I'm so excited to have Kristin guest post on CNC today. If you missed yesterday's blog post, I'm working with her over the next several months to improve some of my gut issues and reduce inflammation. Speaking of which, read on to see what she has to say about the top inflammatory foods and how removing them from your diet can jumpstart your recovery.
The 5 Most Inflammatory Foods You Should be Avoiding in Your Diet
If you told me five years ago I would no longer be able to eat the very foods I loved most, I would have been utterly crushed. Think about how many diets today promise that you can “have your cake and eat it too”. Weight Watchers makes you give up more points, but ultimately still be able to eat whatever you want; “If It Fits Your Macros” or IIFYM has become a health trend with bodybuilders and weight lifters promising that a carb is a carb no matter what, giving the green light on donuts and white bread if that’s how you want to spend your precious carbohydrates. But what about when it’s not about calories, macronutrients, or restriction?
What about those of us whose bodies actually don’t have the right mechanisms we need to be able to indulge in our favorite things?
You are not alone.
A Brief Overview of My Digestive Health Journey
It’s been 10 years since I was first diagnosed with a “chronic” digestive issue, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (or IBS). Nine years since I found out I had acid reflux and became lactose intolerant, and eight years since I finally got the real underlying diagnosed — ulcerative colitis.
I vividly remember asking my doctors during what I could be avoiding food-wise to help my condition, and every time without fail, their answer was, “the food you eat has no impact on what you have.” It just didn’t add up to me. I wasn’t a functional nutrition specialist at the time, but even so, I knew deep down that a lot of the food I was eating wasn’t working for me (hello, bloating and abdominal pain!) yet some felt really good and healing.
And so, my investigative work began. I burned the midnight oil researching about the impacts of food on gut health, learning the most healing and also the most irritating foods, and finally came up with a plan. In this post, I’ll explain to you the five most inflammatory and irritating foods that can trigger or exacerbate digestive issues, and at the end will fuel you with my favorite healing foods.
Recovery Starts by Removing These 5 Foods
First up, dairy. This one is usually a doozy and can be one of the hardest sacrifices to make, especially since many arguments can be made about the health benefits to natural fats and proteins. However, much research shows, as far back as the New York Times in 1982, that through evolution, our bodies have ceased to make the proper enzyme to break down dairy’s sugar particles once we reach a certain age. That’s because breastfeeding naturally ceases and we no longer require dairy to grow big and strong. The milk enzyme, called lactase, is designed to break down the components of dairy products so that they can be absorbed through the intestinal wall during digestion. So, if you have a lactase deficiency and consume large amounts of a lactose-containing items, like milk, cheese, or ice cream, much of the sugars pass through the stomach and into the intestines without being broken down. These large particles then absorb water and become food for intestinal bacteria that form gases and acids. This often results in abdominal bloating, flatulence, cramps, loose stools and diarrhea. Removing dairy can help to alleviate this.
Eat these foods instead
Here at Thrive by food, we are big fans of non-dairy milk like almond milk, preferably homemade. Here’s my recipe! For recipes with cheese in them, look for alternatives that use nutritional yeast which tastes remarkably similar to cheese.
- Gluten-Containing Grains
I believe that gluten sensitivity today is highly underrated because many don’t realize that how they feel is actually a result of consuming gluten. Gluten is the protein found in many grains that binds them together, but our bodies weren’t really built to digest it. Especially if gluten gets into your circulatory system, it can spread inflammation throughout the body.
Those who are sensitive often feel fatigued throughout the day, have trouble sleeping and have inflammation in the gut, joints, and thyroid as well as experience unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight. So, while you may not feel awful the moment you bite into a gluten-full burger, it doesn’t mean your body is tolerating it well, you just might not know.
To find out if this is the case, I often run a food sensitivity test, or a gluten-cross reactivity test, with my clients to find out if this sensitivity is present, how strong it is, and if there are any other food sensitivities present (99.9% of the time there are). In particular, gluten-containing grains to avoid are barley, bran, farro, kamut, oats, rye, seitan and spelt, as some examples.
Eat these foods instead:
Grains like amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and tapioca or make spiralized veggies like cucumber, zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes.
Every person is unique in the foods they can and can’t digest well, so running a food sensitivity test can be really insightful.
Once touted as a healthy superfood protein, we now know that soy can in fact cause a great deal of health issues. Not only is the soybean one of the most difficult beans to digest, but the type of soy we consume today is highly processed in foods like commercial soy milk, soy meat, and soy ice cream. Soybeans are some of the most genetically engineered crops, so unless you’re buying from a trusted organic source, you may be eating a highly altered form of soy that your body simple doesn’t recognize and therefore cannot digest.
Another issue with soy is that it’s a phytoestrogen, which can cause estrogen levels to become elevated. This is concerning for both men women and can be highly symptomatic.
Eat these foods instead:
Generally speaking, gluten-free soy sauce and verified organic soy products like miso and tempeh are the best options, or to avoid soy altogether, you can have coconut aminos instead of soy sauce and meat, bean or legume-based proteins instead of tofu.
Did you know that sugar can be up to six times more addictive than cocaine? Not only that, but it’s actually even more lethal than this deadly drug. The biggest issue about sugar today is that it’s in everything -- not just the obvious foods like ice cream and cookies, but condiments like ketchup, store-bought tea blends, spice rubs on meat, natural juices, and much more. The next time you are at the grocery store, look at a few ingredient labels and chances are you’ll find a form of sugar on there.
Sugar is problematic for a number of reasons. First off, when we consume sugar, dopamine levels in our brain surge, which creates a release of serotonin, the “happy hormone”, into our blood stream. This leads to a rise in insulin, which is supposed to bring blood sugar levels back in range, but also creates a sugar crash. To avoid the effects of this sugar crash, our brains convince us to have more to avoid that awful feeling. And so, the cycle continues.
When it comes to gut health, if you have dysbiotic (or bad) bacteria present, sugar is food to them, so this can proliferate gut issues and lead to serious infections if unaddressed. The fructose in sugar can also interfere with our appetite hormone, leptin, which causes us to over-eat sugar, eventually leading to obesity.
Eat these foods instead:
Make or buy products that use honey, date sugar, monkfruit or raw maple syrup instead of regular table sugar. You can also blend together 1 frozen banana with 1 cup of frozen berries and some full-fat coconut milk for a delicious, sugar-free, fruity ice cream bowl.
- Processed foods
Generally speaking, most processed foods (or foods that are store-bought in a box or can) contain one or more of the above foods, plus other offensive ingredients like canola oil, “natural flavors”, casein (similar to gluten), and more. While convenient, processed foods can cause a great deal of systemic inflammation as well as digestive issues.
Eat these foods instead:
As much as you can, opt for whole, natural foods. When grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter aisles by purchasing produce and organic, pasture-raised meats.
Beat the Inflammation with These Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Thankfully, there are a number of incredibly healing superfoods with anti-inflammatory properties. These include:
- Bone broth
- Aloe juice
- Fermented foods
I go into detail on each of these in this article. As you work to remove the five food categories above and eat more clean and whole food options, be sure to consume one or more of these anti-inflammatory foods every day to bring down inflammation and help your body recover.
An Example Anti-Inflammatory Diet
If this post has you wondering what you can even eat anymore, I’ve got you covered! Below is a sampling of foods I eat on a regular basis which keeps inflammation at bay, nourishes my body inside and out, and gives me incredible energy, fantastic sleep, and an unmatched sense of well-being.
- Breakfast: Chia pudding, a green smoothie, or grainless trail mix
- Snacks: Green grapes, mixed berries, sliced cucumbers or carrots
- Lunch: A big organic salad with as many veggies as I can fit, topped with some grilled, free-range chicken or wild-caught salmon.
- Afternoon snack: A handful of macadamia nuts, almonds or plantain chips
- Dinner: A meat dish such as chicken, pork or fish with a side of veggies like asparagus, broccoli or a seasonal squash.
- After Dinner/Dessert: Semi-sweet teas like chamomile, licorice root (great for gut healing) or lavender.
I genuinely hope this guide is useful to you as you navigate your way toward a better you -- inside and out. I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments below this post! For more about me, visit thrivebyfood.com or find me on Instagram: @ThrivebyFood.
As founder of Thrive by Food, a functional diagnostic nutrition and health coaching practice, Kristin Thomas spreads her message of natural digestive health through group programs, live international events, one-on-one coaching, blogs and podcast appearances. If you need a place to start, sign up for her FREE Gut Healing Recipe Guide and design a plan to begin healing your gut.