Inflammation is the body’s natural response to danger and stress. In a healthy situation, it serves as a good friend to our body. Harmful inflammation is when the immune cells over react – to things like illness, stress, certain foods or a virus.
Food can create inflammation if the body is unable to process or assimilate particular ingredients. The further away food becomes from its natural state, the more likely it is that the digestive system will be unable to deal with it. Consuming a diet with a high percentage of foods such as commercial breads, pastas, sugary and fatty foods, meat and dairy, means the body has to deal with much more than the basic ingredients. Pesticides, additives, conservatives, stabilisers and processing methods to name just a few, are ways in which our food is becoming more and more disconnected from its natural state. This is playing a huge part in how the food we eat is contributing to chronic inflammation in the body.
So let’s take a look at some of the most common foods that can create an inflammatory reaction and their alternatives:
Our ancestors have been eating wheat and gluten containing grains for over 10,000 years. Gluten intolerance is a relatively new phenomenon that is rising in correlation with the increased consumption of processed and convenience foods as staples in daily life, causing many people to suffer a wide variety of symptoms from mild intolerance through to serious allergies.
Denatured food and our demand for it fuels an industry that forces crops to grow and focuses on mass production. It is obvious then that things become compromised. Cultivating grains and breadmaking needs time. Over the past 150 years, there has been a huge shift in how grains are grown and how bread and wheat based products are made. There are crucial stages in the growing of grains and in baking that require resting periods, necessary to its development and transformation. As new machinery, chemicals and practices speed up the process we miss these fundamental moments that are so important in helping our bodies digest and absorb the nutrients from the final product.
The fact that so many of us feel the side effects is telling us that maybe it is time to prioritise less refined products and seek out other options.
How to choose gluten alternatives
* If you are mildly sensitive to gluten based products then try grains such as spelt, kamut, barley and rye. Sourdough breads are often also easier to digest. There are now lots of traditional grains making a come back as gluten intolerances become more common, with everything from breads, pastas, noodles, pizza bases etc on offer. You may find you are more easily able to tolerate these. If you cannot tolerate gluten in any form then buckwheat, quinoa, millet and amaranth work well.
* You can also make spiralised vegetables to replace pasta and noodles and make ‘rice’ from cauliflower by chopping it up and processing it in a food processor. Kelp noodles are also a brilliant alternative.
* In cakes, biscuits, pancakes and breads you can replace gluten based flours with others such as buckwheat, tiger nut, millet, quinoa, chickpea or rice. All of these ingredients behave very differently to gluten based flours so in our opinion it is best to celebrate these for what they are and not expect them to exactly replicate something containing gluten. Often commercial ‘gluten free’ products contain many added ingredients to get the same kind of look, feel, texture and taste as gluten ones. Check the packets and be aware of what you are buying!
* A period of eating gluten free can allow us to see how our body reacts as we begin to reintroduce them again. Taking the time to do this gives insight into the foods that really work for us and nourish the body, rather than depleting it.
Sugar seems to find its way everywhere! It is in so many of the products we buy now, that it is not just a matter of giving up the ‘two teaspoons a day in the cup of tea’ if we really want to avoid refined sugars.
Refined sugar is empty calories. Providing no nutritional value and having highly addictive qualities, it is a depleting substance. Whilst there is certainly a place for naturally sweet foods and fruits within a balanced diet, there is no place for artificial sweeteners, refined sugars and high fructose syrups. A diet high in these ingredients is sure to be creating inflammation on some level.
Alternatives to refined sugar include:
* Molasses, jaggery, rapadura, coconut sugar, xyliltol, stevia, date syrup, pure maple syrup and raw honey. There are also a wide range of syrups such as agave, rice, barley etc but many of these are highly processed products.
* Amasake – a sweetener made from fermented rice or other grain
* Lucuma – a berry from South America that when dried and ground to a powder is great to sweeten raw cakes, smoothies and desserts.
* The natural sugars that occur in fresh and dried fruits are a more nutritious alternative to refined sugars and a good place to start when transitioning.
* As with gluten, when eating sugar-free allow yourself the time to adapt. Natural sugars taste very different to refined sugar and some are sweeter than others. Gradually, as the body adapts and the palette changes, you will discover the ones that work best for you.
Refined oils and fats
Quality fats and oils are essential for health. They act as carriers of warmth and help to regulate the temperature of the body. They act as a store of energy should food supplies fail, they lubricate and also make the perfect carrier for other nutrients.
Problems arise when fat content in the diet becomes out of balance and when the type of fats being consumed are refined and highly processed. There is no standard right amount of fat to eat, this is entirely down to individual needs. Our bodies do not have a natural mechanism for breaking down many of the man-made trans fats in many food items today and so they become indigestible to us, triggering an inflammatory response.
Examples of quality oils and fats:
* Animal based – such as lard, butter and ghee. The priority here is to be sure you are buying products from organic, pasture fed animals.
* Ghee is a highly revered food in Ayurvedic tradition. Butter is heated to remove impurities and many people sensitive to dairy often find they are able to tolerate ghee. Try making your own as it is such a meditative and sacred process, plus it tastes delicious!
* Coconut oil is everywhere at the moment. Whilst it is a wonderful form of saturated fat and is very stable in cooking, we need to be mindful of our consumption, especially if we live in Northern climates. This is not a food our ancestors would have eaten and so is ideally more suited to Southern and tropical climates. Eating what is locally available to us the majority of the time always makes more sense.
* Olive oil is a delicate oil, especially extra virgin cold pressed. If choosing to buy olive oil shop wisely, as many available today are mixed with low-quality blends. As much as possible use it to add to the end of cooking or to dress a dish cold.
* Nut and seed oils are much more delicate and are best taken cold – they are wonderful to use in dressings, sauces or drizzled over a dish.
* Sunflower, rapeseed and other vegetable based oils are often cheaper and highly refined, best to avoid unless you can be sure of the quality.
Top Cooking Tip: to minimise fat content in general, you can use a little at the start of cooking, such as when sauteing or stir frying, then add splashes of water to the pan as you go, to create a steam.
Nightshades belong to Solanaceae family of plants that also contains the deadly nightshades known as Belladonna. This family has a diverse range of 2000 species and contains familiar foods such as potatoes, aubergines, peppers, chilli, tomatoes and any spices made from peppers such as paprika or cayenne.
Much of this family is toxic to humans and so the list of the ones we can consume is relatively small. Whilst many can eat these foods without issue, some people who have gut issues or compromised immune systems may not be able to tolerate them.
As always the best way to discover how you react to them is a period of elimination. Try 3 months without eating any of them and slowing start to reintroduce one at a time. Take note of how you feel and get to understand how your body reacts.
* If you choose to eat these foods see them as something you occasionally feature in your diet, instead of daily staples.
* Substitute potatoes for foods such as celeriac, sweet potato, yam, squash or pumpkin and use either mashed, roasted in the oven, in a soup, stew or curry.
* White beans such as butter beans, dried broad beans or cannellini beans also make great mashed potato replacements.
* Whilst there is nothing that really replaces a tomato, aubergine or a pepper try a period without them in your diet and notice how you respond when you reintroduce them.
* Make sure tomatoes are organic and well ripened, preferably by the sun. Aubergines often need to be mixed with salt and pressed to release their bitter juices, which reduces the high yin watery condition that is balanced by cooking methods such as frying in quality oil or griddling. Peppers are highly indigestible raw and need to be roasted, grilled or sauteed.
* Instead of goji berries there are many other dried berries such as cranberries, inca berries and mulberries to choose from.
Meat & Dairy
Although at Bloom we promote a predominantly plant-based way of eating, we recognise that many of us still need animal products in order to feel balanced and healthy. A vegan diet may not be suitable for us all just yet, although a reduction in the amount of animal products we consume, especially meat and fish, is certainly required at this time.
Again it is the quality that is key if we choose to consume animal products. Listening to the body and eating these foods when we need them rather than out of habit changes our relationship to it. Choosing to seek out ethical suppliers that care for the welfare of the animals and prioritise sustainability is integral.
We take in what the animal has consumed. Industrially reared animals are fed everything from gmo soya, grain and cereals, antibiotics, hormones and a whole host of other things not natural to their normal diets. They are kept in conditions far removed from how they would naturally live that creates distress and provides an ideal breeding ground for infection and disease in the animals. If we choose to consume cheap meat and diary then we can be sure that alongside our chicken fillet, steak or poached egg lies a whole host of substances our bodies also need to deal with and process.
For vegans and vegetarians, the issue can be how to nutritionally balance the diet without these foods. In particular protein, iron, omega 3’s, certain vitamins and fats can be difficult to find. Check the labels of many of the ‘meat replacement’ foods available as many of these contain an abundance of hidden ingredients and have been through extreme processing.
Suggestions for plant-based protein sources:
Spirulina, Chlorella, Micro-algae
Split peas – pea protein powder
Alternatives to dairy and eggs
* In baking try replacing eggs with a chia alternative. Mix 1 tablespoon of chia to 3 tablespoons of water to create a chia ‘egg’. Leave for approx 15 minutes to form a gel before using.
* Chia also makes a fantastic breakfast or dessert. Create a gel by soaking in water and mix with nut milks, spices, fruit and seeds to create delicious combinations.
* Play with making nut or seed based raw ‘cheeses’. You can create a cream cheese by blending soaked nuts with nutritional yeast flakes, salt and lemon juice as a base from where you can add things like garlic, olives and herbs. Fermented nut cheese can be made by blending soaked nuts with a pro-biotic powder and leaving to culture for a few days in a muslin bag sat in a sieve over a glass jar. This can then be mixed with nutritional yeast, lemon and salt and any flavouring you want. Leave to set in the fridge in a mold.
If you want to find out more about how to create and eat anti-inflammatory meals then come and join us on our Gut Health workshops. Find out more here