You Are What You Eat!

Nov 15, 2018 | Food and Nutrition

The Dirt:

You are what you eat! Dirt-to-Dinner was asked to speak about diet and inflammation at an educational conference designed for Orthopedic surgeons and their staff.  Here is an excerpt of the talk on how to reduce chronic inflammation by 50% just through dietary choices!

Being a consumer is confusing! We are inundated with mixed messages from various food companies and even the US government. How can we tell fiction from fact?

When you eat, consider this: everything you put in your body acts as fuel for your cells. Just like putting dirty gasoline in your car, if you eat donuts, candy, and other overly-processed snacks and beverages your body will sputter and eventually break down. These poor choices can ultimately manifest into inflammation which can morph into heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases.

Conversely, if you put clean gasoline in your car, it will accelerate properly and react quickly. The same with food for your body. With fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and the right fats, your body will maintain strong performance.  

Stay away from sugar.

This is hard because sugar is everywhere. 60% of products found in your grocery store have added sugars. It is hidden in ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, and tomato sauces. It is in plain sight in sodas, fruit juices, candy, donuts, and even yogurt. And perhaps not-so-obvious in refined carbs, such as white pasta and bread.

There is more sugar than you think in some of your favorite products.

Whether it is cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup, almost all sugars are approximately 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Each individual source has the same effect on your body, regardless of what form it is disguised as.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams of sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men each day. Yet most people consumer over 90 grams a day!

What happens when you eat sugar?

When you eat a high sugar snack, insulin is secreted and it opens the cell wall for the glucose to enter.  That is a good thing because each cell in your body needs glucose for energy. But when we eat too much sugar, the insulin spikes and the cells cannot process the glucose fast enough. It’s like trying to drink from a firehose instead of a glass. Two things happen from the excess insulin and the lack of glucose in the cells:

  • Excess insulin that is left hanging around can damage the cells. Your healthy cells then think they are under attack and release inflammatory compounds. In the meantime, the extra glucose gets stored in the liver for future use but, like insulin, too much underutilized glucose swimming around in the bloodstream also turns into fat.
  • Since the body cannot process this firehose effect, your body now thinks it needs more food to give it energy. And you crave for more. The snacking continues – the calories build – and visceral fat accumulation begins.

In case you forgot about the fructose, it is only modestly absorbed in the liver, and the excess also turns to fat.

Sugar is the biggest culprit of fat and inflammation.

Visceral Fat

As we mentioned, excess sugar in the body turns into fat. Visceral fat is primarily stored around the abdominal area. This type of fat is what is now suspected to be the culprit for many diseases. It has been proven that it is the visceral fat that sends out pro-inflammatory markers – thus causing chronic inflammation that can lead to numerous diseases.

The more sugar you eat… the more you crave it… the more glucose insulin and fructose in the body turn to fat… the more visceral fat accumulations occur… this causes more inflammatory markers to be sent out, and ultimately the more chronic inflammation to internally transpire.

What if I eat a diet low in fat?

Many people think that a diet low in fat is a good thing— but, in most cases (unbeknownst to the consumer due to clever marketing) “low-fat” options are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. It is important to maintain a diet that incorporates the right type of fat.

Fat is our friend.

But not all fats look alike. Many foods contain a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. For instance, a healthy avocado has both types, but more unsaturated fats.

Fats to avoid:

Trans-fatty acids. Once these fats get into your blood stream, they cause plaque, which is hard to remove and causes inflammation. Most food companies have removed them from products, but still a fat to be aware of.

Fats to eat in moderation:

Saturated fats – limit these to less than 10% of your daily diet. Eating butter, bacon, red meats with fat, and sausage isn’t the end of the world, but think of these as occasional options and not everyday choices.

Fats that are considered part of a healthy diet:

Unsaturated fats. More easily digested foods from the Mediterranean diet fit this category. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.

A word about omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids: While these polyunsaturated fats are both critical for health, omega-3 is a healthier fatty acid than omega-6.  Omega-3 will aid in reducing inflammation as well as protect against cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-6 is an anti-inflammatory which can protect against atherosclerosis and other diseases. However, too much omega-6 can also stimulate pro-inflammatory processes.

Inflammatory pain can lead to stress.

There are psychological effects associated with acute and chronic inflammation, including stress and depression. Stress can influence food choices. The Dirt-to-Dinner team loves chocolate when we are stressed! And we are certainly not alone — most people choose sweets or fries when stressed and skip the blueberries and kale.

Stress creates cortisol – an inflammatory hormone. Some studies have shown that eating a diet high in healthy fats from fish, walnuts, wheat germ, or flaxseed can actually lower the prevalence of clinical depression.

Supplements and diet-hacks are not a cure-all.

Supplements (like CBD and turmeric) may help some individuals with their inflammation— many of our friends take one or the other. But there is not enough research, most notably no human trials, to confirm that supplements are the cure-alls for inflammation. In addition, supplements are not regulated by the FDA so you do not know exactly where it is coming from or the recommended dosage.

Similarly, “gluten-free” dieting has been touted as a possible cure for inflammation. But unless you have celiac disease or have been tested by a doctor for gluten intolerance, going gluten-free is not going to reduce inflammation. Some people may lose weight but that is probably because they eliminated a whole food group of carbohydrates, not because they eliminated the gluten protein. “Gluten-free” marketing further confuses the consumer. Ice cream and yogurt, for instance, are always gluten-free. Last time we checked there was no gluten in dairy!

The gut-brain connection.

Good gut health is important, and research tells us that strong gut health is the key to our immune system. There are millions of microbes in your gut. They are what keep you healthy. Are you familiar with pre and probiotics?

Prebiotics in your stomach feed the probiotics in your intestines. While we know healthy microbiota is good because it reduces inflammation; what we don’t know is exactly what types of microbiota, the combination of gut bacteria, and exactly how it works with your genetic code. My bacteria is different from yours, which is different from the person sitting next to you. But, while we don’t know the exact bacteria combination, we do know the foods that can promote it: fermented foods such as sauerkraut, coleslaw, yogurt, cheese, and olives. Gut microbiota is an exciting area of human health research.

Organic vs. Conventional foods

It is important to eat 5-7 servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruit every day. Many consumers think that their fruits and vegetables have to be organic. This is not true. Whether food is grown conventionally or organically it has the same nutritional value.  Additionally, all crops have bugs and weeds, so both farming systems use some form of pesticides

The Bottom Line:

Healthy dietary choices reduce inflammation. Stick to a consistent diet of no sugar, healthy fats, proteins, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. This will help reduce chronic inflammation by a conservative 50%. Some researchers even say up to 75%. With a good diet, moderate exercise, and sleep you will feel better, stay healthier and keep inflammatory markers at bay.