By Jonathan Tait, D.O.
Author, The 14-Day Pain Free Diet
Routine exercise, minimizing stress, quality sleep, adequate recovery between workouts – all are essential for achieving optimal health and performance.
However, I’m going to suggest that the biggest factor impacting your capacity to achieve peak physical condition and well-being, is the amount of inflammation your body is subjected to on a daily basis.
As you learned in Part 1, chronic systemic inflammation due to dietary injuries can be sapping your progress in the gym, and killing your recovery. The quality and content of the food you consume can shift the balance towards an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory state, the latter of course is where we want to be living to help recovery from injury and hard training.
Not all healthy foods are anti-inflammatory, and not all “bad foods” are inflammatory.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 20 years, you know that regular consumption of highly refined foods containing high amounts of sugar, inflammatory fats, and a lab full of artificial chemicals in the form of sweeteners, dyes, and preservatives are highly toxic to the body.
There has also been plenty of information published about the pro-inflammatory effects of gluten-containing “healthy whole grains”, as well as dairy. I’m going to leave that discussion for another day, in order to focus on other foods that are less obvious to be problematic.
If we look at the inflammatory potential of a food, it depends on many factors including the sugar content, the amount and type of fat, essential fatty acid makeup, vitamins and minerals, antioxidant value, glycemic index, and other contained compounds known to be anti-inflammatory. (A searchable database can be found at inflammationfactor.com/look-up-if-ratings)
Sugar content – It is pretty obvious that we want to keep refined sugars to a minimum to prevent pro-inflammatory blood sugar spikes that can contribute to advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs can be produced endogenously as a result of a glycation reaction whereby proteins and fats are cross-linked (glycated) after exposure to sugar.1 Exogenous sources come the diet, especially in highly refined or processed foods.2 The more AGEs that are formed, the faster tissues age. AGEs are also known to promote inflammation and contribute to tendon, ligament, and joint damage.3
Type and amount of fat – Good fats (coconut oil, butter from grass fed cows, red palm oil, olive oil, nuts) and bad fats (all vegetable oils)
Essential fatty acid make up – Here we’re taking about the omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acid ratio.
It is easy to see then that overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids can be pro-inflammatory. In fact, the average American diet is about 20-30:1 omega-6 to omega-3, and ideally the ratio should be 1:1, or no more than 4:1, for optimal health. 4,5,6
Supplementation with fish, krill, or flaxseed oil is probably necessary for most people to establish a better balance of omega-3 in the diet and shift the body back towards an anti-inflammatory state.
Although an omega-6, gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) obtained from healthy plant sources (borage oil, black currant oil, evening primrose, or hemp) breaks down to become inflammation neutral, and will offset high arachidonic acid levels from bad omega-6 sources.
Antioxidant profile – The ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) unit or “ORAC score”, developed by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of different foods and supplements.7 It is believed that foods with a higher ORAC value offset free radical damage, and are therefore theorized to minimize some aspect of age-related changes within the body, including joint tissue.
For a strategic approach to determine what foods may be promoting systemic inflammation, decreasing your performance, and limiting your recovery, and to learn one class of healthy fruits and vegetables that increase inflammation in 1 out of 3 people, stay tuned for the final part of Over-trained or over-inflamed?
Think your diet is already squeaky-clean and not sabotaging your workouts? Think again.
You can make sure you’re eating for optimal performance with a simple blood test.
Through the end of April you can save $25 off this test. More importantly you’ll be making best use of your grocery budget to feel and perform your best.
Committed to your health,
1. Goldin A et al. Advanced Glycation End Products. Circulation. 2006;114 :599-605.
2. Uribarri J et al. Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun;110(6):911-16.
3. Abate M et al. Occurrence of tendon pathologies in metabolic disorders. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2013 Jan 12.
4. Kashiyama T et al. Relationship between coronary plaque vulnerability and serum n-3/n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio. Circ J. 2011; 75:2432-2438.
5. Simopoulus AP. The importance of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Exp Biol Med. 2008; 233:674-688.
6. Sierra S, et al. Dietary fish oil n-3 fatty acids increase regulatory cytokine production and exert anti-inflammatory effects in two murine models of inflammation. Lipids. 2006;
7. USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods.Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); 2010.