The Link Between Exotic Foods and Inflammation

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

March 25, 2013

  • What do heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s all have in common?
  • Top 3 foods that trigger inflammation
  • Take a tip from the Mediterranean’s

When my regular patients come in for their routine check-ups, they usually key in on a specific health concern. They want to know if their cholesterol, triglycerides and heart health are okay. Some of them are worried about diabetes or cancer. Others have aches and pains they can’t explain.

What they don’t always realize is that all of these conditions may have one thing in common: Inflammation.

We now know inflammation is a key factor when it comes to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis. But it also plays a big role in Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases and certain types of cancer.

In other words, inflammation is a big threat when it comes to your health. And I’m sad to say that the average American diet promotes inflammation.

Sure. You know that eating burgers and fries isn’t going to do anything good for you. But what about that healthy meal you cooked at home?

So let’s take a look at some of the foods you probably eat regularly. Ones that may be leading you down a path of inflammation.

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Certain foods can spark an inflammatory response in your body. And as long as you continue eating these foods, the inflammation never has a chance to let up. It becomes chronic. And that’s when you start to experience health problems.

So my first recommendation is to cut out the biggest culprits.

To help with that, here’s my list of the top three inflammation-causing foods:

#1: Omega-6 fatty acids trigger inflammation. Omega-3’s, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory. So when you consume too many omega-6 fatty acids – and not enough omega-3’s – your body’s inflammatory response can get out of hand.

A lot of common processed and packaged foods, vegetable oils, salad dressings, fried foods and margarines are high in omega-6 fatty acids. It’s estimated the average American has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20:1. Your ideal ratio should be closer to 3:1 or 4:1. To reduce your exposure, avoid processed and packaged foods – and check the ingredients of your oils and dressings. Choose brussel sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens to get a good natural source of omega-3’s.

#2 – Refined grains and sugars are found in almost all processed and packaged foods. Breakfast cereals, breads, white rice, white flour, pasta and noodles all contain refined grains. And I just talked about high-sugar foods in my issue When Sweet isn’t so Sweet. These foods all contribute to the formation something called advanced glycation end products, or AGES.

AGES are damaged molecules and sugars that bind to your cells. This creates an inflammatory response. And it’s strongly associated with arterial stiffness and plaque build-up. AGES can also raise levels of C-reactive protein, which is a key marker for inflammation. Diabetics are at particular risk of AGES.

Some grain substitutes you can check out include brown rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat berries.

#3 – Processed and red meats initiate production of a sugar molecule called Neu5Ga. This isn’t a molecule naturally produced in the human body. And your body sees it as a “foreign invader.” This sets off an immune response that leads to chronic inflammation. Among other things, this type of inflammation is believed to contribute to your cancer risk.

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You can reduce inflammation by replacing some of your red and processed meats with fish and poultry. On your fish selections, avoid top of the food chain predatory fish (tuna, swordfish, shark) that tend to have higher mercury levels. Instead, stick with smaller fish like mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines and trout. And always choose cage-free poultry.

When you do choose to eat red meat, select a lean cut meat from grass-fed animals. This will reduce your exposure to omega-6 fatty acids. It will also lower your exposure to hormones and antibiotics found in commercial meat.

This is where my modified Mediterranean diet really comes in handy. It’s easy to understand and follow. The foods are fresh, satisfying and bursting with exotic flavors. More importantly, it offers huge health benefits you would never be able to get from eating an average American diet.

A Mediterranean-style diet doesn’t include nearly as much red meat as we eat here in the U.S. It has a much healthier omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. And fruits and veggies are plentiful. Plus, instead of using vegetable and corn oils, Mediterranean dishes are liberally drizzled with olive oil, which is full of healthy fats.

But there’s a special benefit to this style of eating. New research out of New Zealand supports what I’ve already known for years…

Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits and vegetables – and low in refined grains, saturated fats and sugars – reduces health crushing inflammation.

The study involved 30 volunteers who had poor eating habits. The participants were encouraged to ditch refined and processed foods. Then they were placed on a modified Mediterranean diet. It included increased amounts of fish and “good” fats, like olive oil and avocado.

At the end of the study the participants had lower markers of inflammation. This included reduced C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. CRP is the key marker when it comes to inflammation.

Other research shows opting for Mediterranean foods can trim down your weight. This type of diet can also lower triglycerides, increase HDL cholesterol and improve glucose metabolism. Better yet, these foods can even reduce Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and cognitive decline.

Here’s what you need to know…

Make antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables the central focus of your meals. Add all the colors of the rainbow and eat as much of them as you want.

Enjoy seafood delights in the form of fish and shellfish. They are chock-full of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, avoid farm-raised and the larger mercury laden fish. Your best health benefits will come from smaller wild-caught fish like mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines. Add zest with exotic herbs and spices. Try spicing things up with cloves, cumin, ginger, sage, saffron and more. Many of these are filled with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.

Replace your vegetable oil with olive oil. Olive oil is much healthier for balancing your omega-6 to omega-3 ratios and reducing inflammation. Keep in mind that olive oil is fattening, so you don’t want to overdo it.

Substitute pasteurized dairy products with coconut milk, nuts, kefir and other more natural foods. While yogurt, cheese and milk are all part of the Mediterranean diet, I advocate leaving them off your plate since they can trigger an inflammatory reaction.

Enjoy a glass of red wine with your evening meal. Red wine contains an anti-inflammatory and anti-aging nutrient called resveratrol. So unless you have a tendency to overindulge in alcoholic beverages, feel free to enjoy a glass or two of red wine with your meals.

And don’t forget to keep red meats, processed meats, refined grains and sugars in check.

University of California – San Diego (2008, November 14). How Eating Red Meat Can Spur Cancer Progression: New Mechanism Identified. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 25, 2013, from¬ /releases/2008/11/081113181428.htm

Basta G, Schmidt AM, De Caterina R. Advanced glycation end products and vascular inflammation: implications for accelerated atherosclerosis in diabetes. Cardiovasc Res. 2004 Sep 1;63(4):582-92.

Kastorini CM, Panagiotakos DB. The role of the mediterranean diet on the development of the metabolic syndrome. Front Biosci (Elite Ed). 2010 Jun 1;2:1320-33.

Scarmeas N, Stern Y, Mayeux R, Manly JJ, Schupf N, Luchsinger JA. Mediterranean diet and mild cognitive impairment. Arch Neurol. 2009 Feb;66(2):216-25.

Sofi F, Macchi C, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet: can it help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease? J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(3):795-801.

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