Dietary sources of chronic inflammation cause disease.
It has been said many times (I’ve said it myself) that chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of the lifestyle diseases that are plaguing American society today. While that is a true statement, it is also incomplete.
Inflammation is a source of damage to body tissues: brain, heart, lungs, intestines–you name it. But inflammation doesn’t happen without a cause. It is itself, a symptom of an underlying cause. The trick is to find the cause of the inflammation.
Let’s look at the dietary sources of inflammation.
Our diets are arguably the greatest source of chronic inflammation. Diets high in processed foods and sugars cause chronic inflammatory processes that lead to every manner of disease.
In our attempt to find and treat causes rather than symptoms, let’s take a look at the most common causes related to our diets.
Here are four sources of inflammation that come from dietary sources: unhealthy fats, unhealthy carbohydrates, food allergies and intolerances, and lectins.
Fats are amazing things. They can cause both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory pathways in our bodies. The anti-inflammatory fats are, generally, omega-3 fatty acids, and the inflammatory fats are omega-6 fatty acids.
Actually, both of those omega fatty acids are necessary for a healthy and properly functioning body, but in the correct ratio to give balance. Guess which ones Americans eat way too much of?
For a more in-depth look at the sources of both types of fat and how to correct the Omega-6 : Omega-3 fatty acid ratio, go to this post on Good Fat/Bad Fat.
There are also good carbs and bad carbs.
Bad carbs are those that turn to sugar quickly in the intestines and therefore contribute to steep rises in blood sugar and insulin levels. Insulin take the excess sugar out of the blood and stores it as body fat. Great.
Good carbs are nutrient dense vegetables that are also high in fiber, low in sugar, and don’t cause blood sugar to spike. They give life and health to the body by contributing vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are unique to plants.
See this post for a more in depth look at how the wrong carbohydrates cause disease and how the right ones cause healing: Good Carbs/Bad Carbs.
Food Allergies and Intolerance
Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergy
Food allergies and intolerance are another source of inflammation. Some know without a doubt, when they’ve eaten something that causes an allergic reaction. Hives, asthma, chest or nasal congestion, rashes, eczema, itching throat, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, headache, anaphylaxis. Sometimes vomiting. These are typical histamine allergy-type reactions. People with these reactions have obvious symptoms related to the food they just consumed. They definitely know it when it happens.
It is also possible to have a low-level inflammatory reaction to a food that maybe isn’t so obvious. Technically not an allergy, food intolerance can also cause inflammatory reactions. However, it is sometimes hard to tell which food is causing the issue.
Signs and Symptoms of Food Intolerance
The immediate symptoms of food intolerance will mainly be confined to intestinal issues: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, and stomach pain. These symptoms happen because the intolerance is generally due to the food not being digestible to that person.
Find the Cause of Your Food Allergy or Intolerance
Getting onto a full elimination diet will allow someone with either allergy or intolerance to systematically find the offending food.
An elimination diet eliminates the foods that have the greatest potential for causing those reactions, and then after a “wash-out” period, re-introduces (or challenges) those foods back into the diet. Introducing food categories one at a time allows the person to evaluate each food separately from any others.
For those with severe allergic reactions like throat swelling or anaphylaxis (for example), food challenges should only be done under the supervision of a doctor.
For those who are trying to find out if there is an intolerance, elimination diets are safe and effective, but can take weeks to months to do completely. But when you’re sick and ready to be healed, you’re generally ready to do whatever is necessary to feel good again.
A plant-based ketogenic diet can be used as the beginning of an elimination diet since all grains and legumes are already taken out of the diet.
Some other high allergy foods include dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, wheat and other gluten containing grains, shellfish, and soy.
While these are some of the greatest offenders, we can be allergic to anything including fruits and vegetables. Whatever you suspect may be a cause for you, should be included in your elimination food list. Whatever food you know to be a problem for you, should be eliminated and NOT re-introduced.
For those in need of more structure in their elimination diet or those who have serious intestinal or autoimmune conditions, I recommend looking into the GAPS diet. Although the GAPS diet won’t work for 100% of the people who try it, it works for MOST, and the results are often miraculous.
Work with a healthcare practitioner who understands the GAPS diet and know that intestinal health is the basis of health for whole body.
Lectins are glycoproteins (a protein with a sugar molecule attached) that are found in both plants and animals. There is a lot being said about the dangers of lectins, and while this can be true, not all lectins are harmful.
Lectins Found in Animals
It’s probable that there are many, many functions of lectins in animals. We only know a few right now. For example, lectins are part of the normal function of the immune system and homeostasis of blood proteins.
Lectins Found in Plants
What we’re really concerned about in this article are plant sources of lectins. Plant lectins are concentrated in seeds and peels.
In seeds, lectins are inactivated under proper growing conditions: warmth and soaking in water, or partial digestion through the intestines of some animals.
So, lectins in seeds appear to keep the seed from germinating at an inappropriate time of year or under inappropriate conditions. That’s necessary for seed survival, but it also causes problems when we try to eat those seeds. The same thing that keeps a seed viable for long periods of time, also makes the seeds indigestible in human intestines.
In fact, some seeds, without being properly treated, can be toxic. Mature, dried beans from the legume family like pinto beans, kidney beans, soy beans, peas, and the like contain a lectin called phytohemagglutinin (PHA). If this lectin is not deactivated by soaking and cooking, it will cause toxicity.
PHA toxicity happens when seed lectins bind to the intestinal wall villi which can cause many types of imbalances. Here are some of the abnormalities that happen in animals fed diets high in lectins:
- Cell hyperplasia (abnormal increase in cell proliferation),
- Cell hypertrophy (abnormally large cells),
- Increased small intestine weight,
- Intestinal inflammation,
- Imbalances in intestinal bacteria causing increased tendancy toward intestinal bacterial infections,
- Intestinal endocrine imbalances (hormonal imbalances),
- General intestinal symptoms: diarrhea, gas, and severe cramping,
- In the most severe cases there have been cases of death.
High Lectin Foods
Genetically Modified Foods
Genetic modification involves the addition of genes that increase the ability of a plant to create lectins not natural to that species. These new lectins help make the plant resistant to specific herbicides. The most widely planted crops that use GMO species are corn and soy. Since these crops are also seeds, they are already high in lectins, but the modification process increases the lectin content all the more.
This group includes all of the dried beans: black beans, pinto beans, lentils, soy beans, garbanzo beans, etc. and peas. The dried mature forms of these seeds have more lectins than the green immature seeds. So, green beans have far less lectins than their mature versions of dried beans.
All the grain products we eat are seeds and therefore have lectins. These include wheat, rice, oats, barely, rye—anything from which flours are made.
Fruits and Vegetables
These contain lectins because they generally have seeds and peels. The highest amounts seem to be in the nightshades: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers (hot and sweet), and eggplant.
Nuts and Seeds
All tree nuts, peanuts, and many seeds like sunflower seeds have lectins.
Two exceptions in this category are flax seeds and chia seeds, which everyone should be incorporating into their diets. Read this post for more on the proper use and preparation of flax seed meal.
All milk and milk products have lectins.
Obviously, we can’t eliminate from our diet every food that has lectins in them. Diets that are “lectin-free” also appear to be so low in nutrients that a great deal of supplementation is needed in order to avoid malnutrition.
Humans have been eating these foods for many thousands of years. What has changed is the preparation. Traditionally made foods involve processes that mimic the conditions under which seed lectins are deactivated: soaking, sprouting, heating and fermenting. These traditional methods of food preparation make lectins in grains, seeds, nuts, and beans non-toxic and digestible.
My absolute favorite resource for learning to use traditional food preparation methods that deactivate lectins and other “anti-nutrients” is Wardee Harmon’s website TraditionalCookingSchool.com.
Wardee is a wealth of information that will help you on your way to eating natural, whole foods that your body was designed to eat, prepared in a way that allows for the most nutrients to be made available for your body.
Of course, if you are on a ketogenic diet, then many of the highest lectin content foods are already eliminated—namely grains and dried beans. There will be times when even the staunchest advocate of ketogenic dieting cycles off the keto train, and traditional methods of cooking will offer you a way to do that in a healthy way.
Knowing how to prepare dairy, beans, grains and vegetables with soaking, sprouting or fermenting will allow you to eat those amazing foods occasionally without causing chronic inflammation. This is one way to “carb-cycle”.
We’ll be talking more about carb-cycling in a later post, but generally carb-cycling happens when you don’t need to be or want to be in ketosis 24/7. For example, if you need extra energy for weight-lifting days or if you have met your weight loss or health goals, and don’t have the need to be in a constant state of ketosis.
The Plan: Getting Rid of Inflammation Due to Diet
The plan for healing disease is an attack from 2 fronts: 1) take out the cause 2) put in proper nourishment.
The plan to get rid of dietary sources of chronic inflammation is fairly straight forward: Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet like a plant-based ketogenic diet or the GAPS diet for more severe cases.
For those who suffer from auto-immune diseases or skin issues like eczema, but don’t know what the cause is, a full elimination diet will be the way to go.
For most others, simply eliminating grains will be a huge step in the right direction.
- Eliminate all sugars, grains and grain products from your diet. (This will eliminate most bad fats too, since they are often found in baked/processed foods sitting on grocery shelves)
- Replace the bad carbs with leafy green vegetables of all kinds—don’t forget to eat cruciferous vegetables. Add in vegetables at each meal: some raw (salads), some cooked (cruciferous). If you need inspiration, do a search for keto friendly vegetable dishes. There is so much out there!
- Replace bad fats with good fats. No more margarine or highly processed vegetable oils, please. Fats from pasture raised animals including butter and egg yolks, tropical fats like coconut and palm oils, vegetable fats from avocado and avocado oil, olives and olive oil are all allowed. Supplement daily with fish oil if you eat animal products, or from algal oil if you are a vegetarian/vegan.
- Cook your vegetables to deactivate lectins and take the seeds out of the things like tomatoes and squash before eating.
If you do just the above 4 steps, you will feel so much better in just 2 weeks. You will lose weight, decrease blood sugar levels, and decrease your risk of all diseases.