Diet and Inflammation

By Sally J. Feltner, MS, PhD

A lot of recent attention has been paid to the role of lifestyle in many chronic diseases (lately referred to as underlying causes of mortality in the Covid-19 viral pandemic).  Deaths due to this virus have been strongly associated with age, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes to name a few. Many people with the viral infection have reported to have had at least one or two of these chronic conditions. Obesity alone has been known to be associated with low-grade inflammation.  

Recently, we have changed our ideas about diet and heart disease.  Many doctors still think the high fat, high cholesterol diet of the last decade was to blame.  However, this is a simplified view that dismisses the research that now supports the possibility that heart disease is mediated by other biological events other than cholesterol, including oxidative stress (free radicals), insulin sensitivity, endothelial dysfunction and blood clotting mechanisms and most importantly low-grade inflammation.

(FYI – endothelium is the tissue which forms a single layer of cells lining various organs and cavities of the body, especially the blood vessels, heart, and lymphatic vessels.)

We should be aware that inflammation is a double-edged sword. Inflammation in the body is necessary to protect us from infections and cancer and when appropriate from diseases. In its acute state as when you cut your finger, its reactions are self-limiting and resolve rapidly; the process is meant to heal and repair tissue damage.  However, when inflammation is inappropriate it can get out of hand and contribute to disease especially chronic diseases. That is when inflammation can become your enemy.  We call this low-grade inflammation. In this type, the inflammatory response needs be controlled or managed or at least short lived. Should it continue, persisting cytokines of the immune system can produce excessive damage, leading to a number of diseases.

(FYI cytokines are small protein chemical messengers used by immune defensive cells that affect other cells and the immune response to an infectious agent.

It is thought that accumulating degrees of oxidative stress, and low-grade inflammation can result in what is now commonly called the “cytokine storm.” Septic shock can result from a cytokine abundance, leading to death.

Recently, it is thought that positive dietary choices you can make can help to reduce low grade inflammation and prevent this process. Your inflammatory biomarker status can be measured by a simple blood test. The most used is one called high sensitivity C-Reactive protein (hsCRP).

The goal of this blog post is to guide us to the right anti-inflammatory foods to reduce our risk of illness. Consistently, pick the wrong ones, and you could accelerate the inflammatory disease process.

Foods that allegedly promote inflammation – try to limit these foods as much as possible:

Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries; choose whole grains instead.

French fries and other fried foods

Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages

Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hog dogs, sausage)

Margarine, shortening, lard (high levels of trans fatty acids)

Foods that allegedly reduce inflammation –   include in the diet as much as possible

Tomatoes rich in lycopene and carotenoids – healthy phytochemicals

Olive oil – rich in monounsaturated fat and phytochemicals

Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collard and other greens – a randomized German study showed that 8 servings of fruits and vegetables for 4 weeks in men had lower levels of hsCRP.

Nuts like almonds and walnuts – high in monounsaturated fats

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines – Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduced inflammation.

Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges

Fiber consumption was associated with less inflammation in seven studies, using hsCRP as a biomarker.

Bottom Line:

No one food can be the “magic bullet” for good health. A Mediterranean diet is a good example of a diet that reduces low-grade inflammation and at the same time appears to reduce the risk of heart disease. It is a diet pattern that has been studied extensively and without a doubt scores high in the healthy column.

Looking at a Blue Zone: Costa Rica

The Blue Zone diet is based on populations in the world that live the longest. The study was pioneered by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic best-selling author. After many years of interviews with centenarians, he and his team discovered five zones of the world that exhibited the most longevity: Okinawa, Japan, Sardina, Italy, Ikaria, Greece, Loma Linda, California and Nicoya, Costa Rico. They called these areas “Blue Zones” and here is just one of their stories.

CLICK HERE.

Your Brain on Processed Food

https://eladsi.medium.com/ultra-processed-food-is-messing-with-your-brain-2da37c98a09e

A real-life experiment -that speaks for itself. There is a great need for studies that attempt to measure the actual effects of the Standard American Diet (SAD) on the body. This study is not a clinical trial, and the results are somewhat subjective. It was only one subject but maybe more effective to everyone than obtaining food records from study participants relying on memory. The best way would be to measure metabolic parameters like LDL or HDL cholesterol, liver enzymes, hormones, blood pressure, e.g. This study did rely on brain scans and some lab work.

Many studies are often funded by the industry and the results are only for Big Food promotion of their own products. “Without understanding who paid for the research, it’s hard for anyone to know what dietary advice to follow.” Source: Marion Nestle, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, 2018.

Neverthless, I find the above study interesting and worth a read. (my opinion, SJF)

Do you remember what you ate last Tuesday?

CLICK HERE.

Unhappy Meals

Food: there is plenty around and we all love to eat. But unfortunately, a lot of it we are consuming today is really not food. We eat it in the car after purchasing it at our favorite fast food establishment, or in front of the TV and often alone. We grab a bag of some kind of “healthy -sounding” food on the package and we call it lunch and sometimes even dinner.

Michael Pollan wrote a book a few years ago (2008) called In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I highly recommend that every American who eats read this book. He refers to our current food choices as “not real” and describes them as “edible food like substances”. Many come with false health claims promising the same benefits as their “real” counterparts, but as Pollan says: “30 years of nutrition advice has only made us sicker and fatter. In the so-called American or Western diet, these foods are nowhere near being nutritious with their long lists of ingredients that are impossible to pronounce.

“Pollan’s manifesto shows us “how we can relearn which foods are healthy and to develop simple ways to return eating to its proper context -out of the car and back to the table.”

A portion of Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, first appeared in the New York Times Magazine under the title, “Unhappy Meals” and can be found online. The article requires a subscription but does allow a limited number of free articles.

If you want a book full of “straight talk” about our food culture, the book is a must read. The book should be available at reduced used book prices. Check Amazon.

New Research: Diet may affect risk of severity of COVID-19

Date: September 8, 2021

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

Summary: A healthy-plant-based diet was linked to a lower risk of getting COVID-19, and among people with COVID-19 , a lower risk of experiencing severe symptoms.

“….our study suggests that individuals can also potentially reduce their risk of getting COVID-19 or having poor outcomes by paying attention to their diet” says co-senior author Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, a gastroenterologist and chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.

CLICK HERE. 

Healthy Swaps

Want to make your recipes more nutritious – why not? Becoming an expert with food substitutions can save you calories or avoid undesirable ingredients (less healthy) and add better choices for a healthier diet.

For example: Most people do not get enough fiber. “In most recipes you can replace a high percentage of white flour with whole grain or bean flour. Another idea would be to grind up oats and nuts to use in place of some of the white flour. This works well in quick breads, muffins, and pancake/waffle batter.” Delicious, Nutritious, Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, LD in the Asheville Citizen Times, Tuesday, September 21, 2021.

CLICK HERE.

What Did We Learn from Covid?

Have we learned anything from Covid-19? I would hope so and that some good will come of it – although it’s hard to believe that it will happen at times as we are still fighting its many battles.

In his latest book, Metabolical, Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD, MSL, author of the best selling book, ‘Fat Chance, “insists that if we do not change the way we eat, we will continue to court chronic disease, bankrupt our health care, and threaten the planet. But there is hope.” Metabolical: The Lure and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine. 2021.

The Bottom Line: If (and it’s a big IF), we change our ways even in small steps that reflect a healthier body, we may be able to better withstand the consequences of an infectious disease like COVID. Make sense???

CLICK HERE. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2020/nutrition-after-age-50.html?intcmp=AE-FOD-DN-BB-ART

Processed Food and Gut Disorders?

October 12, 2018 By Yenny Rojas

It may surprise no one that the foods we eat (and don’t eat) affect the way our digestive system functions. For example, too much bread and not enough fiber can lead to constipation rather quickly. If your diet has consistently been undersupplied of certain proteins, minerals, or other needed nutrients, it can create disorder in your system. This isn’t just a problem for your digestive system; it can also cause problems with your skin, immune system, and respiratory system.

Common causes of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are inappropriate diets, a lack of exercise and inflammation anywhere along the length of the digestive tract. In addition to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), one of the most common GI disorders is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It’s a chronic condition that causes a variety of signs and symptoms, from mild to severe. While there’s no cure for IBS, dietary and lifestyle changes such as avoiding certain foods and decreasing stress levels can ease symptoms. These may include bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, acid reflux, and nausea.

Because there are so many possible causes of GI disorders, they can be difficult to treat.

How Do Processed Foods Impair the GI Tract?

Processed foods are bad to eat for a number of reasons, including that they can contribute to GI disorders. The problems associated with processed foods include:

  • Low-fiber content that could unsettle digestion and aggravate existing GI symptoms
  • High levels of trans fats, which raises bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and increases gut inflammation
  • Additives like preservatives, sweeteners, bleaches or colorants, which can alter the balance of the microbiome of the gut, causing disease and dysfunction

Fiber is Your Friend

Fiber assists in the movement of materials through the digestive system. Processed foods are very low in fiber – so a diet high in processed foods can greatly increase your risk for GI disorders.

Consuming a high-fiber diet is an easy way to help avoid GI disorders or manage the symptoms of one. A diet with sufficient quantities of fiber – 25 to 30 grams a day is recommended to help normalize the digestive process, increasing the size of bowel movements and softening it.

This reduces the risk of hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticulosis). The type of fiber found in foods like beans, bran, and oats (soluble fiber) helps to reduce bad LDL cholesterol levels. In people with diabetes, soluble fiber has shown to slow the absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels. Fiber may also improve heart health by helping to reduce blood pressure and inflammation.

Foods that are high in fiber are more filling. You can eat less and stay satisfied longer, making it easier to obtain or maintain a healthy weight.

CLICK HERE.

The Gut-Brain Connection: A New Concept?

CLICK HERE.

In the Mind-Gut Connection, Dr. Emeran Mayer, executive director of the Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience at UCLA, offers the cutting edge into this developing science, showing the full impact and complexity of how the brain, gut, and microbiome that lives inside the digestive tract communicate with one another. As he explains, the connection between the mind and the gut is bidirectional: the gut talks to the brain and the brain talks to the gut. When this communication is out of whack, major health problems can crop up in both the mind and the body, including food sensitivities and allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.”

Source: Emeran Mayer, MD. The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies impacts our Mood, Our Choices, and our Overall Health, 2016.

 

All About Whole Grains: 101

Glossary:

Legumes: plants in the pea or bean family, which produce an elongated pod containing large starchy seeds. Examples: green peas, kidney beans, and peanuts.

Whole Grain: The entire kernel of grain including the bran layers, the germ, and the endosperm.

Bran: The protective outer layers of whole grains. It is a concentrated source of dietary fiber.

Germ: The embryo or sprouting portion of a kernel of grain. It contains oil, protein, fiber, and vitamins

Endosperm: The largest portion of a kernel of grain. It is primarily starch and serves as a food supply for the sprouting seed.

Added Sugar: Sugars and syrups that have been added to foods during processing or preparation

Fiber: A mixture of indigestible cabohydrates and lignins that is found in plants.

During refining and processing steps, many of the nutrients and other healthy components (phytochemicals) of the kernel are lost. The whole grain includes the bran, the germ, and the endosperm (starch). In the body during digestion and absorption all sources of foods containing sugars and starches are converted eventually to glucose, thereby affecting blood glucose. Fiber is not digested for the most part thereby providing no energy source for the cells. The current theory is that some fibers can be digested by the bacteria found in the microbiome.

Note: If the bran and germ are removed during processing, look how much fiber is removed from the whole grain (about 18.3 grams). That leaves 4 grams in the endosperm.