Inflammatory Foods 101- What You Need to Know

inflammatory foods

There is a lot of information on the internet about inflammation,  inflammatory foods, and how to eat that sometimes contradict each other. So, I thought I would put together some basic information on what it even means to be an inflammatory food, what foods are considered more inflammatory, and how you can protect yourself, and-or heal, from their adverse affects.

First, let me explain what an inflammatory food actually is – it’s when you consume a food and your body begins to attack that food and make antibodies. The antibodies then create inflammation to help centralize the area being affected by the foreign invaders and to help heal the area. Inflammation is a natural outcome of an immune response in the body. However, inflammation gone unchecked, such as in food sensitivities, can cause long term symptoms and health problems like asthma, heart disease, chronic headaches, digestive problems, pain and much more.

Food allergies and sensitivities are becoming more and more common for a few reasons:

Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically Modified Foods are becoming so standard in our food supply that about 80% of what we eat is GMO. The GMO foods are so changed that they do not resemble their original form and the body is recognizing them as foreign bodies. When this happens, the body attacks the molecules and creates inflammation.

Processed Foods

Processed foods contain hundreds of chemicals that are GRAS, but may lead to internal reactions and create inflammation. GRAS stands for “generally recognized as safe” and that means that the food has not  harmed enough consumers for the FDA to put that food or ingredient under more scrutiny. So it’s more or less a catch all for any kind of food, without a specific legal definition of their safety, efficacy, or organic status.


How we grow our food has changed dramatically in the past 100 years. Pesticides are so commonplace now that our foods are not only covered with them, but they are pulled up through the roots into the produce and then consumed by us. They compete for nutrients at the root level. Conventionally farmed foods that are exposed to these methods have less nutrition than their organic counterparts.

Because our food supply has changed so much over just a few generations, some of the foods that we are used to eating in abundance are now intolerated by many people.

Uncovering The Top Four Inflammatory Foods

Gluten: One of the biggest offenders is gluten. Flour is being deaminated, which is a processing technique that breaks down the flour to such an extent that it creates a new protein that our body has never been exposed to before. These new proteins are not recognized as food and the body begins to attack them creating an inflammatory response. In fact, researchers have taken wheat flour found in tombs and compared it with the flour we have today and they are not the same plant. In fact, it’s not something that the body recognizes as the same. And since it’s not being recognized as the same, it is being attacked as a foreign body.

Symptoms of this might be headaches, foggy brain, depression, feeling tired, digestive issues, weight gain, inability to lose weight, skin issues, and allergies. Some of the symptoms could be subtle and mistaken for common chronic issues like allergies and headaches. Then the problem is compounded by treating the symptoms with medication, without realizing that there is likely a root cause like gluten sensitivity creating inflammation, which leads to the symptoms.

More and more research is being done on the effect of gluten on the body and there are links to autoimmune disease, depression and alzheimer’s/ dementia.

Luckily, if you are gluten sensitive, you can cut out gluten and begin to decrease your symptoms and reverse the inflammation in about 6-8 months.

Refined Soy: Another common Inflammatory food is refined soy. Soy was actually never meant to be consumed as food. It was traditionally used as a bumper crop between seasons to help replenish the soil and it wasn’t used for food until famine set in and it was the only thing left to eat. Since then it has been incorporated into our diets and even more so in American Society as it is in almost everything!

Soy is also one of the most modified foods, aside from corn, that we have available today. So again, the body begins to recognize it as a foreign invader and it leads to inflammation.

Refined soy is also very difficult for the body to digest, partly because it is not sprouted and so it contains phytic acid that is metabolized and can lead to gas and bloating. Have you experienced the need to run to the bathroom quickly after going out and having sushi? That’s usually from the soy!

You may have probably heard that soy has phyto-estrogens, or plant based estrogen hormones. And while these phyto-estrogens can be very useful in women going through menopause, it is not helpful for growing children, most women under 50 and men because it can cause shifts in hormones, which lead to a myriad of health issues like acne, headaches, painful periods, and weight gain. According to many experts, estrogen dominance is a key factor that is having a negative impact on many Americans who consume the standard American diet.

So if you are going to eat soy, try to choose organic, whole and-or fermented forms of soy; traditional soy products like sprouted tofu, tempeh, and miso.

Dairy: The third most common Inflammatory food is dairy products. Since the advent of pasteurization, dairy intolerance has been more and more prevalent. The reasons why are because when the milk is heated at high temperatures, it deactivates all of the enzymes needed for digestion and utilization. This makes it very difficult to utilize the casein protein and the calcium. So, the body reacts by either passing it through really quickly as in diarrhea or by halting all digestion with constipation.

Another piece to this is that the fat is broken up into very small particles that are not usable by the body, which in turn creates difficulty in digesting the fat soluble vitamins in the milk.

And, the way modern dairy cows have been genetically modified leads them to produce more than normal levels of estrogen, which gets passed onto their milk, and then into the humans who consume conventional diary products. This points back to yet another factor that is causing estrogen dominance in many people.

Some other common symptoms of dairy sensitivity are headaches, bloating, rashes, trouble sleeping, puffy eyes, allergic responses, itchy body and a variety of other symptoms. Heidi Hoffman, RD and Owner at Vibrant Living Wellness Center recommends that if you are a dairy lover and are not dairy sensitive, that you migrate to raw cheese, raw milk, and cultured dairy like Keifer and full-fat yogurt so that your body can get the full benefit of this food while mitigating the possible inflammatory effects it might have on your body.

Refined Sugar: Excessive sugar intake causes tooth decay and has been linked to increased risks of obesity, inflammation and chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Sugar is also considered an anti-nutrient. This basically means that sugar causes nutritional deficiencies because it interferes with nutrient absorption.

Sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks and punches are some of the major sources of dietary sugars that many be overlooked. Do you know that drinking a can of Coke is as good as sucking ten sugar cubes? Other obvious sugar-loaded foods to avoid or at least limit include pastries, desserts, candies and snacks. And when you are looking out for sugar in the ingredients list, note that sugar has many names: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, golden syrup, maltose, sorghum syrup and sucrose are some of the creative names used.

So What Can You Do?

When it comes to holistic wellness and living, the best protocol is prevention. Try your best to avoid foods that you suspect are causing inflammation in your body. Maybe you’re concerned that you need specific nutrients from those foods, and that you will be missing out on key nutrients if you avoid the food altogether. For example, doesn’t wheat provide essential fiber? Doesn’t dairy provide essential calcium? Well, to put a fine point on it, no, they don’t provide those nutrients in the best, most bioavailable, and beneficial way possible. In fact, you can receive plenty of calcium from anti-inflammatory foods like dark leafy greens for example, and those greens also come with thousands of phyto-chemicals and nutrients that you won’t find in dairy products. And, by eating spinach, you are eating an anti-inflammatory food, so you are giving your body a 180° switch from an inflammatory to an anti-inflammatory food, which gives your body a green light to begin healing, rather than fighting off unfamiliar food invaders.

If you aren’t ready to give up some of your favorite inflammatory foods, you might consider going with the 80-20 rule, where you reduce these foods down to 20% of your total dietary intake. And, at the same time, increase your anti-inflammatory foods by adding turmeric to your meals, eating plenty of green vegetables, and drinking plenty of good old water.

You may be wondering if you are currently suffering from the ill effects of anti-inflammatory foods. There are ways to figure this out that you can do on your own, or with the help of a qualified wellness professional.

An elimination diet is one way to do this, where you avoid inflammatory foods for about a month, and see how you feel at the end of the month. If you see an improvement then those foods were probably getting in the way of your achieving optimal wellness. You can reintroduce each food, one at a time, slowly, to help determine which foods are actually disagreeing with your body.

You can also come into Vibrant Living Wellness Center for  Nutrition Response Testing. Or, if you are already on your way to getting free from inflammatory foods, and you just want to learn about healthier foods and some tips for keeping those better foods in your daily life, your can schedule a Nutrition Consultation with me, either at Vibrant Living Wellness Center, or remotely using video conferencing. You can make an appointment here! We look forward to helping you any way we can!

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