Limit Total Calories:
The #1 driver of body inflammation is the consumption of too many calories. But how do you calculate this? Too many calories is when your daily calories exceed your total metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories). The excess weight you gain inflames your body’s organs cells. Calculate your metabolism.
Your body does not process protein - it breaks it down into amino acids. All protein is NOT created equal. The quality of protein is determined by its profile of amino acids and its PDCAAS score. Animal protein has an excellent PDCASS score, but it also comes with high saturated fats if you eat meats and cheese. Meat and dairy also contain arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated omega 6 acid, which is inflammatory. Vegetable protein’s PDCASS score is weaker, except for soy which has a complete amino acid profile. The Weston A. Price Foundation, with ties to dairy industry, has done a fake news job on soy (see below). In general, vegetable protein can be a good source of amino acids if you are aware of what each one lacks.
High Nutrients per Calorie:
Not all calories are created equal. Inflammatory foods consist of bad and empty calories. The best way to ensure consumption of good calories is through nutrient density. The Nutrient Institute has created a simple, proprietary measurement to separate good, bad and empty calories through its Nutrient Density to Calorie calculation.
High fiber is anti-inflammatory as it helps your gastrointestinal tract and promotes a healthy microbiome. Each meal should have at least 20% of your daily requirements or 5 grams. The American diet is significantly low in fiber and thus, inflammatory.
All Essential Nutrients:
Your body must get all the essential nutrients every single day. They’re called “essential” because your body cannot produce them on its own. A major cause of inflammation is the lack of these essentials in our foods. The essentials are: 12 amino acids, 14 vitamins, 14 minerals, 2 healthy fats, fiber and water. Even the best foods, so called “superfoods,” lack all the essentials so it is critical to make sure your daily diet includes them in the right amounts.
Limit Total Carbs < Basal Metabolism Rate (BMR):
Make your carbs count. Your body needs carbs because they are the best source of energy. Using fat and protein as your energy source (the base of many fad diets) in the long term damages your brain, organs and muscles and is inflammatory. On the flip side, excess carbs are also inflammatory, so your total carbs should not exceed your BMR (amount of calories burned when in resting state). Calculate your BMR
These are the complex carbs that are not processed - your body absorbs them slowly which gives you sustained energy. Foods with a low glycemic index (the conversion of food into glucose) are a valid measure of good carbs. Bad carbs quickly enter the bloodstream and give you a quick energy spike followed by an energy crash – the dreaded “pop and drop.” Avoid ultra processed, high glycemic food.
High sugar is a major inflammatory ingredient. Americans consume about 130 grams day vs the recommended max of less than 50 grams. The body processes “natural” and “added” sugars the same, so a total sugar count is all that matters. A “no sugar” diet is unrealistic, and your body and brain need a small amount of sugar (glucose) to function well. In fact, the brain uses one-half of all the sugar energy in the body! On average, if you eat three meals a day and some snacks, every meal should be less than 10 grams of total sugar - enough to satisfy your body’s needs without inflaming your system.
Gluten is not as bad as its reputation, but it is inflammatory for a small segment of the population: Those with celiac disease (~1%); those who are not celiac but are still sensitive to gluten (~0.5%); and some menopausal women for whom gluten causes a cortisol release that leads to depression of estrogen and progesterone (population affected, unknown). When in doubt, eliminate gluten from the diet.
Low Saturated Fats:
Saturated fats inflame the body by causing it to release immune fighting cells like endotoxin. Total saturated fat per day should be no more than 20 grams (each meal should be less than 7 grams.)
Low Omega 6/Omega 3 Ratio:
Fat is good. But it has to be the right kind of fat. Omega-6 is inflammatory and omega-3 is anti-inflammatory. Generally, people get too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. Today’s food have an average omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 10-20:1 - this is far too high! An ideal anti-inflammatory ratio should be less than 10:1. Working both sides of the ratio is important: increasing omega-3 while reducing omega-6 (which comes mainly from vegetable oils...fried foods are high in omega-6).
Your body needs a lot of water daily - over 60% of you is actually water. Foods with a high water content are anti-inflammatory as they provide the necessary water while giving you a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. .
No Artificial Additives:
There is some evidence that artificial additives (sweeteners, colors, preservatives) can increase inflammation, but the scientific certainty has not been validated. Artificial ingredients are tied to processed foods which are inflammatory, so it is best to avoid them.
There is no evidence that soy is inflammatory. In fact, eating a lot of soy reduces markers of inflammation - 25% reduction for IL-6 and 14% for TNF-alpha. Soy products are rich in antioxidants, have a high quality protein, and some contain dietary fiber. Increased intakes of soy is also associated with a lower risk of inflammatory conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Learn more.
Low Fat Protein Source:
Americans generally eat plenty of protein but much of it comes from meat and dairy. This is a problem because those sources are high in saturated fat and cholesterol and contain a bad omega 6/omega 3 ratio.
High cholesterol foods are inflammatory - you should consume no more than 100 milligrams of cholesterol in each meal.
Despite misinformation you can find online regarding the dangers of canola oil, it has the second highest level of omega-3s in all healthy vegetable oils (flax oil is first but it is unstable in foods) and is low in omega-6s, yielding a good balance between the two fatty acids (2 omega-6/1 omega-3). Canola oil is stable (i.e., it has a long shelf life), is low in saturated fat, and high in omega-9 (monounsaturated, cardio protective).
Oxidative stress is caused by overeating/weight gain and our environments. These free radicals wreak havoc on our bodies. Vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, E, beta carotene, zinc and selenium, are antioxidants that fight the free radicals to lessen the damage.
Many spices are anti-inflammatory - turmeric, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, sage, rosemary, and pepper.
Preservatives are linked to highly processed foods which are inflammatory. While science has not directly proven that the preservatives themselves are inflammatory, it’s wise to avoid them because you are most likely avoiding the processed/inflammatory foods.
GMOs have not been proven to be inflammatory, but the jury is still out. It’s best to avoid them.
Acrylamide is created when cooking certain foods at high temperatures. Most snack foods and cereals are baked at high temperatures and contain significant acrylamide. Acrylamide has not been shown in humans to be inflammatory, but it is a carcinogen so you should avoid it. If you use the broad definition of inflammatory food, foods which harm your health in the long term, foods with acrylamide would be at the top.
Limit Lectins, Mold Toxins, Arachidonic Acid:
It is not scientifically proven that these three ingredients are inflammatory, but there are many in the nutrition world who believe they are. Let’s take them one by one:
Lectins - Found in whole grains and legumes (peas, chickpeas). If cooked, the lectins disappear.
Mold Toxins - In grains, sugar, hard cheese, and peanuts. If you store these in a cool, sealed container, the mold can’t grow.
Arachidonic Acid (AA), a polyunsaturated omega-6 acid, can be inflammatory although stronger science needs to be completed. Beef, chicken, eggs and dairy contain it, but the levels have not changed in the past 50 years. The increase of AA in today’s diet is most likely due to the increase of omega-6 rich oils used in processed foods.