The Diet, Part III
I began this new diet largely because I've been experiencing some inflammation around the top of my neck, under my jaw. I've had lymph issues in the past, when I am eating poorly and stressing out. I have been eating poorly and stressing out, so it was a time for a change.
I made a list of foods that were anti-inflammatory, in an effort to replace the inflammatory foods I have been consuming, like whole milk, ice cream, and pizza (ugh).
I found a website called Self Nutrition Data at http://nutritiondata.self.com/. It lists the macro- and micro-nutrients for most foods along with their estimated glycemic load and inflammation factor.
Glycemic load and glycemic index are two terms I'm familiar with, and an important part of my diet. Simple carbohydrates (not sugar), once broken down by the stomach, turn into sugar: glucose. I'm choosing to eat vegetables and fruits (fructose in its natural state), high-protein foods like fish and chicken, as well as adding healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil to carb-rich foods like oatmeal and sweet potatoes to help reduce their glycemic load.
Inflammation factor is a term I'm not familiar with, and I'm still doing research on inflammation and food. But in the meantime I've used Self Nutrition Data to create a list of anti-inflammatory foods, along with a list of low glycemic foods.
This is useful because it gives me a better idea of what I can eat, and what I want to avoid. Not that I can't have some pizza or ice cream once in a while, but that I want to limit such foods. A list is a more concrete way of deciding what to eat than relying on the statement “I want to eat healthier.”
Just saying “I want to eat healthier” doesn't allow me to picture a healthy diet in the same way writing such foods down does.
Inflammation is the body's way of protecting itself. It's an immune response to illness, injury, and stress. Our bodies become inflamed when we are injured, or we have a disease like diabetes or cancer, or experience high-stress states and lifestyles. Inflammation is linked to disease in this way, and many say that inflammation may predict serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease—or that cancer and heart disease are inflammatory diseases.
Even some fruits and whole grains are pro-inflammatory. Coconut oil is very pro-inflammatory, because it contains a high concentration of saturated fat. Knowing this doesn't mean I'm going to avoid fruits, whole grains, or coconut oil, because each food offers unique health benefits, but that when I have these foods I balance them with anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, olive oil, and spices.
The best way to balance any meal is to rely on the spice turmeric.
Turmeric is the most anti-inflammatory food on my list. It packs an anti-inflammatory factor of 1,500 in a single tablespoon (about what I may put into a bowl of coconut oil-flavored oatmeal).
The typical bowl of oatmeal I make, with coconut oil, raisins, and cinnamon has a pro-inflammatory factor of nearly -750—it's recommended that we have a daily anti-inflammatory factor of 50 (an average of all the foods we eat). Adding a single tablespoon of turmeric (and some black pepper to increase turmeric's bioavailability) turns the inflammatory factor upside down—giving that same bowl of oatmeal an anti-inflammatory factor of 750.
Adding foods like turmeric, olive oil, fish, and vegetables to my diet I find it very easy to exceed that factor each day.
Already in the first week since starting this new lifestyle I've noticed the inflammation in my neck has been reduced. I also feel better in other ways, as well, which is an added bonus.
The inflammation rating system is not an absolute. I like it as a guideline to go by, to compare with what I know about certain foods. It's also a little extra motivation to stop eating foods I don't want to eat. Milk, for instance, isn't something I want to depend on in my diet; it's one of the few foods that upsets my stomach, and let's face it, drinking modern processed milk is kind of gross, and only tastes good to me if it's whole milk, which is loaded with saturated fat—fat which contains all of the nasty chemicals and wastes left over from the cattle industry. Milk is also pro-inflammatory, so it's easier to say no to if I'm looking to include anti-inflammatory foods.
Pro-inflammatory foods can be misleading. Coconut oil contains high amounts of saturated fat, but unlike processed milk it is more nutrient dense, containing fats that are actually healthy for me. Quinoa is pro-inflammatory but it's also healthy in moderation, containing a high amount of protein for a plant food, rich in fiber, healthy fat, and a host of micro-nutrients.
So far I have discovered that anti-inflammatory foods are healthy (are plant-based, or contain large amount of healthy fat: fish), or is a healthier alternative to an unhealthy food choice (olive oil over vegetable oil). Most pro-inflammatory foods should be avoided, but there are several that are so nutrient-dense or contain rare and necessary micro-nutrients or fats that they should be included in a healthy diet (coconut oil and many fruits are pro-inflammatory).
Because the long-term average of all foods matters more than each food's inflammation factor, it's more important to focus on the general diet rather than excluding every single pro-inflammatory food. It's convenient that the inflammation factor mimics closely other factors like the glycemic load, or whether a food is processed (trends toward pro-inflammatory) or plant based (trends toward anti-inflamatory).
The inflammation factor doesn't itself determine whether a food is good for me or not, but it may be a good indicator. And it's one more tool to help me define a healthy diet.
I plan on researching inflammation more over the next few weeks and months.
Inflammatory index: all servings 100 grams.
Negative values are pro-inflammatory.
Almond Milk: N/A+
Mixed Nuts: 175
Cinnamon: -55 (-1 for 1 teaspoon)
Coconut Oil: -825 (-111 for 1 tablespoon)
Eggs: -92 (-41 for medium egg)
Flaxseed: 490 (34 for 1 tablespoon)
Garlic: 3,576 (107 for 1 clove)
Ginger: 6,452 (129 for 1 teaspoon)
Olive Oil: 526 (71 for 1 tablespoon)
Peanut Butter: 31
Pepper: 31 (13 sauteed)
Protein Powder: N/A?
Sweet Potatoes: 189
Turmeric: 22,564 (451 for 1 teaspoon)
Obviously this list is far from complete, but it's a good idea of what's out there.