Have you ever wondered if what you’re eating is making you healthier, or actually hurting you? Well, you’re not alone!
Here’s what I can tell you about the correlation between food, pain, and inflammation.
The Matter of Inflammation…
A few days ago, I was doing a little shopping for the family, and I popped into a local supermarket here in my neighborhood, when I happened to run into the store director who’s a good friend of mine, and she said:
“Hey, Jose, I’m having this inflammation in my hands. They’re getting tight, and I’m about to turn 60…”
Though pain and inflammation can happen at any age, at sixty people are more likely to suffer from them, and arthritis is one of the most common culprits. But then she asked me a really great question:
“What’s the best thing I can do to reduce inflammation?”
I thought about it, and realized that one of the most important things is FOOD! The food that we eat. The food that heals us… or hurts us.
The Healing Powers of Food
In my 28 years of practice, I’ve come to a conclusion: Food is either medicine, or it’s poison. And that is not just my opinion; it’s been the opinion of health-care professionals for a very long time.
If you look back about 2.500 years, Hippocrates was credited with saying “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” 2.500 years ago, he realized how important food is for healing; and he lived in a time where all there was was real food. Natural, unprocessed, additive-free food.
Currently, we are living in a modern world, where we still have real food, but we are also bombarded by a lot of what I like to call “food-like substances”. They taste good, look good, but they may be more harmful than nutritious.
These are processed foods, or foods that have been filled with additives, and they are extremely inflammatory.
We know that inflammation is a massive driver of pain, and people who are experiencing chronic pain, always have systemic inflammation. So what you eat really matters.
What to Add
The first thing I want to address is adding healthy, healing foods.
Before removing anything, it’s important for us to add healing foods to our diet. That’s a great place to start.
A lot of people talk about removing unhealthy food, but I believe that focusing on adding good quality, healthy foods, is a really important first step that makes it easier to remove others later on, which will contribute to our well-being.
1 Healthy Fats
In my opinion, the best place to begin, to focus on initially, is adding some good, healthy fats.
The truth is, fat is not bad for us. Essential fatty acids are important nutrients that we need. And, if the term “essential” comes before a nutrient, it means that it’s something that we have to eat. It isn’t something that our body makes internally, and replenishes, even though our body does make, for example, high density cholesterol.
More than 80% of cholesterol is made in the body; but we still need to help the body out with nutrition and exercise.
The nutrients we eat are used by our body to repair itself: Fatty acids, essential vitamins, essential minerals… These are constituent parts of food, and our body needs those parts, because we don’t just need calories for fuel, we also need the building blocks for new cells, regeneration, all the important, biological things that happen inside of us, that can help us be healthy, heal, and deal with our inflammation and our chronic pain.
When we start adding good foods, it makes a huge difference. It is then that we can start focusing on reducing or removing the foods that may cause inflammation in our diet.
The USDA, in 2016, removed saturated fats from the “hit list” of foods that should be avoided, retracting its decision from 1980, when they officially recommended a low fat diet in order to avoid heart disease.
What that means is that they no longer think it’s a problem. Even this very conservative entity now accepts that fat does not cause heart disease or weight gain.
Fat has been a part of nutrition for thousands of years, and it wasn’t really a problem. However, in the early 20th century, there was a rise in heart conditions in the U.S, which was baffling, since it had previously been a rare issue.
When doctors and scientists began looking into it, financial interests and nutritional confusion played a part in fat being blamed for the rise in heart disease, which made the problem worse, since sugar content increased in processed foods, and sugar was the actual culprit of the rising heart issues.
Now, I’m not saying there are no such things as “unhealthy fats” that can cause inflammation and disease, but saturated fats are not unhealthy; coconut (which contains saturated fat) is not unhealthy.
The fats that I recommend adding to your diet are:
- Monounsaturated fats
- Omega3 fatty acids
- Medium Chain Triglycerides
What do those fats look like? Well, they look like real food. They are found in things like nuts, olives, Olive oil, avocados, or healthy meats.
If you’re wondering what I mean by “healthy meats,” I mean meat that comes from an animal that’s eating well, that’s eating real food.
As I like to say: anything that the animal you eat eats, you eat.
Yes, it’s a tongue twister, but it’s true. So, if you’re eating animals that are getting fed processed food, antibiotics, steroids, mood enhancers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and so on, you’re going to be ingesting those as well, and they are a source of disease and inflammation.
So, if you’re not a vegetarian, do what you can to eat only pastured animals, or organic animals.
I do know that there’s a cost issue associated with meat from pastured animals, but if you can eat local, lean cuts, or if you can get pastured eggs, which are coming down in price, that would help you a lot.
It’s also important to eat good quality oils, such as olive oil, avocado oil, nut oils, like macadamia and walnut oil. And, interestingly, one of the best oils out there is hemp seed oil.
Hemp seed oil is a very powerful superfood; it’s very high ratio in omega 3 fatty acids, and it’s anti-inflammatory.
2 A Rainbow in Your Plate
The other thing that we should all add to our diet, is color. I always like to say “eat a rainbow every day.” And what does a rainbow of food look like? Pretty much like the fruit and vegetable aisle at a local market.
It’s important to have an abundance and a variety of vegetables in our diet because they are loaded with tons and tons of nutrients, and they don’t have a ton of calories. So, not a lot of fuel, but a lot of nutrition and healing; this is what we call high nutritional density, which is the food ideal.
However, we want to be moderate with fruits…
Fruits are very important; they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals, and they’re very tasty. But it’s better not to overdo it.
You shouldn’t be having eight servings of fruit a day! Fruits are loaded with sugar, particularly modern fruit that’s been hybridized to make it taste better. So, I actually recommend sticking to berries, which have a lot of nutrients and have the lowest amount of sugar of any fruits. Berries are wonderful, colorful, and they taste great!
3 Spice it Up
The third type of food we should be adding to our diet are spices, like ginger and turmeric.
Turmeric, that very beautiful, orange/yellow spice, is not only delicious, but has anti-inflammatory and regulatory properties. So it can be very beneficial for those who suffer from inflammation, chronic pain, and to maintain general good health.
What to Eliminate
So, once we’ve added these really good, delicious foods to our diet, we can start looking into foods that should be reduced or eliminated entirely, if possible. And these are the foods that cause inflammation:
First of all, I’m going to recommend that you reduce your intake of sugars. Especially added sugars, and processed sugars, like high fructose corn syrup, sweets, desserts… all that. They are pretty much empty fuel.
By definition, sugar doesn’t have any nutrients.It really doesn’t offer much for us, except spiking blood sugar. Not to mention it’s extremely addictive.
When we have a spike in blood sugar, we produce a lot of insulin, and an inflammatory process begins taking place. Our immune system gets involved in the equation, and produce chronic inflammation.
And this leads me to the next food we wanna focus on reducing; and that is processed foods. Those are what I call “food-like substances”. These are foods that are not real or natural.
And I completely understand why they’re so popular. They are easy to find, cheap, and last longer than unprocessed foods. Processed foods have been manipulated to taste better and last longer, and have additives placed in them.
We ingest these additives when the food gets digested, and they make it into the bloodstream. Our body doesn’t recognize them, and when we have a foreign substance in our body, our immune system kicks in to protect us…
This reaction causes inflammation. So, if we eat this type of food all the time, chronic inflammation becomes an issue; and we may also have issues with weight gain, which is associated with joint pain and other forms of chronic pain and disease.
Though I mentioned “good fats” above, “bad fats” also exist; and these are:
- Trans fats
- Some unsaturated fats
A lot of these unsaturated fats have been promoted as being super healthy. But now we know, through research and through experience, that these fats cause inflammation, and we have accumulated about fifty years of people eating these foods, which has caused a massive health crisis.
These unsaturated fats usually look like vegetable oils, canola oil, corn oil, or sunflower oil. Those are the kind of oils that are highly processed, and they’re very inexpensive, which is why they can be found in all processed, baked foods.
Removing these foods, and not cooking with these oils, would do a lot for well-being and recovery.
There’s a very broad spectrum of foods that can be allergens. And foods that are “healthy” for some, can sometimes be unhealthy for others, which makes sense, since our DNA and chemical composition is unique.
However, there are some typical, usual allergens, like dairy products, soy products, foods that contain grains, peanuts, gluten, and several others. These are foods associated with inflammation and allergic reactions, which cause pain and irritation.
I know that’s a lot of information to take in, and you don’t have to make changes all at once, but I hope you found this general overview useful.
Nutrition plays an important role in our overall health and our pain cycles. So I want to give you as much information and as many useful tips as I can.
But, above all, I really want to encourage you to take good care of yourself because, in truth, you’re the only one who can.
Feel free to comment or ask as many questions as you want!