Tag Archives: good nutrition

The 11 Factors that Cause Inflammation

Inflammation isn’t just caused by one thing. It’s caused by the totality of whatever is going on in your life right now, and some of those things are uncontrollable. There are 11 controllable factors that are known to cause inflammation so let’s talk about those. Most inflammation has to do with choices – the types of diets you choose, your stress levels, weight,  emotional terrain, hormone imbalance, toxins, food allergies and personal choices like alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs. Outside of this there are also things you don’t chose, like genetics along with viral or bacterial infections you may have. Clearly, inflammation is not a simple subject, which is part of why there is  so much heart disease, cancer,  joint pain and skin disease. Lets talk about causes – especially the ones you can control. Here’s a great picture of some of the diseases that are directly associated with inflammation:

Just like there are so many factors that cause inflammation, there are also so many consequences. This great picture was borrowed from this excellent post on foods that help inflammation.

Just like there are so many factors that cause inflammation, there are also so many consequences. This great picture was borrowed from this excellent post from LSU Ag center on foods that help inflammation.

  1. Overeating. Every time you eat you body goes through the process of metabolism. Metabolism is great and necessary – this is how your food turns into energy and useful nutrients in your cells. Metabolism also releases toxic by-products, your old friends the free radicals (if you can’t remember what a free radical is then check out this post on antioxidants). Eating is necessary, but overeating is not. In fact, in a survey of people who live to be over 100 years of age one of the only common factors is that they ate low-calorie diets. So essentially eating a little less than what you need gives all the benefits of good nutrition, where eating a little more causes inflammation. This is where nutritarian eating gets really important – getting the most nutritional value out of your food so you don’t have to overeat.
  2. Food Sensitivities. Obviously exposing your body to something every day that you react badly to adds up. I found out (entirely thanks to a patient of mine, who insisted if she had to do the “stupid elimination diet” then so did I) that I’m sensitive to both wheat and soy. Getting those two out of my diet has made a huge difference in my level of joint pain, my energy on a day-to-day basis and even my skin. If you don’t remember about food sensitivities or can’t remember how to test at home for free then look here.
  3. Gingivitis. Yes, it sounds ridiculous but floss every day and make sure you brush your teeth at least twice a day. If you have a chronic inflammation in your gums, or gingivitis, then it raises your total body level of inflammation. Even this insignificant thing adds up – and gingivitis has been shown to connect with inflammation specifically in the heart and blood vessels – which is something you don’t want. Approximately half of all adults in the US have gingivitis so talk with your dentist and take care of your mouth. This is one of the most common and most easily fixable factors that cause inflammation. Far more so than reducing stress (which has to be the most nebulous and difficult thing in modern society).
  4. Stress. I know it’s a hard one to change, but learning to cope with high stress levels and learning some stress-relieving tools can drastically improve your health. There is a reason why the most common time to have a heart attack is Monday morning at 8:00 am, and I’m pretty sure the timing has nothing to do with cholesterol. And yes – Monday morning at 8:00 am is a real thing.
  5. Not Enough Sleep. Sleep is a cornerstone of good health – this is when your body does a lot of the repair and restore functions, especially in your brain. Not getting it means that you don’t ever take out the trash, which obviously makes a mess in your body. Without sleep you don’t get rid of as many toxins, repair as much damaged tissue or get rid of those pesky free radicals. Getting enough sleep is vital to health.
  6. Lifestyle Choices. Choosing to drink alcohol to excess, smoke, or use recreational drugs takes a toll on your health. It’s not that I’m anti alcohol – I’m pro-moderation.  Especially during times where other stresses for your body are higher.  Ironically the times when you’re stressed and crazy as a human (which is when most people want to smoke and drink the most) are also the times when those behaviors will do the most damage because your body already has too much on it’s plate.
  7. Hormone Imbalance. Hormones and inflammation are tied together pretty tightly and if one side of the equation gets out of balance then the other side has trouble too. Just like hormones affect inflammation, inflammation affects hormones. There are some simple, gentle ways to begin to balance hormones (like seed cycling), but obviously if the problems are serious then it’s best to work with a practitioner or call me to schedule a visit because
  8. Obesity. As we discussed above there is a link between carrying extra weight and having higher than normal levels of inflammation. We don’t know why, but there are lots of theories about fat cells creating their own environment and secreting their own hormones and inflammatory proteins. This makes losing weight even more important for your health. Just like obesity creates more inflammation, inflammation makes losing weight harder. Reducing some of the other factors that cause inflammation can help your body to lose weight more easily.
  9. Family History. Some people do just become inflamed more easily than others. Heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and allergies all have some genetic link. Even if your family has a strong history of inflammatory disease you can still work to reduce your own inflammation – in fact doing the work to protect your health now will have a far greater pay off for you long-term because you may be able to avoid the family conditions.
  10. Environmental Toxins. Everything that you are exposed to – everything you breathe, touch, drink in your water or eat in your food has to be processed by your body and increases your likelihood of inflammation. This includes pesticides, herbicides, air pollutants, household chemicals and cleaners, food additives, flame-retardants in your furniture and perfumes. You are literally surrounded. It is unrealistic to think you can eliminate all toxins, but you can work to minimize them. The simplest steps are things like switching your body care, home fragrances and cleaning products to natural, less harmful alternatives.  Get a water filter, avoid processed foods and just generally try to avoid the yuck as much as possible.
  11. Chronic Infections. Sadly, many people have infections they’ve been carrying around with them for years. It is a sad but true fact that there are many walking wounded out there. One of the most common is gum disease, which is a bacterial infection that many bodies have to deal with day in and day out. Also many viruses can become chronic and often show up as non-specific symptoms or diseases such as chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia. If you have any concern that this could be you then call your naturopathic doctor right away or schedule a visit with me.  Chronic infections are common and can certainly get in the way for good health.

Eliminating the Factors that Cause Inflammation Sounds Impossible

Yes – eliminating them completely is actually impossible in the modern world. The great hnews is that taking small steps works. These factors that cause inflammation are all things that you can chip away at in your own life.  If you’re only ready to make one change, then add flossing daily.  It’s a way bigger deal than people think. If you already floss, then see if you can make time and space for more sleep. If you floss and you’re sleeping enough for you then how about making your diet a little more nutrient dense?  Nutritarian eating is a great thing, just like focusing on anti-inflammatory foods. If you’re stumped about what are anti-inflammatory foods and what aren’t then here’s a handy post about it.

Do you know which foods cause inflammation? You can take this list to the grocery store.

Do you know which foods cause inflammation? You can take this list to the grocery store.


Just take everything one step at a time – don’t overwhelm yourself.  Having a healthy lifestyle isn’t about making drastic changes – it’s about doing small things on a daily basis that just turn into healthy habits over time. Reducing the factors that cause inflammation reduces your risk of heart disease, many types of cancer, neurological disease, joint degeneration, skin conditions and a host of other problems so it’s worth it to start taking small steps today.

Do you know which foods cause inflammation? You can take this list to the grocery store.

Foods That Cause Inflammation – Nutritarian Eating

Diets come and diets go, but inflammation lasts forever and at the end of the day there are some foods that cause inflammation no matter how trendy they are. The great news is that any diet or lifestyle change can be shifted so that it’s less inflammatory and even anti-inflammatory.  For instance the paleo diet, which I love, can be done in a way that is highly inflammatory, or it can be done in a way that is highly anti-inflammatory so the most important thing is to educate yourself about inflammation and about ways to personalize your diet to your body. Also, in the never-ending quest to become more of a nutritarian (meaning to get more nutrient dense foods in my diet) this list is really helpful.

Some of the factors that can increase the inflammatory value of foods also have to be considered – like pesticides, herbicides or hormones in the food.  For that reason I’m also giving you the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists compiled by Environmental Working Group. These are lists of the foods that concentrate pesticides within their flesh (and so should be bought organic whenever possible – this is the “Dirty Dozen” list) and the foods that hold on to the least pesticides and so can be purchased conventionally to save those organic dollars.  Likewise products from animals that are conventionally raised using hormones and antibiotics are going to be significantly more inflammatory than products from animals who are raised organically, grass fed, or hunted. Therefore just choosing a better quality version of the same thing can help you to reduce inflammation.

Quick Food Guide: The Foods That Cause Inflammation

Do you know which foods cause inflammation? You can take this list to the grocery store.

Do you know which foods cause inflammation? You can take this list to the grocery store.

For a free .pdf download of the food list, click on: FoodChartNew

As you can see on the Quick Food Guide, some foods are also more likely to cause inflammation in your body just because of the nature of the food itself.  In general there are many of these that you probably could have guessed – white flour, white sugar, white rice, artificial sweeteners. Also the things we know are not so good, like partially hydrogenated oils and trans-fats.  The great news is that focusing on increasing your foods in the anti-inflammatory list will help tremendously on the

Making Paleo Diet More Anti-Inflammatory

Paleo diet can be really meat-heavy and that is great for some people, but not for people with inflammatory disorders to begin with. Granted it’s already cutting out a lot of the inflammatory foods like white sugar, corn syrup, white flour, white rice.  That is awesome!! The issue comes when people just eat meat three meals per day and forget about the veggies or the meat quality.  Here are some tips to optimize your Paleo diet so that you’re not boosting inflammation:

  1. Veggie-Bomb: Always get twice as many veggies as you get meat, and if you have an inflammatory condition like RA, autoimmune disease or cardiovascular disease then bump that up to 3 or 4 times the veggie to meat ratio.
  2. Eat Quality: Make sure your meats are organic, grass fed and grass finished (for beef), hormone-free and antibiotic free. Quality is so much better than quantity with animal products.
  3. Optimize the Organics: Check the “Dirty Dozen” list before you buy veggies to make sure you’re optimizing your organic food budget. It can get expensive, so getting it right really helps.
  4. Be Active: Diet is only half of the inflammation picture and exercise and activity will go a long way to normalize inflammatory levels.
  5. Hydrate: Drink plenty of water. Any protein-heavy diet puts some extra strain on your kidneys and if you’re a little dehydrated then this can start to impact how well you feel and your overall level of inflammation.  At least eight 8oz glasses per day.

Why Is It Important to Reduce Inflammation?

Inflammation is linked to almost every major disease and disease category we have including:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease including heart attack, cholesterol and stroke
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Obesity
  • Mood disorders (brain inflammation)
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other neuro-degenerative diseases

The bottom line is that real food, real veggies, and minimizing the chemicals is always going to be the best route to keeping your inflammation levels down. Knowing the foods that cause inflammation can help you to make better choices at the grocery store.

American Crab Apple blossoms - beautiful and good for the nutritarian in you! From Willis Orchards.

Are You a Nutritarian?

I *love* the concept of being a nutritarian – of looking for the most nutrient dense foods and enjoying those. Of broadening your ideas about what good food really is – we’ll be talking about this so much more because all of a sudden I’m an aspiring nutritarian (does anyone know do crab apples grow in Texas? I’m getting a tree). It’s time we embrace the sweet apples sour cousins, the grains less convenient early ancestors and yes, even the lowly dandelion from the yard (please don’t spray with weed killer – just dig it out and add it to your lunch.) Yes – there may be some growing pains for all of us as we adjust our taste buds to enjoy more bitter, tart and pungent but WOW about the nutrition!

What is a Nutritarian you Ask?

Funny – I have this AWESOME infographic right here…

An infographic by the team at Online Masters In Public Health

In answer to my own question, there is a Texas Crab Apple, which you can learn about from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. There is also an American Crab Apple which you can buy for $3.95 for a seedling that is rated for zones 5-9 (we’re an 8 in Austin but need something that’s rated to 9, which is hotter, and about 5, which is colder because you know as well as I do it’s unpredictable here.) Here’s a picture from Willis Orchards:

American Crab Apple blossoms - beautiful and good for the nutritarian in you! From Willis Orchards.

American Crab Apple blossoms – beautiful and good for the nutritarian in you! From Willis Orchards.

If anyone plants one this spring will you keep me posted? And expect more posts about foraged foods in Texas, because we’ve all got weeds, we might as well eat them.

Finding The Best Diet For You

The Best Diet For You!! It sounds like something you might win on a game show – in my mind I hear it said like “A New Car!” Like it’s the mythical prize that people might win with the spin of a wheel. It’s like unicorns or other mythical animals – we all want to find it, and yet it remains elusive.  Actually the problem in finding the best diet for you is not that you can’t find it, it’s that you’re looking for it to be validated by an outside source, instead of by the only source: you.

I think the thing that we forget in our frantic search for the newest, best, shiniest, most promising diet is that the people who created the diet in every case created it to be best for a whole bunch of people, but not necessarily for you as an individual.  I think in general we fail to recognize how wonderfully, beautifully unique we all are – and that includes right down to our meat and bones. To our physiology and what makes us tick. It also means that there is some fluidity in “best diet” that has to happen even for each of us through our lifespan. The best diet for me when I was 18 wasn’t the same as the best diet for me now in my 30s, nor will it be the same when I’m in my 60s. Just as I as a human am (god willing) changing and evolving, my body is also changing and evolving.  What does all of this mean? It means that the only person who can discover the best diet for you, is YOU, and you will have to revise and edit that best diet over time to stick to what your body wants most of all.

Your best diet has fruit in it.

Yummm for apples. © Ed Isaacs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

There is a best diet for you and it’s unique to you – to how your body processes nutrients and to the demands you place on it. The greatest part is that you can discover it at home.

Discovering Your Best Diet:

The great news is that there are some things that are truly good for everyone, so lets start with that.

The Basic Best Diet:

  1. Lots and lots of veggies. Everyone and their brother agrees that every healthy diet should have a bunch of vegetables in it.  This is where the bulk of our vitamins, minerals and nutrients come from along with our fiber and antioxidants.  Vegetables are the powerhouses of the food world – don’t ever skimp on these.  If you can only make one small change to your diet, make that change be an extra veggie with each meal.
  2. Eat Variety. Eating kale is awesome.  Eating lots of kale is also awesome. The only bad thing about eating lots of kale is that kale only has the nutrients that kale has, you know? You’re not getting tomato nutrients from kale, or salmon nutrients, or beef nutrients.  So even if you’re eating awesome foods, if you only eat one or two different ones then you’re automatically limited.  Throw off those limits and learn a little about squash or star fruit or mung beans. There is a limitless array of choice out there – why be dull?  Your body and health will thank you for the variety even as your taste buds do a little dance with the excitement of all the new flavors.  It can be scary at first if you’re expanding from a highly limited diet, but keep trying.  Try new foods at least three different times before you make a decision about them and keep an open mind to new flavors.  Don’t automatically dismiss the new and different.
  3. Eat Clean: I’m guessing it comes as no shock to anyone that preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and other food additives aren’t actually food.  They don’t add any nutritional value and there isn’t any great reason for you why they should be added to your diet. They make it easier for companies that manufacture food to keep it shelf-stable, stop it from molding, make it slightly addictive or make you crave it – but none of those things make it any better for you and let’s be clear – your food should be all about you. Likewise genetically modified food is usually modified so that it can grow more easily or spoil more slowly or do something differently so that it’s easier to use as a commercial product but that has nothing to do with how your body uses it. All of these pseudo-foods are no part of the best diet for anyone.
  4. Get a Little Nutty: Nuts and seeds are packed with good oils, fiber, and protein and are a fantastic food for just about everyone.  They are high in minerals and represent a tremendous source of balanced nutrition for just about every type of person or constitution out there.
  5. Not Too Sweet: It’s pretty obvious to everyone that sugar packs on unnecessary calories and leads to inflammation, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and lowered immunity.  This can’t be a dietary staple no matter what – it isn’t that good for anyone at all, although real sugar and other real sweeteners are better than the artificial variety.
  6. Moderation: Food is our basic source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.  We need it to survive and we enjoy it for pleasure. Food also is a tremendous amount of work for your body and creates a number of breakdown products that have to be dealt with in your daily processes of metabolism.  Research has shown consistently that the key to a longer, healthier life is actually a little bit of moderation in the food department.  Eating less actually helps you live longer and healthier because you’re not wasting so many of your body’s precious resources on food processing. Consistently people who eat fewer calories live longer lives with less chronic disease.

Adding Variables to Your Best Diet:

Now for the parts that everyone seems to fight about.  Some diets say you should eat a ton of meat, some say little to no meat, some say fruit is too much sugar, others say fruit is the best thing in the world.  And what about fats? My god there are so many ways to get your feathers ruffled over this. So let’s talk:

  1. Meat: Just the word sounds like a controversy waiting to happen.  I am actually a huge fan of meat, but it’s one of the things that you really need to adjust to your body type.  My constitution is lean and muscular so for me meat is essential to keep my body running – the best plan seems to be small servings of meat regularly and generally higher protein – but even that means small amounts of meat, not slabs of it.  For people with heavier constitutions a diet that is lighter on the meats may work out better to minimize  the impact of the high calorie and fat density that comes with animal products. The paleo diet advocates insist that meat should be a main component of every diet, and that’s true if you’re actually living a paleo lifestyle involving lots of physical activity and days filled with heavy athletics, but if you’re a desk jockey that may not be the best plan for your arteries or your saddlebags. The other extreme of vegetarianism or veganism is also incredibly  hard to do right and requires tight unwavering attention to your nutritional status, which many “vegetarians” (read: carbetarians) neglect to uphold.
  2. Dairy:  For centuries and across many cultures dairy products have been a valuable source of proteins and fats in the human diet.  For most of those centuries the animals were grass fed (not grain fed) and were obviously not treated with chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics.  Likewise the actual milk wasn’t bleached, preserved and processed to the extreme.  Also people centuries ago were not likely as sensitive to foods as we seem to be today.  Now the benefits from dairy depend largely on the quality of the dairy you’re able to get and your body’s own reaction to it.  I personally am a proponent of clean, organic, grass-fed dairy just as long as you’re not sensitive to it. If you’re not sure if you’re sensitive to it then read about uncovering your hidden food sensitivities here. Just to thow another wrench into the dairy debate there is the question of raw milk or not (I say yes, but there’s lots of controversy). For more information on raw milk you can do some reading here.
  3. Fish: Fish are obviously fantastic food, or at least they used to be. They’re high in omega 3 fats and a great source of protein and many of the minerals that are found in good concentrations in a sea environment.  They’re also, however, repositories for heavy metals and toxins because the ocean is a soup of heavy metals and toxins. I certainly advocate fish, but sticking mostly to younger, smaller, non-predator fish like anchovies and sardines could be a good idea, save the predator fish for rare treats.  This is simply because predator fish eat smaller fish and end up concentrating all of the heavy metals and toxins that those fish had in their bodies, so the levels of toxins are much higher than in smaller fish that are lower down on the food chain.  If you’re pregnant, be especially careful with ocean fish – in the UK the guidelines are fish no more than once a month (!!) Farmed fish also aren’t a great alternative because they’re usually grain fed (which means the fats from these fish aren’t omega 3 fatty acids, they’re omega 6 fatty acids just like grain fed cattle). Also they’re no less toxic, and sometimes more so, than their wild-caught brethren.
  4. Fruits: It seems like fruit shouldn’t be controversial, but it is.  Many diets advocate limiting sugary fruits because they contribute to a high sugar diet.  Fruits, however, are a valuable source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – right up there with vegetables.  My general guideline is one fruit per two veggies and I’ll limit the carbs and sugars by limiting grains and sweets. If you are already diabetic you may need to limit fruits for a while until you shift to a no- or low-grain diet and cut out the sugars and artificial sweeteners.  Once your blood sugars have dropped back down to normal levels and stabilized there then you can start to re-introduce the fruits.
  5. Grains: Right now grains are the big bad.  Grains are basically just complicated sugar for your body and excessive consumption has been linked to diabetes, obesity, fertility issues in PCOS, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome as well as Alsheimer’s disease, which is now being called “diabetes type III.” Grains include wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice and all of the less-used alternative grains like quinoa, amaranth, spelt, buckwheat, teff etc… There isn’t really anyone that I feel should be eating a high grain diet and in general I trend toward the fewer-the-better.  Grains provide a lot of calories without too much nutrition – especially our favorite super-starchy grains like wheat, corn and rice.  There is some fiber and nutrients if you’re eating whole grains, but all in all the starch is the main component.  Starch is what you make your body fat out of. In general, minimize the grains and your waist line and blood sugars will thank you.  Gluten is a whole different topic, but certainly if you haven’t taken the time yet to figure out if you’re gluten sensitive, now is the time to do it.
  6. Fats: Your body needs fats and thrives on them, but there’s still the question of which fats and how much. General guidelines – good fats come from nuts, seeds and vegetables; grass fed animals, and wild-caught fish.  Bad fats come from the deep-frier, processing plants (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils) and grain-fed animals. Every body needs good fats and should avoid the bad fats, but how much of the good fats is a question for you.  Again, listen to your body. Fats help you feel full and satisfied, build healthy skin and connective tissue and help to nourish your neurological system, but also add a fair amount of calories to your diet.

Phew. Did we cover everything?  If I left out any major categories let me know and I’ll add them in. The bottom line is eat real food that grows from the earth, not a chemical company and always listen to your body. If eating a certain way is supposed to be healthy but doesn’t feel good for you then it’s most important to listen to you.  If you know certain foods make you gain weight or make you eat more then those aren’t the best for you.  Eat for YOU.