Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Beginners: 4 Changes for a Healthy Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Super Human" by Dave Asprey. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What should you eat (or not eat) if you’re fighting inflammation? What’s a good substitute for trans fats? Is intermittent fasting a good idea?

The food you eat directly impacts the amount of inflammation in your body. Inflammation damages cells and overloads your mitochondria, resulting in fewer antioxidants and more free radicals in your body. Ultimately, this leads to disease and makes you age faster.

Keep reading to discover a practical anti-inflammatory diet for beginners.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

In Super Human, Dave Asprey explains how inefficient mitochondria initiate a cycle that accelerates biological aging. One cause of mitochondrial inefficiency is consuming inflammatory foods. According to Asprey, foods that cause inflammation include wheat, grains, gluten, sugar, charred meat, fried foods, and crops sprayed with herbicides that contain glyphosate.

Keep in mind that, with Asprey’s anti-inflammatory diet for beginners, you don’t have to make these changes all at once. Consider this a long-term strategy that constitutes true lifestyle change.

(Shortform note: The foods Asprey mentions cause inflammation because they contain unnatural substances that your body classifies as threats to your immune system. To protect itself, your body produces and sends out inflammatory cells to trap and neutralize these threats. The more unnatural substances you consume, the more inflammatory cells your body releases in response. These inflammatory cells build up and eventually start attacking healthy cells, tissues, and organs—resulting in chronic inflammation. In other words, your body’s attempt to protect your immune system from unnatural substances actually weakens it.)

Asprey suggests that, in addition to eliminating inflammatory foods, you can reduce inflammation in your body by implementing four dietary changes: Consume antioxidant-rich foods, replace trans fats with omega-3 fats, balance your protein intake, and metabolize glucose and ketones. Let’s explore each of these dietary changes in detail.

Dietary Change #1: Consume Antioxidant-Rich Foods

The first dietary change for reducing inflammation is to consume antioxidant-rich foods. This will support your mitochondria in reducing the number of free radicals and damaged cells in your body. According to Asprey, good sources of antioxidants include coffee, tea, berries, herbs, spices, and dark chocolate. Additionally, he suggests that you can eliminate excess free radicals from your body by taking antioxidant supplements such as pyrroloquinoline quinone or the Chinese herb he shou wu.

Possible Side Effects of Consuming Antioxidant-Rich Foods or Supplements

While research suggests that the foods and supplements Asprey recommends can help reduce the number of free radicals in your body, it also reveals possible side effects to consider before adding them to your diet:

Coffee can impede your body’s ability to absorb minerals such as calcium, worsen high blood pressure or irritable bowel conditions, increase the risk of miscarriage, and cause fetal anomalies.
Tea can impede your body’s ability to absorb iron; trigger feelings of anxiety and stress; cause nausea, headaches, or heartburn; disrupt your sleep cycle; and increase the risk of complications during pregnancy.
—Some berries such as blueberries can lower your blood sugar to dangerous levels, which puts diabetes sufferers or those due to have surgery at risk.
Herbs and spices can cause allergic reactions, react with certain medications, and cause blood thinning.
Dark chocolate can raise blood sugar levels, trigger migraines, increase feelings of anxiety, lead to acid reflux or irritable bowel syndrome, cause fetal anomalies, and react with certain medications.
Pyrroloquinoline quinone hasn’t been rigorously tested. However, toxicology studies indicate that high doses might cause kidney damage.
He shou wu can cause diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting, and it has also been linked to liver disease.

Dietary Change #2: Replace Trans Fats With Omega-3 Fats

The second dietary change for reducing inflammation is to replace trans fats with omega-3 fats. Asprey explains that fats are essential for cellular health because they help form the protective lining of your cells. However, trans fats don’t provide the necessary nutrients to form healthy cell linings. As such, when your body attempts to process these fats, it forms defective cell linings that exacerbate inflammation in your body.

(Shortform note: Research reveals that trans fats provide no nutritional value (so it’s safe to exclude them from your diet), and clarifies exactly how these fats disrupt cellular health. To function correctly, cell linings need to be permeable enough to absorb or excrete the substances they need to maintain electrolyte balance. They also need to be flexible enough to adapt to different conditions—for example, by changing their shape or the way that they interact with other cells. However, trans fats change the composition of cell linings, making them too rigid and stiff to fulfill these basic functions.)

According to Asprey, omega-3 fats (found in foods such as olive oil, walnuts, and cold-water fish) are anti-inflammatory and provide the necessary nutrients to form healthy cell linings—which promotes cellular health and mitochondrial function.

(Shortform note: While ongoing research suggests that omega-3 fats contribute to healthy cell linings, it also reveals that excessive consumption can impair the immune system, weakening its ability to fight viral or bacterial infections. While there isn’t enough data to confirm a recommended daily allowance of this fatty acid, the National Institutes of Health suggests that women can safely consume 1.1 grams while men can consume 1.6 grams.)

Dietary Change #3: Balance Your Protein Intake

The third dietary change for reducing inflammation is to balance your protein intake. Asprey explains that protein is essential for cellular health because it helps repair tissues and maintain muscle mass. However, when your body metabolizes protein, it creates more cellular waste than it does when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates. Therefore, consuming excess protein creates a surplus of cellular waste that clogs up your cells, overloads your mitochondria, and causes further cellular damage.

(Shortform note: It’s common knowledge that protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, muscles, and organs. However, you may be surprised by Asprey’s explanation that it creates waste. In fact, metabolizing it creates three different waste products that your body must excrete: urea, ammonia, and creatinine. When you eat the right amount of protein, your kidneys can easily process and eliminate these waste products through your urine. However, consuming excess protein can overload your kidneys—which then makes them less effective at excreting these waste products.)

Asprey recommends eating 0.5 grams of protein a day for every pound you weigh (reduce this figure down to 0.35 grams if you’re overweight). According to him, good sources of protein include wild fish, hemp, and products derived from grass-fed animals. 

(Shortform note: There’s no consensus on how much protein we should consume. Some dieticians suggest that men should consume 56 grams a day while women should consume 46 grams. Others suggest that everyone should consume 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight—but that those trying to build muscle mass should consume more. Meanwhile, a third group argues that you should pay more attention to the type of protein in your diet rather than the amount—for example, by reducing your consumption of red meat and increasing your consumption of salmon, yogurt, or beans and pulses.)

He also suggests that you supplement your daily protein intake with 20 grams of collagen powder to help maintain the connective tissue that supports your skin, teeth, bones, cartilage, and organs.

(Shortform note: Research suggests that taking collagen supplements may increase skin elasticity and hydration, relieve joint pain, prevent bone loss, boost muscle mass, and promote heart health. However, you’ll need to be patient: Researchers claim that it can take between eight weeks and 12 months of daily intake to experience noticeable results.)

Dietary Change #4: Metabolize Glucose and Ketones

The fourth dietary change for reducing inflammation is to metabolize glucose and ketones. Asprey explains that the energy mitochondria extract from your body’s metabolic processes takes one of two forms—glucose or ketones—depending on how much sugar there is in your bloodstream for your body to metabolize. 

  • When there’s sugar in your bloodstream, your body metabolizes it to produce glucose. 
  • When there isn’t any sugar in your bloodstream, your body metabolizes your stores of fat to produce ketones. 

According to Asprey, mitochondria work more efficiently when they’re able to switch between extracting glucose and ketones to power your cells. Alternating between the two energy sources promotes the growth of new mitochondria while also providing existing mitochondria with the necessary raw materials to maintain cellular function. 

Glucose Levels Impact Cellular Health

Research expands on why mitochondria work more efficiently when they have access to both glucose and ketones. While glucose is the primary source of energy for all cells, particularly those in the brain, there are a couple of downsides to relying on it as a sole source of energy. First, having too much glucose in the bloodstream can cause hyperglycemia, which damages nerves, blood vessels, and organs. Second, it provides less cellular energy than ketones: Metabolizing 100 grams of glucose generates 8.7 kilograms of energy-carrying molecules. Metabolizing 100 grams of ketones generates between 9.4 and 10.5 kilograms of energy-carrying molecules.

While it’s clear that ketones provide more cellular energy than glucose, relying on it as a sole source of energy would result in no glucose in the bloodstream—which would affect the central nervous system and cause cellular dysfunction or death. Therefore, as Asprey says, you’re more likely to keep your blood sugar levels stable and maintain cellular health when your body metabolizes both glucose and ketones.

Two Approaches for Producing Glucose and Ketones

Asprey recommends two dietary approaches that will adjust your blood sugar levels to produce both glucose and ketones: Restrict what you eat and restrict when you eat.

Restrict what you eat by following a ketogenic diet for five or six days a week. This involves avoiding carbohydrates (which release sugar into your bloodstream, thereby producing glucose) and eating foods high in fat (which won’t release sugar into your bloodstream, enabling your body to metabolize your stores of fat to produce ketones). Then, for one or two days a week, add 150 grams of low-sugar carbohydrates, which will release sugar into your bloodstream and help your body produce glucose. 

(Shortform note: While this approach helps the body metabolize both glucose and ketones, nutritionists warn that you might find this way of eating more difficult than if you follow a ketogenic diet every day. They explain that, over time, following a ketogenic diet naturally suppresses your cravings for carbohydrates. However, reintroducing carbohydrates back into your body every week prevents you from fully adapting to living without them. This stimulates intense cravings that may tempt you to prolong your “days off,” and to give up on abstaining from carbohydrates for the rest of the week.) 

Restrict when you eat by practicing intermittent fasting. This involves limiting your food intake to one six-to-eight-hour period each day, during which time the food you consume will raise your blood sugar levels and help your body produce glucose. Toward the end of every 16-to-18-hour fasting period, your blood sugar will be low enough to produce ketones.

(Shortform note: While Johns Hopkins Medicine supports the finding that intermittent fasting can help control blood sugar levels, they advise that the following people shouldn’t attempt it: anyone under the age of 18, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those who suffer from metabolic or eating disorders. If you do intend to practice intermittent fasting, they recommend that you stay hydrated—by drinking water or other zero-calorie drinks (such as black tea or coffee) during your fasting periods.)

Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Beginners: 4 Changes for a Healthy Life

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  • How to grow older without the negative side effects
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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