Five inflammatory foods that are doing you damage

15 August 2018 by Madeline Shepherd

Five inflammatory foods that are doing you damage

Food can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.

Some of the things we eat on a daily basis are some of the most inflammatory foods around. If you are looking to clean up your diet, then these inflammatory foods must be the first to go.

If you are serious about feeling better then try cutting out these five Franken foods for a few weeks and notice the difference. 

1. Gluten

There is a good reason that eating gluten-free is becoming increasingly popular. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and malt. It is incredibly irritating to the gut and highly inflammatory.

One of the components in gluten actively loosens the tight junctions of the gut wall, causing the intestines to become permeable (1) (2)

This is highly problematic as it means food particles can enter our bloodstream, without adequate screening by our immune system. 80% of our immune system lives in the gut and it is one of the main barriers that exist between potential toxins and our bloodstream.

If gluten proteins are able to enter our bloodstream they cause a cascade of inflammatory responses as our body rushes to defend itself from a foreign invader. For people who have coeliac (celiac) disease, gluten in the bloodstream causes a severe immune response that also prompts the body to attack itself – autoimmunity. Side effects of autoimmunity can manifest in so many ways – skin conditions, mental health disorders, digestive troubles, memory loss and brain fog, hair loss and more.

Even if you don’t have coeliac disease, eliminating gluten from your diet is a good idea. Just because you might not be producing coeliac antibodies, doesn’t mean that gluten isn’t doing you harm. It still loosens the tight junctions in your gut, leaving your intestinal wall permeable, and this still exposes your body to a range of foreign, toxic specimens.

Just like gluten can diminish the gut-blood barrier, there’s also evidence to suggest that it can loosen the blood-brain barrier. This means foreign toxic particles that have come through the loose gut wall, can end up impacting your brain. Terrifying! And how do you think a toxic brain is going to behave? Is it going to be happy and energised, or tired, depressed and anxious?

Give gluten-free a try and feel the change. But don’t just switch to eating gluten-free bread, pasta and cakes.

Read on to learn why going completely grain-free is an even better idea.

2. Grains

The health authorities that we trust tell us that grains are a staple health food that should make up a big portion of our diet.

But grains can actually be very damaging, particularly to our gut health.

Firstly, grains are almost always a processed food. Bread, pasta, cakes and practically everything made from grains is very different to how these foods exist in their natural state. When a food is processed it is stripped of its nutrients and becomes less useful in the body. Of course, you can have grains like quinoa, which is close to its natural state, so if you have to eat grains that is a good choice.

Grains are also very high in carbohydrates and this can negatively impact our blood sugar. If we eat grains at every meal as we are advised to do, then we are consuming a lot of carbohydrate that is low in minerals and vitamins. This is a recipe for obesity and in more serious cases, diabetes. I explore the impact of dysregulated blood sugar below.

Grains are high in a protein called lectins. Lectins are just one of the ways that grains protect themselves and ensure their species lives on. Humans cannot break down lectins and they cause the cells of the gut to rupture. Having such an irritated gut will affect your whole body, especially when it becomes leaky. Lectins also mimic certain cells in our body and guess what, our body attacks them because they are foreign. So if we consume a huge amount of lectins that get into the bloodstream our body can get confused and attack itself – autoimmunity. (3) This is why removing grains from the diet is critical for anyone with autoimmune disease.

Finally, grains contain high amounts of phytic acid, deposits of phosphorous that bind to the minerals we consume and stop us from absorbing them. So not only do grains irritate the gut and immune system, they limit the amount of zinc, magnesium and iron that we absorb.

For more on grains, check out this article.

3. Sugar

Thankfully there is now consensus (except maybe from Coke) that sugar is incredibly harmful and one of the key drivers of obesity.

Sugar is hiding in just about every processed food, which is why eating whole, unrefined foods is so important. Sauces, dressings, drinks and every low-fat contain so much hidden sugar.

Never before in the history of humankind have we been exposed to such high levels of sugar and refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice etc). Both sugar and these refined foods all end up the same in the body, as pure glucose that causes a serious spike in your blood sugar. Our body responds by producing insulin, which helps to store the sugar/glucose and bring our blood sugar down to a safe level.

If we are constantly bombarding our bodies with hits of glucose at every meal and with snacks in between, then our body soon gets tired of constant insulin production. This is when we start to see people become obese because chronic high blood sugar causes weight gain. As the problem escalates we see the onset of insulin resistance and event Type 2 diabetes – very scary. I go into detail about the impacts of high blood sugar in this article.

Sugar can also cause proteins in our body to become sticky leading to them becoming tangled and stuck together. This process is called glycation and the result is advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) which literally cause your body to age. This is a significant cause of inflammation in the body. When it is the brain that is affected by AGEs the result can be very serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

4. Vegetable oils

Mainstream advice tells us to ditch saturated fat; the type that we find in meat, cheese, butter and eggs in favour of polyunsaturated fats such as in margarine and soybean oil.

However, saturated fats come to us from nature and are actually critical to good health. Saturated fats make up the bulk of our cell membranes, and the cholesterol found in these foods is also critical to health.

The fats in vegetable oils – rapeseed/canola, soybean, sunflower etc are not naturally occurring and undergo extreme processing to become the shiny yellow liquids we find on our supermarket shelves.

Have you ever seen a rapeseed/canola flower, or a soybean? There isn’t much naturally occurring fat on these plants. The fatty acids are locked away deep inside the seeds and require very high heats and processing to be extracted. These processes damage the integrity of the oils, making them very volatile when we consume them. When we consume volatile oils they can react in our bodies causing oxidative damage to our cells, which causes systemic inflammation. I go into more depth in this article.

Since we started consuming these highly processed vegetable oils rates of heart disease, cancer and even mental health issues have skyrocketed. This is not a coincidence. Vegetable oils are extremely damaging and should be avoided.

We do need to consume some polyunsaturated fats; however, only cold-pressed varieties are safe and should be eaten in very moderate amounts.

5. Dairy

Dairy is a little more nuanced than the foods listed above, and in there is not a consensus on its role in a healthy diet.

Many of the experts that I trust and respect believe that incorporating some full-fat dairy in the diet is very important. I tend to agree but must stress that type and quality matters very much.

There are two problematic components in dairy – lactose, which is the main sugar, and casein, which is the main protein. Many people experience lactose intolerance because humans stop producing the enzyme needed to digest lactose after we are weaned from our mother’s breast milk.

Casein is almost structurally the same as gluten and is irritating to the gut and immune system in the same way. Hard cheeses and fermented dairy such as sour cream and yoghurt have less of these problematic components than milk or soft cheese because they are eliminated during fermentation. So trying different types of dairy and noting how they make you feel can be useful.

The dairy that we buy in the supermarkets tends to be homogenised and pasteurised. I look at these processes in this article, but both damage the quality of the product, remove beneficial bacteria and are a form of processing that reduces the healthfulness of the product. If you want to consume dairy make sure it is full fat, and where possible unhomogenised and unpasteurised. Sometimes taking a break can be useful, but that doesn’t mean you need to give it up forever.

Final words

This has been a quick look at some of the most damaging foods to our health. Cutting down and even eliminating completely is a guaranteed way to feel better. Everything you put into your body impacts you at a cellular level, so wouldn’t you rather feed your body with unprocessed and nutrient-dense food?

If you need support or further guidance getting off some of these Franken foods, then perhaps an appointment with a certified functional nutritionist is what you need.

Study Nutrition

Madeline Shepherd

Maddy runs the popular blog "A No Grainer", which dispels some of the myths around 'healthy eating' and is a certified FNTP. Find her at