The Big Problem Is Inflammation
Okay health seeker, welcome to another healthy podcast episode. This time I want to talk to you about some simple, simple dietary exchanges you can make to control one of the most important aspects of your physiology, and that’s the amount of inflammation that you have going on in your cells. This is a very poorly understood area, although it’s beginning to become spoken about more and more widely, more and more often, even in the newspapers. We’re starting to recognise now that inflammation is the root cause of just about every chronic illness on the planet. Everything from cancer, to heart disease, to stroke, to diabetes, you name it. It’s there as the undercurrent if you like. It’s the mechanism behind the disease.
It’s something to be taken seriously, and actually, when you study a typical western diet and you study a typical western lifestyle, there are so many things that we do, that the average person does, that is promoting low-grade systemic inflammation day in and day out. The sad thing is that most people don’t even realise this. It’s super common in the practice at SpineCentral that I’ll see people come in with all manner of pains, whether it might be a migraine, it might be a headache, neck pain, back pain. It might be recurrent injuries that don’t heal or a chronic injury that doesn’t want to heal. It can be period pains, gut dysfunctions, thyroid problems, all sorts of hormonal imbalances. Underpinning many of these illnesses, in fact, all of those, is inflammation. This is something that I pick up time and time again, and it’s something that we must all learn to understand and to control. Trust me; it’s really not that difficult.
When I start talking to people about this issue of lifestyle change, the first thing that comes up is, “Isn’t it difficult?” I look at this from a different angle. First of all, it’s not difficult; it’s just different. It’s different. We need to start living our life a different way. Once you understand this notion that it doesn’t have to be hard, I just have to do things differently, all of a sudden it becomes a doable task. I want to share with you today just three very simple exchanges that you can make in your diet, in your lifestyle, that are going to have a huge impact downstream on your likelihood of developing systemic inflammation and chronic illness.
Again, I say this not lightly. There’s a very good chance that you have some undercurrents of inflammation in your body. If you’re living a western lifestyle and eating the western diet, you’re probably fueling the flames of inflammation every day. Sometimes that shows up as digestive disturbance, sometimes it shows up as achy, painful joints, poor sleep, it can even show up as depression and anxiety. These symptoms that we tend to start thinking of as just being normal, everyday type symptoms can actually be classic giveaway signs that your body is inflamed.
The first one is switching out your grains, and instead of having grains we have things called pseudo grains. Now, we’ve all grown up loving grains. You’ve got your wheat, you’ve got your oats, you’ve got your spelt, you’ve got your cereals, your breads. These are all grain-based foods. There’s a big problem with grains, and that’s that they contain gluten. Gluten is a form of lectin, and the trouble with gluten is it can actually promote what’s known as a leaky gut.
Your gut is basically a long tube from your mouth right through to your anus, and it can become permeable, a bit like a Swiss cheese, with holes in it. These certain lectins within grains can promote the production of a chemical knows as zonulin, which can actually increase the size of the gaps between the cells of your gut, creating holes. Now all of a sudden the foods that you eat can cross through what’s known as the gut barrier, into the bloodstream where it starts an immune response. Your body forms antibodies against these foreign bodies that shouldn’t be there, and that drives inflammation.
Here’s the interesting thing: you don’t necessarily have to be diagnosed as being celiac for gluten to bother you. You can be gluten-sensitive, and you can have a leaky gut without ever realising that you have digestive problems. Sometimes a few hours after eating, you might not just feel good. You might feel tired, you might develop a headache, you might get brain fog. These are all classic signs that you have inflammation being driven from the foods that you eat. When you look at the underpinning to all of this, it’s usually a leaky gut. The trouble is that gluten drives that leaky gut.
One of the classic opposition arguments to gluten is that “Look, my parents never had any problems with gluten, I never had any problems with gluten growing up. We ate it for hundreds of years, now why all of a sudden is this a problem?” We need to understand two things: first of all, gluten is not the same beast that it used to be. It’s an interesting thing to understand the way that gluten has changed over the years as a result of genetic modification in some cases, but also hybridization and selective breeding of wheat to create sort of super-wheat species.
This began back in the ’70s, a guy called Norman Borlaug. He actually genetically changed wheat. It’s not genetically modified, but he hybridised grains over a period of many years, bashed them with gamma rays, radioactive activity, and eventually was able to create a new form of wheat called dwarf wheat. It’s so-called because it’s actually pretty short, between one- to two-foot tall, whereas the more classic and more ancient wheat grains, they grow to a four- to six-foot range. Anyway, the dwarf wheat was a magical thing because it’s easier to harvest, it’s easier to grow, it’s hardier to drought, basically a sturdier grain that is able to feed more people. The trouble is that through this hybridization process, the gluten changed. It changed in its fundamental makeup, and this is one of the reasons why people are now reacting more and more to gluten.
On top of this, they also spray our grains with pesticides. There’s a very common one used throughout the world called Roundup. It’s made by the Monsanto company, the evil company that you might hear about in the news once in a while. The chemical actually in Roundup is called glyphosate. Glyphosate has actually been studied and it’s been proven to get in the body and do a number of perilous things, really, to our systems. The company, Monsanto, actually claim that Roundup is safe, but we know categorically that it’s not. It’s been studied far and wide these days, and it’s been proven to have two key problems with it.
First of all, it creates nutritional deficiencies in your body. You end up deficient in key nutrients that are required for optimal health. It also causes toxicity, first up because it’s a chemical. It challenges your detoxification pathways. Secondly, it seems to disturb gut bacteria. Your gut bacteria have an amazingly important job when it comes to detoxifying chemicals from your environment. They can no longer do this because the good bacteria have been hampered by this chemical, by the glyphosate, and that also then creates a further problem where bad bacteria can now proliferate because there’s not enough of the good bacteria in the system anymore. These bad bacteria produce further toxins that your body now has to deal with. Gradually over time then, you get systemically toxic.
They’ve actually shown that the majority of people in the western world actually have glyphosate within their blood cells. You can actually track, you can take tests for this. Around about 60% of bread in the UK can be found to have traces of the glyphosate chemical in it. It’s a problem, and it’s everywhere. The trouble is that they say it’s safe, but the science is starting to show otherwise.
Now, we could talk probably all day about the challenges with grains. They also have other chemicals, or other compounds in them called phytates. The phytates actually bind onto the minerals and the nutrients in your food and actually stop you absorbing them. Phytic acid also helps to create permeability of the gut membranes and lead to leaky gut. There’s a number of problems with grains, and it’s pretty miraculous what happens to human bodies when you start to remove the grains from the system.
A really simple dietary exchange that you can make to start cutting out the ravages of grain from your diet is to consume pseudo grains instead. Things like quinoa and buckwheat, which are actually seeds, have a very similar consistency and taste, they’re easy to prepare like most grains, but they don’t have the same negative effects on the human body. Amaranth is another one of those, and another fantastic option is rice. You can get organic wild rice; you can get organic brown rice or even white rice. The brown and the wild rice are probably preferable for most people because they don’t create such a sugar load for you to handle once you’ve eaten them.
Remember, grains will break down into sugar more or less instantly once you start to chew on them. If you ever want to test that out, chew a piece of bread for around about 20 seconds and don’t swallow it, just keep chewing it in your mouth, and you’ll notice that you can start to taste the sugar. It’s been shown, actually, that two slices of whole wheat bread create the same sugar burden in your body as a can of Coke. We know that these things create a huge burden, and we’ll talk more about sugar in a moment because that’s one of the other exchanges, but this drives inflammation through the sugar pathways too.
If you are struggling with your health, if you’re struggling with weight loss and pain, you might want to choose the brown rice over the white rice because white rice will more quickly break down into sugar, yet rice doesn’t have the same problems with gluten and the other lectins that will harm the gut. For most people, that’s a good exchange.
Here’s one of my favourites: cauliflower rice. If you haven’t tried cauliflower rice, well, you heard it here first, you haven’t lived yet. Cauliflower rice is the most incredible thing that you can make in the kitchen in my opinion, because it tastes just like normal rice. The same consistency, the same size, the same shape. Very satisfying to eat, yet there’s zero grain. Absolutely zero grain, zero sugar load on it. Nothing but good quality nutrients, and it’s super delicious and very, very easy to make. All you’ve got to do is just finely dice up some cauliflower and just saute it in a pan with some healthy oil, and you will get cauliflower rice out the other end in just a short few minutes.
There are plenty of great exchanges. You’re looking at the pseudo grains, the quinoa, the amaranth, the buckwheat, or you can look at rice, or you can create cauliflower rice from the vegetable cauliflower. It’s super easy to start making this transition away from grains, and it’s probably one of the main things you can do to start shifting your health in the right direction. Grains drive inflammation, they drive leaky gut, they’re at the root cause of a heck of a lot of autoimmune and gut and chronic conditions that human beings suffer with in the modern world. That’s a fantastically easy exchange that you can make.
The second one here, the second one is to cut out the quick sugars. No longer are we going to have quick sugars. Rather, we’re going to exchange that for something as simple as Stevia. Stevia is very easy to buy online, very easy to find in the health shops as well, but it’s not just any old Stevia. You’ve got to get a high-quality Stevia, and it comes in two forms. One, you can either get the dried, shredded Stevia leaves – it’s actually a plant – or you can get it produced into a droplet form. Truvia, that you get in the supermarket, that’s not the same stuff. That is not okay. There’s a lot of other chemicals within Truvia that are not great for the general health of your body, so we’re looking at a high-quality Stevia. I’ll pop a link at the bottom of this podcast for some areas that you can look at purchasing good quality Stevia. It’s super-duper easy to add into your diet. It’s actually very sweet. It’s like 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so you don’t need very much of it.
It is an acquired taste. It’s not quite the same kind of taste or aftertaste that sugar gives you, but you can learn to like it. One of the classic mistakes that I see people make time and time again is they add in artificial sweeteners, things like Sweetex or NutraSweet. The fundamental chemical in most of these is called aspartame. Aspartame, it’s a dangerous chemical. It’s an excitotoxin, so it gets into your brain and it actually stimulates your brain cells and it overexcites them. This can actually make you addicted.
If you’ve ever spoken to someone about why they like Diet Coke, they’ll just tell you, “I like Diet Coke because I prefer the flavour.” I always like to ask them, “How was your first taste of Diet Coke? Did you enjoy that?” Most of the time, people say no. I’m sure you can remember the first time you tried Diet Coke. It’s a chemical taste. It’s kind of an empty, chemical, yucky kind of sweetness, yet they claim now to prefer the taste. Why is that? It’s because the aspartame is an excitotoxin and you get addicted to it. Actually you can become hooked on Diet Coke. It’s not uncommon for me to speak to a new patient and as I probe into their lifestyle choices, find that they drink two or three litres of Diet Coke a day. No matter what they do, they cannot get off this stuff.
It’s more addictive than sugar, and sugar is also known to be as addictive as cocaine. It affects the same dopamine receptors in your brain as cocaine. We’re looking at something that’s particularly devastating to your health here. Some of the more challenging patients I’ve seen over the years have had high levels of these artificial sweeteners in their diet. You really want to watch out for this. Not good, for a number of reasons. We’ve just barely scratched the surface here.
If you’re taking it for weight loss, which is the curious reason why a lot of people start drinking these diet drinks, listen, it still triggers your hormonal system. It still causes a release of insulin. It still affects things like the leptin hormones in your body, and it affects your ability to lose weight. Actually it can cause the creation of fat in your body rather than helping you aid the loss of fat. Really, it’s a triple, double-edged, quadruple-edged sword that you really don’t want to be consuming these artificial sweeteners.
Once again, Stevia, it’s actually a plant. It’s a natural thing. The research is still a little bit inconclusive as to how badly it affects your hormones. It probably does a little bit, but it’s a far superior, far more preferable addition to your diet than either table sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Let’s cover a little bit more about the sugar. Basically, you’re trying to cut out all refined sugars. That’s anything basically that has -ose on the end. If you see that on the label, you probably don’t want to put it in your body. These are things like glucose, fructose, sucrose, dextrose. They’re everywhere. You’ll see all different forms of sugar within your food. The same goes for cane juice, for raw coconut sugars, for agave nectar. Probably the worst offender of them all is high-fructose corn syrup. Thankfully, in the UK, you won’t see this in too many products, but I have seen it in some processed foods. High-fructose corn syrup is just devastating, from a physiological perspective.
Really, just any sugar that you add in is going to cause you problems. If you want to age quickly, eat sugar. It’s known to rapidly increase your rate of ageing. It basically rusts your cells from the inside out. It makes these compounds that are very appropriately named, very aptly named, and they’re called AGEs: advanced glycated end-products. Essentially what those do is they rust your cells from the inside out. They cause a tremendous amount of internal cellular damage, and these sugars promote inflammation and basically just fan the flames of inflammation and drastically increase your risks of chronic illness. Exchanging out sugars instead for Stevia, a natural sweetener, is a very, very smart move.
Here’s what I’ve found. These days I don’t really crave sugar, ever. I just don’t put sugar on anything, I don’t feel the need to eat sugar, but it wasn’t always that way. If you’re hooked on sugar, which I used to be in my teenage years and early 20s, it’s not easy to get off. It’s just not easy, so an exchange like this can be very useful.
Really, what we’re talking about here is the added sugars. It’s okay to eat some fruits, just don’t go overboard on them. The berries are generally better, things like raspberries or blueberries or blackberries. They have a very low glycemic load. You get a little bit of sweetness. Probably the worst offenders when it comes to sugar rush are dried fruits, and grapes, melons, and bananas. Eat those things in moderation. You can eat as many berries as you want. Just try not to add any sugar to your food or any sweeteners other than Stevia, and certainly read your labels, make sure you’re not getting any hidden sources of sugar.
This second exchange, super easy to make, has a huge impact on your chances of developing chronic illness, and also how you function day by day. Inflammation, like I said at the start of this little talk here, is the main driver of all the health problems that we see in practice. Well worth your time getting on top of this now, and you’ll probably live longer as well, since we know sugar and inflammation speed up the rate of ageing.
Last exchange of all, this one is a big topic. Essentially we’re going to create an oil change in the body. We’re going to switch out bad oils for good oils. You’re not missing out on anything, you’re just making a sensible change. You’re just doing things differently.
The bad oils are … Let’s start with the worst offender of them all, trans fats. Anything that’s deep-fried, any processed food – read your labels – will probably have trans fats in it. Trans fats are terrible molecules to put in the body. They wreak havoc with your cells, they’re known to cause cancer, and they cause inflammation and all sorts of other problems.
Margarine is also a form of trans fat. It’s not actually a food at all. Margarine is not a food. You can put margarine outside in the summer, in the park, next to a slab of butter, and if you come back an hour later you’ll find bugs all over the butter and you’ll find the margarine is completely untouched. It’s because margarine is essentially plastic. It has no business in the human body. You just actually find it very difficult to get this out of your system.
I’ve read statistics and I’ve read reports that it’s actually one molecule away from being paint. It’s similar to paint in its molecular makeup. It’s not a food, and it has a very high half-life, just like trans fats. It takes 50 days, around about the half-life of a trans fat. After 50 days of eating crisps or other deep-fried foods, you’ve got half of it still left in your body 50 days later. Margarine is around about the same. These things are not great, and they’re very difficult to get out of your body once they’re in.
Here are the other bad oils: you’ve got your vegetable oils, essentially. These are the ones that you want to try and cut out. Sunflower, safflower oil, vegetable oils, corn oils, canola oil, soybean oil, these are the classic what are called omega-6 vegetable fats. The trouble with these is they promote inflammation in your body. We have far too many of these omega-6 fats from all angles, even from the foods that we eat, like proteins. Chicken and lamb and beef often have a lot of these omega-6 fats in it. We get bombarded with it from across the board, and it promotes inflammation. We want to try and minimise these by making a simple switch-out to the healthier fats.
We’re looking at things like grass-fed organic butter. Usually, when I say this, people start to worry that, “Isn’t that a saturated fat? Doesn’t that change my cholesterol? Doesn’t that leave me vulnerable to heart disease?” Look, this is a big topic. I don’t want to go into too much detail here because it is something that requires a deep explanation to really understand well, but I will say this: cholesterol itself doesn’t cause heart disease. It’s the particle that comes off the back of it that has been known to be linked to it. It’s actually been studied that more people die from heart attacks or cardiac problems with normal or low cholesterol than die with high cholesterol. It’s not the cause of heart disease, it’s not the cause of why people get heart disease. It’s more complicated than that.
Cholesterol is probably one of the healthiest fats in your body. Your brain runs off of it. Cholesterol is the backbone to all the steroid hormones that help your body adjust to stress and handle stress and adapt to a changing environment. They’re very, very healthy fats, the cholesterols and the saturated fats. We need them to run our internal physiology, our hormonal health, but also to run our metabolism. We’re more designed to be fat-burning creatures than we are to be sugar- or grain-burning creatures. The moment we make this switch to start getting more healthy fats in the body, you actually improve your metabolism, you improve your hormonal profile, and a lot of things start getting better in your health. This is a big topic. I don’t want to go too far down the cholesterol rabbit hole, but just know there’s much more to this topic in health than meets the eye. There’s much more than what the conventional wisdom that hits the public says.
There’s an interesting thing that I like to call the 180-degree truth concept, and that’s that whatever is actually in the mainstream media, you could flip that around 180 degrees and you’re probably going to land on your feet. In general, if it’s heath advice that’s being promoted in newspapers, chances are it’s probably not all that. It’s probably not all accurate. The issues around cholesterol and fats definitely fall into this 180-degree truth concept here. Worth looking into more. It’s a topic for another day, cholesterol.
Butter is a fantastically healthy fat to add in, just make sure it’s grass-fed or organic. You can get really good brands in the supermarket. There’s two there, there’s Yeo Valley organic non-salted, and there’s also Kerrygold organic non-salted butter. These come from grass-fed cows, they’re very healthy, very, very good ones. You can also get others online. They’re the only two that I would typically recommend from supermarkets, though.
Coconut oil is another fantastically useful oil to add in instead of those vegetable oils. Most people really like the taste. If you don’t like the taste, you can actually get odorless coconut oils. There’s a company called Biona that make that. You’ve got other options as well, I’ll explain in a moment. Coconut oil, it’s a medium-chain triglyceride fat. Your body digests that very quickly and turns it to fuel before it’s ever even … It doesn’t have to go through the entire digestive system to do that. It gets converted in the liver, and it creates ketone bodies which are actually the preferred fuel for your brain. It makes your brain much more concentrated. It’s got a lot of healthy and useful products and molecules within coconut oil that help to cleanse the gut. It’s just a fantastically useful thing.
It doesn’t smoke when you cook with it, either, so it’s a healthy, useful fat to fry with or to cook at high temperatures. It stays stable, it doesn’t denature. It’s got a very high smoke point, whereas the other healthier fats don’t. Avocado oil or olive oil, these don’t really have very high smoke points. Avocado oil is higher than olive oil, but in general you don’t really want to be frying or cooking with these things. They are also good alternatives if you don’t like coconut oil. Just keep them to low-temperature cooking.
There’s another oil you can get called MCT oil, medium-chain triglyceride. It’s not an easy one to say. Medium-chain triglyceride oils. You can get that online. It’s essentially the same as coconut oil, it’s just the extracted MCT. This is very good to add into things like coffee, a teaspoon in a glass of coffee. You can add it to salads, you can cook with it. It’s stable, again, at high temperatures.
These are all healthy fats. Don’t forget your fish oils as well. A high-quality fish oil supplement is an omega-3 fat. This is something that really helps to fuel healthy metabolism and keep your inflammation down.
Also, one of the worst sources or biggest sources of unhealthy fat actually comes from meat. If you’re going to be eating things like beef, you want to make sure that you’re getting grass-fed organic. It’s very easy to get that online, but supermarket beef is typically not grass-fed. That means they feed them grains, and these grains actually get inside the meat of the cow and it changes the fat profile of the meat. You can get an awful lot of omega-6 fats, these unhealthy inflammation-creating fats, from supermarket meat if you’re not careful. You want to go and get that from high-quality butchers that are organic and grass-fed, or wild game. These kind of meats are generally the best.
In supermarkets, lamb is actually pretty good, organic lamb. They’re pretty fussy eaters, they’ll only eat grass, so lamb is a good bet from the supermarkets.
Fish is another interesting one. Fish often is farmed, and the farmed fishes, again, they don’t feel them their natural diet. They’re actually fed grains, amongst other things. They’re fed remains of other dead fish, they put all sorts of other things in the feed to change the colour of the fish and it can quickly become a far from optimally healthy food. In Waitrose you can actually get line-caught Atlantic salmon, and that’s actually a pretty good one that has good, healthy fats in it. In general, you want to avoid farmed salmons and other farmed fish because the fat profiles in those is not going to be natural and it’s not going to be health-promoting. It will likely to the opposite way and drive inflammation into your body.
There you have it. Three very simple exchanges. Actually, there’s no hard work required there. Instead of having grains, you’re going to have pseudo grains or rice, or cauliflower rice. Sugar you switch out for Stevia. You can actually have occasionally some raw organic honey or some maple syrup, but you don’t want to be having that every day. You don’t want to be having copious amounts of it because it will spike your blood sugar, but at least those are more natural forms of sugar. Then when it comes to the fats, you’re going to change out the bad oils for the good oils. You’ll cut out all vegetable oils or margarine or trans fats, and switch in healthy fats like coconut oil, grass-fed organic butter, MCT oils, avocado oils, olive oil and fish oil. These are simple things.
I’ll throw one more in the mix here, one that I’ve learned about recently, actually. Dairy is a problem for a lot of people. Milk is not necessarily the health food that it’s promoted to be. A lot of people are sensitive to lactose and the casein proteins in milk. If you get bloated and you get irritable and grumpy after eating, it’s a chance then that it’s probably dairy or grains that are to blame for that. Often, people need to look at cutting milk out. That’s not easy. It tastes delicious in a cup of tea or a cup of coffee, it’s useful for cooking, etc., etc. We need a simple, easy exchange. It’s taken me years to find one, but I’ve recently discovered cashew milk.
Cashew milk is just delicious. It’s creamy, it’s the same consistency as milk, it tastes very, very similar. All it is is just ground up cashews, a little bit of sea salt, and water. Fantastically healthy. You’re not going overboard on anything there, and it’s not going to create the same kind of problems as conventional mass-produced milk does. Another simple little exchange for those who are looking to reduce dairy intake, cashew milk. Super easy to get from health food shops, and even Waitrose sell it these days.
There you have it. Simple exchanges. Please don’t think that this search for health, the search to future-proof and bulletproof your body, trying to stack the health cards in your favour and make sure that you stay fit and healthy for as long as possible, please don’t ever think that that has to be difficult. It really doesn’t. In my experience, it’s not that there’s a lack of willpower in people, it’s that there’s a lack of creativity, a lack of ideas, and a lack of the right kind of mindset that says, “It’s not difficult, it’s different. All I need is some more suggestions, trial some other things out, until eventually those easy changes actually become habitual and just become part of the new lifestyle that I lead in this way.”
Remember, all of your choices actually add up. Everything you put in your mouth adds up to eventually create your overall physiology. It actually replaces your cells over time. Your entire body has its cells replaced every round about year and a half. You get a brand new body every year and a half. The question is, what is making those cells? You put the highest quality ingredients in, you get the highest quality cells out the other end. This is not a small issue. Very important to start to look at lifestyle changes as being simple, just different from what we normally do, but very, very doable. Very doable for anyone who has a desire to make the most out of their health.
I hope that helps. I’ll put some links below the podcast so that you can find out where to get some of these useful oils and sugar replacements, and grain replacements.
Thanks for listening. I’ll see you on the next one.
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