Why do some healthful foods, like fruit or whole grains, have negative IF Ratings?

Perhaps the most common misunderstanding is that all “healthy” foods are anti-inflammatory and all “unhealthy” foods are inflammatory. It’s a little more complex than that. The IF Rating system evaluates foods according to over 20 nutritional factors, including antioxidants, fatty acid composition, glycemic load, and many other nutrients. Often a food or meal will have a combination of pro- and anti-inflammatory factors of varying strengths, and the IF Rating is able to estimate the net effect of all these factors.

The goal is not necessary to avoid all negatively-rated foods but to bring the diet into balance. Many foods with slightly negative IF Ratings, such as fruits or grains, are quite healthful. In fact, it would be impossible to build a balanced diet without including foods that have negative IF Ratings.

Keep in mind that inflammation is a healthy and necessary part of the human immune response; so it makes sense that a healthy diet would include factors that support the inflammatory response. The problem is an excessive inflammatory response, driven by an excess of foods that promote inflammatory pathways.

While it’s wise to limit or avoid foods that are strongly inflammatory, such as french fries, there’s no reason to avoid wholesome foods like fruits and grains. Just aim to have the sum of all foods eaten in a day to have a positive IF Rating, so that the overall effect of the diet is anti-inflammatory.


Some IF Ratings contradict other information I’ve seen on how various foods affect inflammation. Can you explain why?

Foods are often promoted as being anti-inflammatory on the basis of a single factor, such as the omega-3 content or antioxidant capacity, overlooking the fact that there are many different factors that affect inflammation. Often a food or meal will have a combination of pro- and anti-inflammatory factors of varying strengths.

It is often said that blueberries are anti-inflammatory, for example, chiefly because they contain compounds that–when extracted from the blueberries–have anti-inflammatory effects. However, when you eat whole blueberries, you are also consuming sugar, which has an opposing effect.

One advantage of the IF Rating system is that it estimates the net effect of all these factors. The IF Ratings often reveal some things that don’t line up with the conventional wisdom. Nonetheless, the ratings are based entirely on the actual nutritional composition of the foods.


Why are the IF Ratings no longer on NutritionData.com?

We reluctantly have asked NutritionData.com to remove the IF Ratings from their site because the nutrient data being used to calculate them was several years out of date. As a result, many of the IF ratings displayed there were not accurate.

This was a difficult decision for us because so many people have discovered and used the IF Ratings on that site. However, the growing number of discrepancies and errors were causing a lot of confusion–and the site’s managers told us that they are not planning to update the nutrient databases anytime soon.

At present, this website and the IF Tracker mobile apps are the only authorized sources for IF Ratings. In view of this development, we are working on adding more features to the IF Tracker to make it even more useful and comprehensive.


Why are there no IF Ratings for wine or other alcoholic beverages?

Alcoholic beverages are not rated in the IF Rating system because the nutritional factors that are analyzed by the IF Rating formula, such as fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, are not present in any meaningful amounts in alcohol. This doesn’t mean that alcoholic beverages don’t have an effect, only that the effect cannot be accurately measured using the IF Rating formula. In fact, research shows that alcoholic beverages do have a mild anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Red wine also contains a natural phytonutrient called resveratrol, which has been shown to be beneficial in reducing inflammation as well. It’s important to note, however, that the health advantages of alcohol only apply to moderate consumption (1 drinks a day). Above that amount, drinking begins to affect health negatively. So, if you tolerate alcohol and can afford the extra calories, moderate consumption of alcohol, especially red wine, appears to have a place in an anti-inflammatory diet.


How do I calculate the IF Rating for my vitamin supplements?

The IF Rating system was designed to estimate the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects of foods, and to help you balance your food choices. The concentrated amounts of nutrients in dietary supplements would lead to very high ratings which would tend to obscure the effects of diet. Therefore, supplements have not been given IF Ratings. We suggest that the total IF Rating of the foods that you eat should be in the positive range–separate from any supplements you may take.


Why do nightshade plants like tomatoes and peppers have positive IF Ratings? I’ve been told that these foods can cause joint pain.

Tomatoes and peppers are high in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation. Hot peppers also contain capsaicin, a phytochemical with strong anti-inflammatory effects. That’s why these foods have high IF Ratings. People with arthritis are sometimes advised to avoid nightshade plants because they contain an alkaloid called solanine. While most people tolerate solanine fine, for people who are sensitive to it, solanine can make symptoms such as joint pain worse. It’s a little bit like an allergy…some have a noticeable reaction while others have no reaction at all. While it makes sense for those who are sensitive to solanine to avoid nightshades, it’s overkill to suggest that everyone with arthritis should eliminate these otherwise nutritious foods from their diets. If eliminating nightshades from the diet for a week or two brings no noticeable improvement, it suggests that solanine sensitivity is not a factor.


Are organic or grass-fed meats or eggs less inflammatory?

Meat and poultry which are raised on organic feed and without hormones or antibiotics are better for the environment and may be more nutritious. Unfortunately, however, the nutritional data on these foods is limited and varies from producer to producer (and season to season). Organic and grass-fed meat and eggs m may be somewhat less inflammatory (or more anti-inflammatory) than their conventionally raised counterparts. If you are using the IF Ratings to balance your diet, I suggest that you use the IF Ratings for the conventional foods as a conservative estimate. The organic foods would certainly not rate lower, and probably rate higher.


Is the anti-inflammatory diet just the latest trend?

The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan is a new development but it’s not a trend–it’s based on decades of nutrition research. Previous diet concepts have helped people understand some very important ideas, like the importance of reducing simple carbohydrates and choosing healthy sources of fat. But none addressed the issue of inflammation–which appears to be at the root of all of the most common health problems that we see today. The Inflammation-Free Diet integrates all of these important concepts–plus the inflammation aspect–into one holistic system for healthier eating.


Can an anti-inflammatory diet help people who have arthritis or other inflammation-related pain?

Absolutely! There are a lot of people living with joint pain and other symptoms caused by inflammation. The drugs that are prescribed can have serious health risks. An anti-inflammatory diet can reduce inflammation naturally by decreasing the amount of inflammatory chemicals that are produced in the body. You can also increase your intake of spices like turmeric and ginger. These are actually natural COX-2 inhibitors–natural and safer versions of the active ingredients in Vioxx and Celebrex. The Inflammation Free Diet Plan outlines three program options: a therapeutic plan for those with symptoms or elevated risk factors for inflammation-related disease, a prevention/maintenance plan for those who want to avoid inflammation-related disease, and an accelerated weight loss program for those who need to lose weight


Should I be worried about inflammation? I don’t have arthritis or allergies.

Everyone needs to be worried about inflammation because virtually everyone is affected by it to some degree. Sometimes, inflammation can cause obvious symptoms, like joint pain or asthma. But just as often, cellular inflammation can be completely symptom free. You might not realize that there is a problem until a serious disease is diagnosed. The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan is designed for everyone–children, teenagers, adults, seniors. It’s not just a diet that reduces inflammation–it is an ideal nutritional-balanced way of eating.


What does the IF Rating tell me about foods that I don’t already know?

The IF Rating system tends to favor foods that are low in sugar, rich in vitamins, lower in saturated fat and higher in healthy fats. Lean protein, fruits and vegetables, cold water fish, and whole grains are naturally emphasized, while highly-processed foods, trans fats, and empty calories are minimized. But the IF Ratings also reveal some surprising truths about foods that we typically think of as healthful. For example, you’ll see that almonds are a better choice than walnuts, strawberries may be better for you than apples, and tuna is sometimes preferable to salmon.


How do I know which foods are inflammatory?

It’s actually a fairly complicated problem–and maybe that’s why it’s never been adequately addressed. Foods affect inflammation in complicated and often surprising ways. Some foods have a combination of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects. Others have different effects depending on how they are prepared or what you are eating them with. There are at least two dozen different nutritional factors that affect how a food affects inflammation in the body–most of which aren’t even on the label. To make it easier for people to keep track, I developed the IF Rating system. The IF Rating looks at all the different factors and calculates their combined effects. Each food is assigned a number that tells you its net inflammatory or anti-inflammatory potential.


Are negative IF foods bad for me?

Negative IF Ratings do not necessarily mean that foods are unhealthy or need to be eliminated from the diet. A healthy, balanced diet will include some foods with negative IF Ratings. But these foods should be eaten in moderation, and balanced by positive IF foods. The IF Rating system makes it simple to keep track of and balance the cumulative effects of your dietary choices.