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Decreasing Inflammation and Oxidation After Meals

Within hours of eating an unhealthy meal, we can get a spike in inflammation, crippling our artery function, thickening our blood, and causing a fight-or-flight nerve response. Thankfully, there are foods we can eat at every meal to counter this reaction.

Standard American meals rich in processed junk and meat and dairy lead to exaggerated spikes in sugar and fat in the blood, as you can see at 0:13 in my video How to Prevent Blood Sugar and Triglyceride Spikes after Meals. This generates free radicals, and the oxidative stress triggers a biochemical cascade throughout our circulation, damaging proteins in our body, inducing inflammation, crippling our artery function, thickening our blood, and causing a fight-or-flight nerve response. This all happens within just one to four hours after eating a meal. Worried about inflammation within your body? One lousy breakfast could double your C-reactive protein levels before it’s even lunchtime.

Repeat that three times a day, and you can set yourself up for heart disease. You may not even be aware of how bad off you are because your doctor is measuring your blood sugar and fat levels while you’re in a fasting state, typically drawing your blood before you’ve eaten. What happens after a meal may be a stronger predictor of heart attacks and strokes, which makes sense, since this is where most of us live our lives—that is, in a fed state. And it’s not just in diabetics. As you can see at 1:30 in my video, if you follow non diabetic women with heart disease but normal fasting blood sugar, how high their blood sugar spikes after chugging some sugar water appears to determine how fast their arteries continue to clog up, perhaps because the higher the blood sugars spike, the more free radicals are produced.

So, what are some dietary strategies to improve the situation? Thankfully, “improvements in diet exert profound and immediate favorable changes…,” but what kind of improvements? “Specifically, a diet high in minimally processed, high-fiber, plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts,”—antioxidant, anti-inflammatory whole plant foods—“will markedly blunt the post-meal increase” in sugar, fat, and inflammation.

But what if you really wanted to eat some Wonder Bread? As you can see at 2:23 in my video, you’d get a big spike in blood sugar less than an hour after eating it. Would it make a difference if you spread the bread with almond butter? Adding about a third of a cup of almonds to the same amount of Wonder Bread significantly blunts the blood sugar spike.

In that case, would any low-carb food help? Why add almond butter when you can make a bologna sandwich? Well, first of all, plant-based foods have the antioxidants to wipe out any excess free radicals. So, nuts can not only blunt blood sugar spikes, but oxidative damage as well. What’s more, they can even blunt insulin spikes. Indeed, adding nuts to a meal calms both blood sugar levels and insulin levels, as you can see at 3:02 in my video. Now, you’re probably thinking, Well, duh, less sugar means less insulin, but that’s not what happens with low-carb animal foods.

As you can see at 3:23 in my video, if you add steamed skinless chicken breast to your white rice, you get a greater insulin spike than if you had just eaten the white rice alone. So, adding the low-carb plant food made things better, but adding the low-carb animal food made things worse. It’s the same with adding chicken breast to mashed potatoes—a higher insulin spike with the added animal protein. It is also the same with animal fat: Add some butter to a meal, and get a dramatically higher insulin spike from some sugar, as you can see at 3:45 in my video.

If you add butter and cheese to white bread, white potatoes, white spaghetti, or white rice, you can sometimes even double the insulin reaction. If you add half an avocado to a meal, however, instead of worsening, the insulin response improves, as it does with the main whole plant food source of fat: nuts.

I’ve covered the effect adding berries to a meal has on blood sugar responses in If Fructose Is Bad, What About Fruit?, and that raises the question: How Much Fruit Is Too Much?

In addition to the all-fruit jam question, I cover The Effects of Avocados and Red Wine on Postprandial Inflammation.

Vinegar may also help. See Can Vinegar Help with Blood Sugar Control?.

Perhaps this explains part of the longevity benefit to nut consumption, which I discuss in Nuts May Help Prevent Death.

I also talk about that immediate inflammatory reaction to unhealthy food choices in Best Foods to Improve Sexual Function.

Surprised by the chicken and butter reaction? The same thing happens with tuna fish and other meat, as I cover in my video Paleo Diets May Negate Benefits of Exercise.

Also check:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:



Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

21 responses to “Decreasing Inflammation and Oxidation After Meals

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  1. The easiest thing I ever did to upgrade our nutrition was to get rid of my microwave oven. No regrets. Heating food in a toaster oven or in a pot on the stove is very easy to do. Even someone as dumb as me can do it.

    1. The easiest thing I ever did to upgrade our nutrition is eating the food our biochemical factory is made for : PLANTBASED FOOD .

      Here is the evidence :

      So simple and logic .

      All plant eaters have seminal vesicles, we humans have them to, men have them.

      Start eating the right fuel were your body is made for and your body will heal itself .

      Let the food be the medicine and the medicine be the food and keep it simple..

    2. SaraC,

      I love my microwave! It’s wonderful for re-heating left-overs — and I love left-overs, because it means less cooking. The microwave is also great for cooking winter squash; spaghetti squash comes out wonderfully.

      But I’m delighted that I bought an electric tea kettle with temperature control, so now I don’t heat my tea and coffee water in the microwave.

      And my favorite kitchen appliance, hands down, is my electric pressure cooker (I have an Instant Pot). I use it to cook all kinds of foods, from beans (usually from dried beans), soups, stews, chilis, veggies, whole grains, and more. It’s fairly quick, but more important, it is energy efficient and keeps my kitchen cooler, which is really important during hot summer months, since I don’t have AC. (We cool the house by opening windows and night, and closing them and closing the blinds down during the day; we also use fans.)

      1. Just another reason why I don’t own a microwave oven: I never have leftovers. I know how to gauge the correct amounts, I guess.

        And after my husband died, people use to say “Why do you bother cooking anymore?” Wha-a-a-a-t? Because I love to cook and can keep track of the healthy foods day after day. The stove burners and the electric oven are fine enough for me.

      2. Dr. J.,

        I love my microwave, too.

        I get home late from work and it speeds things up so fast that it is much easier for me than other things and doesn’t heat up the house or add to my electric bill.

        Win Win Win

  2. Dr. Greger states in the blog: “ your doctor is measuring your blood sugar and fat levels while you’re in a fasting state, typically drawing your blood before you’ve eaten.”

    Actually, fasting blood tests are not longer recommended, at least as far as lipid profiles are concerned. I haven’t had one for years, for the reasons stated above. I wanted to know what my metabolic profile looked under normal conditions. If any problems were observed, then further tests could be done. So far, that hasn’t been necessary. (Also, I tend to be hypoglycemic, so a fasting blood test is difficult.)

    But the fact is that doctors still request fasting blood tests. Which is just another example to me of how medical practice lags for years behind the best evidence-based recommended guidelines. I guess that doctors don’t keep up.

    1. My understanding is that non-fasting blood tests for cholesterol are just as good/accurate as fasting tests for cholesterol.

      The issue though is that blood tests are usually employed to obtain multiple measurements at one time – rather than cholesterol alone. Other measures such as blood glucose, triglycerides etc still require prior fasting to deliver accurate results. That’s why doctors still routinely require fasting blood tests.

      1. Mr. Fumblefingers,

        “Actually, fasting affects the results of very few blood tests. For example, measurements of kidney, liver, and thyroid function, as well as blood counts, are not influenced by fasting. However, fasting is required before commonly ordered tests for glucose (blood sugar) and triglycerides (part of the cholesterol, or lipid, panel) for accurate results.”

        It sounds as though fasting is necessary to measure glucose levels to check for diabetes or to determine effectiveness of treatment for diabetes. But “An alternative test for glucose level that does not require fasting measures a substance called hemoglobin A1c, which reflects average blood sugar over the previous three months.” (ditto)

        And my triglyceride levels all fall within normal ranges, even as soon as an hour or less after eating. So I haven’t worried about it. Nor has my doctor. (Actually, all lipid panel test results are within normal ranges. Could it be due to eating whole plant foods?)

        My husband doesn’t fast any more either — though the technician still writes “fasting” even when he tells her he just ate breakfast, so the blood test is really non-fasting. Makes me wonder about the accuracy of medical records…

    1. What does not being plant-based mean to you?

      So, are you saying that you don’t eat vegetables or fruits or beans or lentils or whole grains at all?

      Plant-based diets tend to be ones that have 5% or fewer of their calories from animal products.

      You aren’t eating mostly plant foods of some sort?

      Are you on the carnivore diet?

    2. ‘I’m not plant based. Last hsCRP was 0.24 (fasted)’

      it appears to be primarily highly processed foods (both animal and plant) that increase CRP

      ‘An increment of 50 g of processed meat was associated with increased CRP concentration (βprocessed meat = 0.12; P = 0.01), whereas intake of red meat and poultry was not. When comparing the highest to the lowest category of meat intake with respect to diabetes incidence, the adjusted relative risks were as follows: for red meat (1.42 [95% CI 1.06–1.91]), for processed meat (1.87 [1.26–2.78]), and for poultry (0.95 [0.74–1.22]). Additional analysis showed that the associations were not affected appreciably after inclusion of CRP into the model. After adjustment for BMI, however, the association for red meat attenuated to 1.18 (0.88–1.59).’

      On the other hand, CR is only one measure of inflammation and

      ‘One of the most consistent epidemiological associations between diet and human disease risk is the impact of red meat consumption (beef, pork, and lamb, particularly in processed forms). While risk estimates vary, associations are reported with all-cause mortality, colorectal and other carcinomas, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and possibly other inflammatory processes.’

  3. Great blog. I thought I was just nuts, but before I was mostly plant-based, I would get this feeling that almost feel like anxiety after a heavy pasta meal or several slices of pizza. I guess it was that “flight-or-fight” feeling. Now I know why!

    1. When I went gluten-free, I switched to bean pasta and my husband remarked that he feels great after a bean pasta meal. He hadn’t really realized that he always felt a little bad after a standard pasta meal until he had a comparison.

      1. I should have said that while I’m plant-based, he was often adding chicken to whatever pasta I prepared. He doesn’t do that anymore, but even with the meat, the bean pasta made a difference.

        1. Anne,

          The concept that the meat would make the blood sugar from the carbs spike that much is so hard for my brain to process.

          I think because I was thinking that insulin resistance wouldn’t be affected that much by a single meal ingredient, but it is.

          The Mastering Diabetes dynamic duo went from low carb with Type 1 Diabetes to mostly fruit and had to cut their insulin in half and I am wondering if it was subtracting the meat or adding the fruit? It has to be meat. Or that fruit would do the same thing as nuts? But I don’t think they do unless you eat enough of them to get you to eat fewer animal products or oils.

  4. Hi there! Have been searching your website for any information on Berberine. Has that been on the radar as yet? What are Dr. Greger’s thoughts on it? Thanks in advance.

  5. Interesting. I read a related article recently covering whether or not inflammation and gas was more common in vegans:
    From what I’ve been researching though it seems to be more diet; namely the wrong kind that leads to this.

    I found this study around junk food and inflammation which some may find helpful:

    I’ve been cutting down on junk food for a while now and have obviously noticed positive results.

    Not that I was ever the biggest eater of junk food.

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