The anti-Inflammatory Diet and How to Test Yourself for Food Reactions

How can foods make you react with sinus drainage, fatigue, skin issues, foggy brain, and reduce or increase inflammation and pain?  Many foods that cause problems are mostly due to our processing of foods and/or our pesticide use.  Foods heavily sprayed with pesticides make our immune system react to them to get rid of the pesticides ~ this alone can create inflammation in your body and when it is done 3x per day you are constantly initiating an inflammatory response with every meal.  Over time this would lead the immune system to become overactive as it gets on high alert anytime you eat, complicating this problem is that some foods molecules can resemble human molecules.  For example the wheat molecule is similar to molecules in our thyroid and some in our joints as well, when the immune system gets on high alert it may try to eradicate your thyroid or your supportive joint tissues thinking it is that pesky wheat molecule that is smothered in roundup.

Digestive issues could also cause an inflammatory response in the body — if you are unable to digest a certain food that is quite healthy for others — for example dairy.  Here is where you have to get more individualized and learn how to test yourself.
A big step in our overall health is not eating typical grocer store food. Don’t discount food in lessening your pain and inflammation as well. Learning to eat anti-inflammatory foods can go a long way in improving your health.

The Anti Inflammatory diet

Wheat? Dairy? Sugar? These can be triggers. An anti-inflammatory diet may be slightly different from one person to the next. You need to know what you react to. It is important to pay attention to how you feel when you eat anything. And to test yourself with an elimination diet or by eliminating one or two foods (like sugar or wheat) from your diet for 3-4 weeks and see if you notice a difference.
The “base” anti-inflammatory diet; These are the foods that are generally considered anti-inflammatory for everyone.  I will address foods that are anti-inflammatory for some and inflammatory for others below this.

The most important part of an anti-inflammatory diet? VEGETABLES!
Try to eat 3-9 cups per day of vegetables. This is vegetables at every meal — make each meal over half vegetables.

Another one of my favorite FMx doctors, Dr. Terri Wahls, in her MS protocol wants everyone to eat 9 cups of vegetables per day — 3 cups cabbage foods, 3 cups leafy greens, and 3 cups NON-STARCHY vegetables — each day.  Breaking your vegetables down into these three categories and then making sure you eat from all three categories all day is a good way to ensure vegetable eating.

We have data showing those who consume more cruciferous vegetables can pee out more pollution and inflammatory causing toxins. We process them better and get them out of our body via urine.

In treating her own disease, she did not cross over the threshold from stopping the progression of MS to recovering and healing from it until she started eating 9-12 cups of vegetables per day.

Eat your vegetables!

For an Anti-Inflammatory diet, eat More of these foods:

  • Colorful vegetables; try to eat a rainbow of color every day.  These colorful foods are high in anti-oxidants which are very helpful in reducing inflammation.
  • 1-3 cups per day of Leafy green vegetables – spinach, romaine, mustard greens, etc.
  • 1-3 cups per day of cabbage foods, cooked or fermented
  • 1-3 cups per day of non-starchy vegetables such as garlic, onion, celery, carrots, beets, etc.
  • Foods high in omega-3 fats such as Cold water fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel).
  • Walnuts and other nuts (except peanuts) – especially freshly ground flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin, and hemp seeds.
  • Olive oil, Olives, coconut oil, pumpkin seed oil are all anti-inflammatory
  • “Safer” Grains … here is where we have to test, however if you do eat grains try to stick to colorful naturally gluten free grains.  Think purple rice, wild rice, red or black quinoa, colorful corn (you should see all the varieties of corn in Peru!), same with potatoes purple potatoes and sweet potatoes are much more healthier than white potatoes. 
    • Whole grains are even more problematic in causing inflammation:
      Whole grains actually can cause inflammation.  Whole grains are not necessarily healthier than white; though they do have a little more fiber and may not cause quite as much of a spike in blood sugar, we would still do better to get our fiber from fruits and vegetables.   The whole part of the grain is sensitive and goes rancid quickly — many times before they even make it to the mill; this rancidity makes the whole grain highly inflammatory.  Also whole grains are much harder to digest and people with digestive issues actually do better on white grains.
I like to look at history, in cultures that use/d rice as a staple food for centuries like many Asian cultures, what type of rice do they use?  White.
  • Citrus fruits and berries
  • Black and green teas
  • Foods high in fiber like avocados, nuts/seeds, berries, chia seeds, artichokes, peas, lentils, some beans (if tolerated — more on these below).

Spices that contain anti-inflammatory compounds

  • Ginger, turmeric, cayenne, clove, cinnamon, and garlic.

Make a nice tea:
Boil ginger, turmeric, black pepper (opt. Cinnamon, clove, cardamom) for 10-15 minutes. Let cool to drinking temp and enjoy.

Rosemary and Oregano are also powerful anti-inflammatories and make a great stand-alone tea and/or cooking spices.

I like to focus on what to eat instead of what NOT to eat … If you try to eat from the foods above you won’t even be hungry for any of these inflammatory foods.  Here are the foods that are mostly inflammatory for everyone.  Avoid Eating:

  • Sugar!
  • Reduce all grains until you test yourself for each grain.
  • Fried foods – the oils used to fry foods are highly inflammatory.
  • Any Partially hydrogenated oil, canola oil, corn, cottonseed, peanut, safflower, soy, and sunflower oils
  • Oils high on omega-6s like sunflower and sesame.
  • Red meats from CAFO animals — GRASS fed and finished only
    • Grass finished humanely treated cows actually have healthy amounts of omega-3s in them while grain fed tortured and suffering animals have very high levels of inflammation causing omega-6 oils.
  • Anything in box:
    Foods with a long shelf life like crackers, chips, cookies … crackers are not healthy!  There are better alternatives like a cucumber or radish slice.  Or a 100% seed cracker.
  • Foods high in simple carbohydrates like candies and cakes and many desserts (foods with a high glycemic load that cause rapid rises and drops in insulin levels seem to cause more inflammation.)
  • White breads, bagels, English muffins, Instant rice, cereals
  • Anything with Artificial flavors and colors (Aspartame, FD&C dyes) and even foods with natural flavors … natural flavors have nothing natural about them …

Foods more likely to trigger intolerance reactions, inflammation and pain (these vary from person to person), this is where you need to learn how to test yourself for each of these foods:

  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Eggs, yes even eggs which are very healthy for most people need to be tested as they are allergenic for many.
  • Nightshades are plants that used to be poisonous, over the years we have hybridizied them to be less poisonous, but still the are problematic for many.  Nightshades include eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes (not sweet), bell peppers, ashwagandha, goji berries, hot peppers (e.g., chili, jalapeno, habanero, as well as chili- based spices like cayenne, chili powder, crushed red pepper, and paprika), pimentos, and tomatillos.
  • Histamines – Here is a blip from IFM on histamines:
    Histamine is made and stored in our mast cells and is released during allergen exposure, causing dilation of blood vessels, increased mucus production, and broncho-constriction or tightening of the lungs.The release of histamine results in symptoms such as itching, sneezing, asthma, headache, and rash. Certain foods and food additives prompt the release of histamine from mast cells.

    • These are the most problematic histamine foods:  bananas, chocolate, strawberries, tomatoes, egg whites, pork, sauerkraut, cheeses, fermented soy products, sausage, spinach, ketchup, eggplant, alcoholic beverages, smoked meats, vinegars, and canned fish, coffee and some teas, and leftover meats.   Certain food additives, preservatives, food colors, benzoates, BHA, and BHT also cause histamine issues. 

If you are having an inflammatory response — especially if you are feeling it in your joints or having pain here is a quick suggestion to try instead of aspirin:

Essential Oils that have high anti-inflammatory properties, you can use this diluted in a carrier oil and rubbed into painful areas:

  • Frankincense (boswellia)
  • Helichrysum
  • Chamomile
  • Ginger
  • Rosemary
  • Peppermint

Chose any one or more of these oils and make a 3% dilution which is 18 drops total per ounce of carrier oil.  For pain I like to use castor oil because castor oil is a good base for pain and inflammatory conditions as its fatty acid properties of ricinoleic acid are analgesic and anti-inflammatory. It is also a good decongestant of the lymph, and increases white blood cell count.

How to test yourself for food sensitivities or allergies

Why do you want to test yourself for certain foods? 
Many people don’t realize the constant sinus drip down the back of your throat is from food. Feeling brain fog? It probably is something you ate or eat regularly.  Swollen joints? Achiness? Feeling tired frequently?  These are food reaction symptoms, so is a sluggish thyroid, acne, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin … our outer skin is a reflection of the inner skin of our digestive tract!  Foods effect how we feel.
Knowing your power foods and healthy foods is a big part of your long term health care.

Nutritionally, we each are different.  What is healthy for one person could be problematic for another.  Our nutritional needs are as individual as each of us are.  This is why there is so much confusion around “what is healthy to eat” and all the debates.  A high-fat/low-carb diet may be just what someone needs to have their achy joints feel better and stop being inflamed; yet this same diet could cause digestive issues in someone else.

There are many different methods to “test” yourself for food reactions.  Start to recognize when a meal makes you feel sluggish instead of good. 

Pay attention to how you feel after you eat a meal.  Do you feel sluggish?  Sleepy or tired? Not satiated?  Maybe your stomach is not quite settled?  Sinus or chest congestion?  These are indications food may be creating inflammation for you.  Start a food diary and note how you feel when you eat certain foods.  Learn to make the connections between what you ate and how you feel.

Here is a link to a food diary journal that will help you track your foods you eat and your symptoms.  It is also useful to use this from to track your food and fluids intake, exercise, and stress reductions techniques.  I highly recommend this being done seasonally or at the very least, yearly.
Diet, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Journal – 1 day

When you evaluate how you feel after eating a whole meal, it may be hard to identify what triggered it.  You can use this feeling to help determine your macro-nutrient mix that’s best for you — meaning what combination of Protein, Fat, and Carbs are best for you.  For example, the “latest fad” dietary advice is high fat/low carb … this just did not work for me.  After a high fat meal I would feel incredibly tired and sleepy … I learned I have a fat digestion problem and I am actually better off with a Mediterranean based diet (slightly more carbs/starches).  Or if you eat a full meal and feel like you are not satisfied this is a sign you need more protein.  Or if a high carb meal makes you feel bloated you may do better with a higher fat ration … This is just some of the ways you can use this method to help determine if your macro-nutrient ratios.

Testing foods on yourself

A simple method to begin testing certain foods would be to eliminate a particular food for 3-4 weeks and notice if your symptoms disappear.  Then re-introduce the food; maybe even eat 3x on that first day and see if you react.  Good foods to start with for this would be gluten containing grains, sugar, or dairy.  These are problematic foods for many.  And remember, eliminating a food such as gluten or sugar requires a bit of education … food manufacturers hide gluten and sugar in most anything processed.  I would avoid eating out during this period or eating anything pre-made by someone other than yourself or a trusted cook!

There is some debate among doctors when re-introducing a food if you want to re-introduce the same food you were eating, or if you did not have a clean source — finding a clean source of that food to bring back.  I’m on the side of re-introducing the clean food.  The reason some doctors prefer to re-introduce the old “dirty” food is to find out if you were reacting to a pesticide or of way of processing the food.  I feel like ‘why start the inflammatory process all over again?’  If you never find what you were reacting to, but your symptoms have disappeared it was probably due to pesticides or processing of the food  you were eating.

Here is a from to track your symptoms as you introduce a food:
Food Reintroduction Symptoms Tracker

The above test is sometimes a little easier than doing a full on elimination diet.  The elimination diet is where you eliminate all foods that have a high tendency toward allergic reactions, gluten and most grains, all sugars, dairy, coffee, and alcohol for a period of 3 to 4 weeks.  You then slowly re-introduce one food at a time and watch for any reactions such as digestive issues, headaches, sinus drainage, low energy, skin issues, joint pain, etc. 

If you notice any of these symptoms when re-introducing a food, it is a sign you are reacting to the food — or perhaps you are reacting to how the food is made or raised, for example non-organic coffee, or wheat dessicated with round up causes digestive issues where as organic, sour dough bread made from ancient grains that have not been so hybridized may be just fine.

This 3-4 week time period of doing an elimination diet is like at “retreat” for yourself, a digestive reset.  A detox of types where you get a chance to clean out your digestive system for a bit and get close and comfy with how different foods feel in your body.  In many cases this time periods turns out to be a bit of a spiritual quest ~ though there is no calorie restrictions on the elimination diet ~ only restriction is on what foods you can eat, so it is not a “fasting” type of detox.  It is really not that hard of a diet, especially if you eat meat and vegetables …. the hardest “foods” for most people to give up for 3-4 weeks is coffee and wine …

IFM on the elimination diet:

“Symptoms and conditions that have failed to respond to conventional medical therapy may resolve when a person follows the IFM Elimination Diet. Specific foods or foods eaten frequently may be related to a long list of health conditions, including digestive problems, headaches, chronic sinus drainage, low energy, depression, mood swings, eczema, skin irritations, joint aches, asthma, weight gain, and others. People may suffer from these symptoms for long periods of time without realizing that they can be connected to the foods they are eating. Often it isn’t until a food is removed that the connection between symptoms and foods can be made.The Elimination Diet removes common foods that may be causing symptoms and, with reintroduction, helps patients identify the foods that may be triggering their symptoms.”

I uploaded the food plans, information, and weekly planner from IFM on their Elimination Diet for your use.  If you need any coaching with this diet I am well trained in it 🙂 thanks to my school, Functional Medicine Coaching Academy.

IFM Elimination Diet – Comprehensive Guide

Elimination Diet – Food Plan

Elimination Diet – Weekly Planner & Recipes

Another method is the Heart Rate method.  Your heart rate will increase after eating a problematic food.  Simply relax for 10-15 minutes before eating, take your heart rate with either a fitness device or find your pulse below your thumb with your index and middle fingers — take it for 30 seconds and times it by 2 or even count your pulse for a full minute.  Eat your food relaxed ~ this test works best if you stick to one food to test, if you eat a full meal it may be hard to determine which food caused a reaction if you have one.  For example if you want to test yourself for bread, make some nice toasty buttered bread and eat only that.  
After eating take your heart rate again.  If it has jumped more than 5 beats per minute you could have set off an inflammatory response in your body meaning the food you tested is causing a reaction — if your heart rate increased by over 10 beats (or more) that means it is highly problematic for you. 
It is always best to test each food 2-3 times to make sure your results are consistent.  
If your heart rate does elevate from a particular food it would be best to eliminate that food from your diet for a period of time.  Many times after you clear the food out of your system and your body resets you are able to reintroduce the food (as long as you reintroduce a good clean source of that particular food!).

Not everyone can go on the quest that I went on in January of 2018 to determine which foods are healthiest for me.  In addition to experimenting with elimination diets, I also decided to jump in on this research and order some tests for myself (first time I’ve had a blood test!);  I did a complete comprehensive blood panel, urine, microbiome, hair, and extensive genetics testing.  Whew.  I know wayyyy too much about myself … ok, not really … however, it was very interesting to say the least.  The expense of these tests are very worth their cost ~ this is a form of preventative medicine!

What did I learn from all my tests?  Especially the microbiome and genetics test? See the next blog titled “Personalizing Your Anti-Inflammatory Diet — and what you can learn from genetics and microbiome testing”. 

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