Are you taking into account the inflammatory potential of foods?
Like many of the symptoms we see with illness or injury, inflammation is an effort by the body to heal or protect itself from further damage. A cut becomes inflamed, increasing blood flow to the area, thus providing nourishment and cells that alleviate the damage and prevent infection. The local redness, heat, swelling and pain that result are temporary and curative. However, when internal inflammation is chronic and where it may involve an autoimmune reaction to the body’s own cells, such as can often be seen in the gut and brain of those with autism, it can begin to cause significant damage. A vicious cycle of inflammation leading to free radical production which can damage cells and create more inflammation sets in.
While we can relieve some of the immune reaction and accompanying inflammatory response by eliminating foods that are creating sensitivities, there is even more healing power in harnessing the anti-inflammatory power of foods. All too often, I see parents eliminate certain harmful foods from their children’s diets, but then have them filling up on fried pork rinds and red meat with little or no vegetables, and not seeing desired gut healing. Others will be eating a diet of sugar and refined starch that may be gluten and dairy free, but is highly inflammatory. Taking into consideration the inflammatory qualities of foods so that we ensure the daily diet is weighted against inflammation can make a huge difference for healing. While many children on the spectrum cannot initially tolerate foods that are high in certain natural chemicals, such as phenols, salicyclates or amines — however much anti-inflammatory potential they may have — I recommend choosing a variety of highly anti-inflammatory foods that can be tolerated in the daily menu.
- Avoid cooking meats and other foods at high heats. Inflammatory cooking methods may be undoing the positive nutrition in your special diet. Cooking food at high temporatures such as used for deep frying, broiling or grilling changes fats and proteins in meat into heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Many children may be senstive to HCAs, and they are known genotoxins (can cause mutations in DNA) and carcinogens. PAHs produced by browning or blackening meat and its juices are the same chemicals contained in car exhaust and other air pollutants. High PAH exposure in the womb has been correlated to lower IQs in children and increased behavior problems in 6-8 year olds. PAHs are produced with meat reaching temperatures above 392º F. High heat cooking can also cause a chemical reaction between the sugars and proteins in foods to produce advanced glycation end products (AGES) or glycotoxins. Our bodies treat AGES as foreign invaders, eliciting an immune reaction to break them apart with accompanying imflammatory response. Acrylamides are toxic by-products of high carb foods being cooked at high heat (e.g. french fries, potato chips, donuts).Oven “fried” chicken produces 150% more AGEs than deep fried.
Roasting is better than deep frying, broiling or grilling. Boiling, stewing, steaming have even less inflammatory potential. Try to keep foods moist through the cooking process. Braise meats or use marinades with acid such as lemon or vinegar to help to prevent formation of toxins. If you have to fry on occasion, home cooked, real foods create less AGEs in general that processed, packaged foods with additives.
- Eat real, whole foods: Eliminate sugar, refined flours or processed foods, especially commercial breakfast cereals and processed carbs which can contain high amounts of PAHs and AGEs because they are produced under high pressure with high heat. Avoid genetically modified foods, which includes any corn or soy that is not labeled organic. Anything your child’s body sees as a foreign, non-food can promote inflammation.
- Avoid all transfats, and increase sources of healthy fats: Do not use margarine, vegetable shortening, or any foods that contain ingredients with the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” Avoid the highly processed vegetable oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut and soybean oils. For cooking, use coconut oil or macadamia nut oil. Eat avocados, nuts, chia, hemp and ground flax seeds. Cod liver oil, low mercury, wild caught fish (no more than once a week), and raw butter are healthy sources of fat. For low heat cooking, use extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil. Use flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, and walnut oil for salads or non-cooked foods. Cold pressed black seed oil, borage, black currant and evening primrose oil also fight inflammation. Establishing a daily intake of good fats daily is one of the most potent anti-inflamatory measures you can take.
- Incorporate anti-inflammatory herbs and spices to the diet:
Use rosemary, parsley, oregano, cilantro and marjoram — fresh or dried to season.
Put kelp or dulse flakes with sea salt in your salt shaker.
Use fresh ginger, raw garlic, in fresh juices, beverages, sauces, soups and as a seasoning.
Use turmeric, coriander seeds, cardamom, cumin, garlic powder or raw garlic in sauces, soups, condiments.
Licorice (the herb not the commercial candy) can be used for tea.
Click here for a recipe for an anti-inflammatory tea that is particular useful for gut healing.
- Increase vegetables and fruits in the diet. These plentiful dietary sources of antioxidants will help quell oxidative stress and stamp out the fires of inflammation. Of particular anti-inflammatory value are produce containing anthocyanins, such as acai berries, black currants, pomegranates, blackberries, wild blueberries, juniper berries, cherries, cranberries, red cabbage, purple carrots, purple cauliflower, naturally ripened black olives. Daily sources of chlorophyll through green vegetables are also important. Juicing and soups and stews are a great way to incorporate larger quantities of vegetables into the diet. Click here for a recipe for a juice with a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.
Don’t forget that poor sleep and chronic stress can also promote inflammation. For more about how to combat toxic stress, see my recent blog post.
Should you use the IF rating system?
Monica Reinagel who wrote The Inflammation Free Diet Plan, developed an Inflammatory Factor rating system, that provides some indication as the impact of the foods we eat on inflammation in the body. In her IF ratings, positive numbers have more anti-inflammatory potential, and negative can lead to more inflammation, with the higher the number in either direction indicating the strength of the effect. I recommend its use as a reference with a cautionary warning. Any foods to which your child has sensitivities can induce an inflammatory reaction, and this will not be taken into account in these general IF ratings. If your child is sensitive to oxalate content in foods, for example, some of the foods rated with high IF ratings (i.e. spinach, swiss chard) can be highly inflammatory. It is always important to determine what your child’s sensitivities are. The inflammatory ratings also include many processed foods and are sadly lacking in many real foods we actually use. For example, I have yet to serve raw caribou at my dinner table, yet such anti-inflammatory staples in my kitchen as dried cranberries without sugar don’t make it to the list. In addition, this scale does not take into account the overall nutrient value of any given food, so should only be used as one consideration in determining a holistic healing diet. Egg yolks, for example, are listed with an IF rating of -174 — well into the IF negative realm–while egg whites are -2. Yet the yolk contains the most important nutrient sources in the egg! If your child is not allergic, it is one of the best food sources of choline — so important for brain healing and neurological development. Don’t throw out the yolks on the basis of their IF rating! In addition these ratings also clump saturated fats into one negative category when it comes to inflammation whereas, there is significant evidence that grass-fed, organic meats vary greatly in inflammatory potential from hormone, antibiotic fed, factory farm-raised meats. Similarly the difference between free range, non-pasteurized eggs and standard commercial eggs is not taken into account. The benefits of raw dairy are not considered. So use it as a measured reference with these cautions in mind. The point is to consider in your daily meal planning what is the inflammatory potential of your food and to weigh the balance against inflammation.
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