inflammatory response in the body.
The two most common offenders are gluten-containing grains and dairy. Going not only “gluten- zero”, but “grain-zero”, is my top anti-inflammatory recommendation for those with an autoimmune condition, accompanied by eliminating dairy, for a trial period of two to three weeks before reintroducing and noting symptoms.
Other important dietary factors include eating organic and non-genetically modified foods, to avoid pesticide, herbicide and antibiotic residues, which not only disrupt the system, but kill beneficial microbes in the gut. An imbalance of gut microbial flora ultimately up-regulates your inflammatory response and is thought to be a key factor in the development of autoimmune diseases (see source 1 below).
What foods are most inflammatory?
Any food can be inflammatory, if your body comes to see it as a foreign invader; however, some foods are inherently inflammatory for everyone. Perhaps the most inflammatory foods are those which contain gluten. No human can fully digest gluten or gliadin, both proteins found in wheat. In all humans, these proteins stimulate the production of zonulin, a molecule which causes increased intestinal permeability, and therefore, gut and/or systemic inflammation, ranging from unnoticeable (most people) to overt.
Increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, is commonly found in those with autoimmune diseases. A leaky gut allows whole food proteins to pass into the blood stream, which are then seen by the body as foreign offenders, resulting in an inflammatory immune response (see source 1 below), which can focus in your most susceptible organ system. Protein molecules in wheat and grains, and even white potato, called lectins, can also be major offenders; these damage the lining of the gut and can even act outside the gut, causing inflammatory and deleterious effects in organs such as the joints (see source 2 below).
Dairy proteins often cross-react with gluten, or are mistaken by the body as gluten, in sensitive individuals, and are best avoided when going gluten-zero (see source 3 below).
Trans-fats, damaged/oxidized oils, and refined flours and sugar, all behave as toxins in the body and increase inflammation, and should be avoided.
What is the best way to discover foods that are inflammatory for me, without going on an elimination diet?
An elimination diet is the best place to start when identifying food sensitivities, but if you are certain that you followed the elimination diet correctly and still have symptoms, certain blood tests are available, such as Cyrex, Mediator Release Test (MRT), and ALCAT testing. It is important to look at all immune pathways that could be causing the inflammatory response, such as IgA, IgG, IgE , IgM and T cell-mediated immune responses. Both MRT and ALCAT account for all of these immune pathways except IgE, and test for an inflammatory immune response to up to 200 food antigens.
Are there autoimmune diets that also fall into this category?
- The LEAP Immunocalm Diet via the Mediator Release Test
- Other plans, which involve gluten and dairy elimination, and/or aim to repair a leaky gut, are:
What are some tips for eating out or special occasions eating anti-inflammatory foods?
- Look for gluten- and dairy-free, and even grain-free, menu items or recipes to make at home. Plan ahead. Browse restaurant menus online and call ahead with questions. If eating at home, plan ahead for the week. Delicious gluten-free/diary-free/grain-free recipes abound on the internet. Search for Paleo, Primal or Ancestral holiday recipes.
- If stepping out to a holiday party, eat beforehand and take something you can safely nosh on, whether that be an appetizer, main dish or dessert.
- Include protein and fat with your meals and snacks to avoid food cravings and blood sugar spikes and crashes. Blood sugar dysregulation contributes to systemic inflammation.
Questions for your doctor
- Can you test me for both Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity?
- Can you test me for intestinal permeability?
- Can you help me with a gut-healing program, including MRT or ALCAT testing, or refer me to a Functional Medicine nutritionist or dietitian, who is skilled in administering this type of protocol and testing?
- Physiol Rev. 2011 Jan;91(1):151-75. oi: 10.1152/physrev.00003.2008.
- British Journal of Nutrition. 2000: 83;207-217.
About the Author
Angie King-Nosseir MS, RD is an Integrative and Functional Registered Dietitian, with a passion for walking with people along their path toward health transformation. Angie has a Master’s degree in Nutrition, is a Certified LEAP Therapist, corporate wellness health coach, freelance nutrition and wellness writer, and certified yoga instructor. She is trained in Functional Nutrition and Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine and in Food as Medicine through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.