It's not always easy to wrap our heads around the idea that our diets can promote inflammation, especially when you can’t feel it. Generally, the side effects of poorer food choices are more immediate like indigestion, heart burn, bloating, or fatigue. It’s much more intuitive that we’re inflamed when we can feel the symptoms such as redness, swelling or pain. The reality is that our diets are one of the major contributors in producing inflammation (a.k.a diet-induced inflammation). Even though we may not feel it, over time this inflammation can lead to weight gain, increase our risk for disease, and lead to pre-mature aging.
Every time we eat we make the conscious decision whether the foods we eat will heal our bodies through good nutrition or promote inflammation. Based on Dr. Sears' research there are three main factors that promote diet-induced inflammation. Here we’ll tell you what they are and tips for how to reduce them using the foods you eat.
3 Dietary Factors that Promote Inflammation
- Consuming Excess Calories - Excess calorie consumption leads to increased levels of the hormone insulin. Over the long-term this can make us prone to developing a condition called insulin resistance which leads to weight gain, development of disease, and aging. In addition, when we over consume calories it increases the production of free radicals which are known to promote cellular damage and pre-mature aging.
- The Wrong Balance of Macronutrients: Having the wrong balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat in our diets can significantly increase inflammation through the hormonal changes they produce.
- Inadequate Intake of Fermentable Fiber - Fermentable fiber is fiber that the good bacteria in our gut can digest and use as fuel to promote health benefits. When our intake falls short it can disrupt the balance of good to bad bacteria (a.k.a. gut dysbiosis) which can lead to higher levels of inflammation in the blood.
Tips for Minimizing Inflammation Through the Foods We Eat
Curb Your Calories
Calorie restriction has been shown to minimize the risk for disease and slow down the aging process. This is the foundation of the Zone Diet. A typical day in the Zone is about 1200 calories for females and 1500 calories for males. We recommend keeping each meal under 400 calories and snacks around 100-200 calories each.
Make Sure You Eat Enough Protein to Maintain Lean Body Mass
A protein-adequate diet helps maintain lean body mass which is critical for the long-term success of any calorie-restricted diet. Find out your numbers. We recommend most individuals consume about 25 grams of protein at each meal and about 12 grams in each snack.
Balance Your Protein with the Right Amount of Carbohydrates
Dr. Sears suggests that the ideal levels of carbohydrates in an anti-inflammatory diet are probably between 100-150 grams per day. This is adequate to help maintain blood glucose levels without causing excessive production of insulin. When carbohydrate intake falls below 50 grams per day (e.g. keto diet) it can lead to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol which plays a role in insulin resistance. We recommend carbohydrates be spread out evenly throughout the day to ensure better blood glucose control and improved appetite control.
Make Sure Your Fats are Primarily Monounsaturated and Omega-3s
Saturated fats, especially palmitic acid (found in butter), and omega-6 fats are known to promote inflammation. When consuming fats they should be primarily monounsaturated (e.g. olive oil) and/or omega-3 fats as these are non-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. We recommend spreading out your fat intake throughout the day and aiming for a total of 40-50 grams per day.
For Optimal Gut Health Boost Your Intake of Fermentable Fiber and Polyphenols
Fermentable fiber includes foods rich in pectins, beta-glucans, guar gum, inulin, and polymers of fructose (i.e. oligofructose). This type of fiber is digested by the good bacteria in the colon resulting in the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) which are critical to maintain a healthy gut. Since most polyphenols are not absorbed, they make their way to the gut where they are metabolized by bacteria. These metabolites then encourage the growth of good bacteria. Dr. Sears recommends consuming at least 30 grams of total dietary fiber per day to achieve adequate levels of fermentable fiber and polyphenols. The best sources would be primarily non-starchy low-glycemic load vegetables with limited amounts of fruits. Although whole grains are good sources for both fermentable fiber and polyphenols, unfortunately they also provide too high of a glucose load to be considered a significant part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
Get Your Vitamins/Minerals from Non-Starchy Vegetables and Limited Amounts of Fruit
The best source of vitamins and minerals with the least number of calories will always be non-starchy vegetables with limited amounts of fruits. To obtain adequate levels of theses micronutrients with the least caloric impact we recommend consuming 8 servings of non-starchy vegetables and 2 servings of fruit per day.
What This Looks Like
Eating should be enjoyable and putting this all together is easier than you think. To get the right balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat with the greatest amount of fermentable fiber and polyphenols comes down to balancing your plate. Just mix and match every meal to your liking with the macronutrients of your choosing using this template below.
We know there will be indulgences along the way and that’s OK! Just remember, the more tips you can incorporate on a regular basis, the more you lean the balance in favor of healing rather than inflaming.