T Nation

Carbs and Inflammation

Are carbohydrates a large culprit of systemic inflammation? I have a feeling that my recent increase in carbs has caused inflammation and was wondering if there are any foods I should avoid, supplements I should take, etc. to help this. Perhaps Carbs are not that good for me personally and I should drastically lower them. (I have been eating 325-450g)

@mertdawg paging mertdawg…

Mert fed me a few game-changers regarding inflammation and carbs (and the catch-22 they present). I’ll leave the floor to him, but if he doesn’t chime in, I would suggest searching through some of his old posts.

I think processed white flour and sugar are inflammatory.

1 Like

My understanding:

Legumes & whole grains both cause inflammation of the stomach lining; that’s why they absorb slowly.

Lack of calories causes inflammation (cortisol).

The blood-sugar-Roller-coaster brought on by high-glycemic carbs causes inflammation, via cortisol, during periods of low blood sugar.

Damned if you do; damned if ya don’t.

What does inflammation from carbs feel like?

1 Like

What type of carbs are you having?.

Eating more carbs won’t necessarily increase inflammation. Being FAT does necessarily increase inflammation because the more stored body fat you have (even fatty acids stored in muscle cells for energy) the more insulin you need to manage a given number of carbs.

That doesn’t mean that eating fat increases inflammation, but getting fat from eating fat will raise insulin needs just as getting fat from eating carbs will.

So, carbs and fat both raise insulin needs, and quite comparably in the long run. Studies done (including my own with my son) with type 1 diabetics show that when one raises carbs from 25% to 75% of daily calories, as long as they are low inflammatory carbs (I’ll get to that later) and calories are held constant at a maintenance level only increases total daily insulin needs by 30-50% (so increasing carbs to 300% only increases insulin needs to 130-150%). The reason is that on a higher fat diet, the body gets better at mobilizing fatty acids, moving them into cells and using them for energy, and it reduces its rate of using, and storing glycogen in muscles for fuel.

Anyway, this is important because insulin IS inflammatory, by definition.

The “blood sugar” advantage of higher fat diets (again as long as someone is not overeating), is that it lowers the peaks and raises the valleys. People who live on carbs will usually go higher at their peak, but they will also go lower 3-4 hours after eating if they don’t eat again. This causes swings that are great enough to cause harm. Blood sugar swings are more damaging to eyes, kidneys and blood vessels than merely having high blood sugar because cells swell and crenate when they experience changes from high to low or low to high as they attempt to move water in and out to maintain osmolarity.

So someone who eats high carbs, especially fast carbs, without much fat may see their blood sugar range from 60-140 over the course of a day, while someone who eats more fat and fewer carbs may see a range of 80-120, meaning a) less swelling and shriveling of cells that can be easily damaged, and less hunger/better appetite control.

If someone ate carbs that are fast, like potato and rice and glucose polymer containing drinks and some fruit, they could manage this by eating more frequently, but smaller portions of carbs, say 50 grams 6 times per day rather than 75-150 grams 3 times per day. This would prevent as high rises, prevent insulin over secretion which leads to crashes. Solution 1 is to eat “faster” carbs in smaller, but more frequent feedings, or to eat them during exertion (though weight training may actually raise spikes and make lows even lower because it stimulates stress hormones and it raises insulin sensitivity later. Solution 2 is to combine them with fat, and reduce the carb content to stabilize blood sugar.

Solution 3 would be to eat “low GI” carbs. These would, in theory not spike blood sugar as much, and not lead to low blood sugar rebounds. The problem is that low GI carbs like whole wheat, and legumes ARE low GI because they contain inflammatory gut irritants that slow down digestion and absorption by distressing the gut to some degree. These include lignins, lectins, and allergenic proteins like-but not limited to-gluten. The other low GI option is to eat more fruit which is lower GI because it is half fructose (which is slower absorbed and turned into glucose) and also because fruit contains acids and fiber that makes them fairly low GI, but there is a limit to how much fructose you can consume. Fructose is very damaging in the bloodstream so the body turns it into glucose before it gets there, or it sends it to the liver. Fructose does not require insulin to get into the liver like glucose does, but the liver can only manage 25 grams a day, plus about 1/3 of glycogen replenishment from exercise. So you can eat 2.5-5 bananas a day, or about 75-150 grams of carbs from fruit depending on your activity level, but at a certain point the liver will turn fructose into triglycerides, liver fat (both of which make the body secrete more insulin every day) and also spill fructose into the blood which causes glucotoxicity.

So fruit is generally not inflammatory unless you exceed your body’s ability to manage the fructose.

We are left with basically the other two sources of carbs for the balance: the faster glucose polymers/pure glucose like white rice, potatoes and drinks, and the lower GI whole grains and legumes. There simply is not much choice for low GI glucose source that does not contain inflammatory compounds, precisely because the inflammatory compounds are the agent that slows digestion.

Without adding fat, the high GI sources will spike and trough blood sugar. The exceptions would be potatoes allowed to cool down to form resistant starch which is a gut healthy way to lower the GI, as well as possibly banana flour, or you can add an acid like vinegar to white rice-this is probably why rice and potatoes “taste” good with an acid source, because we developed the taste for them that would provide the slow and steady energy release.

As for what are the signs of inflammation from whole grains and legumes, people vary a lot. Some manage them much better than others. One sign is just intestinal discomfort. Another is joint pain, and a third is sinus inflammation and puffiness around the eyes. When I eat wheat, corn or legumes, I get sinus inflammation and can’t sleep. It goes away when I remove them, like clockwork so in my case, they just are not good for me. Rice and potatoes are fine. If you have night time sinus congestion, there is a good chance it is a sign of inflammation from inflammatory carbs, whole grains and or legumes, also possibly dairy and in some cases nuts-particularly the skins.

All of these items end up being inflammatory (as well as being linked to the onset of autoimmune diseases) because they irritate the gut or other tissues causing a release of cortisol, which requires the body to release more insulin to keep blood sugar from rising from the cortisol. Cortisol itself is not inflammatory (it is actually an anti inflammatory, and technically all of the stress hormones are directly anti-inflammatory, but their effect is to raise blood sugar which requires more insulin release. Insulin again IS by definition inflammatory, AND it blocks growth hormone secretion. Growth hormone is fundamental to healing daily tissue micro trauma which triggers more cortisol which triggers more insulin which blocks growth hormone etc. etc.

So in reality; FOOD, that is to say, calories are inflammatory. Ketones even trigger insulin secretion. The key is to eat the calories that don’t provide additional inflammation due to their allergenic, irritant or direct inflammatory effects: basically eliminate high linoleic acid oils that are directly inflammatory, keep sugar/fructose below the harm threshold, and asses yourself for irritant foods like wheat, gluten, corn, oats, legumes, dairy, nuts, egg white.


Boom. Thanks, Mert, for taking the time to put this down for us, I know it’s a time-consuming-activity and I really appreciate it.

Damn man, what a fantastic post! Thank you so much for taking the time to write all of this valuable info!

1 Like

What a cracker post… I am the same with whole grains touch them I get sinus congestion… white jasmine rice is my main source of carbs, but I need to mix it with fats or apple cider vinegar, hungry in 5mins if I don’t.

White rice is an excellent source given unlikely to trigger allergic response. In fact, there was a news item a few years ago about a poor woman who was allergic to everything except rice, and she had to live on the stuff!

Your right there, have tried potatoes, sweet or white gave me terrible constipation wind all the rough stuff. Do better on fats and proteins, leafy greens are okay, cruciferous vegetables no chance. I think cutting down on meal frequency from 6-4 has helped also. Had a massive dose of antibiotics couple of years back which messed me up, taken a long time to recover from that. Bone broth fermented cabbage have helped, but not to the point where I can add whole grains or potatoes back in the mix.

I am not following your assertion that insulin is inflammatory. Can you expand on that?

I can find sources promoting the anti-inflammatory properties of insulin, but not the other way.

Quick bit from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3992527/

The discovery of the anti-inflammatory effect of insulin can be traced back to the observation that insulin exerts a vasodilatory effect through endothelial NO release in arteries, veins and capillaries[12,13]. By inducing vasodilatation, it reduces leukocyte adhesion to the endothelium and subsequent infiltration. Furthermore, it has inhibitory effects on platelet adhesion and aggregation.

Good point, and I actually have been trying to find perhaps better terms than inflammatory and anti-inflammatory to describe the effects of different hormones. Insulin is not acutely inflammatory, but insulin release supresses a) growth hormone release, blocking a mechanism of reduced chronic inflammation and b) supresses anti-inflammatory adipokines (signal molecules released from fat cells).

When total insulin load is reduced over a period of time, there is an increase in growth hormone release, an increase in the release of anti-inflammatory adipokines, a reduction in chronic microtrauma induced cortisol release. Cortisol is anti-inflammatory, but it also causes acute and chronic insulin resistance which makes you secrete more insulin to manage blood sugar, which makes you more insulin resistant due to higher insulin exposure, which block GH, which leads to microtrauma, cortisol, insulin resistance etc.

So if you reduce your daily insulin output needs, you will end up with less inflammation. So its kind of like this: insulin has acute anti-inflammatory effects but to gain those effects requires insulin exposure which ends up resulting in inflammation, an effective negative feedback effect.

I’ll try to come back to this later, because it is very interesting, also how we ended up just placing things into the dichotomous inflammatory or anti-inflammatory pool.


Okay, I understand the point you are trying to make.

I see a whole lot of “the dose makes the poison” concepts in this thread.

If insulin sensitivity is normal there is likely to be a smaller AUC of insulin, making the inflammatory components you discussed largely negligible, IMO.

I would tend to agree with you though that over-exposure to insulin could lead to a more inflammatory environment via the mechanisms you mentioned. Plus, when we start to get into over-exposure to insulin and insulin resistance, there are many other metabolic dysfunctions that come into the picture.

Forgot about this thread. For me it is superficial inflammation due to carbs, at least I am willing to bet on it.

Whenever I go above a certain range in carbs which can change slightly do to activity levels but, is around 300 grams I notice something in my skin. Two spots, one on my nose and one between my eyebrows get inflamed it is as if the pore becomes clogged. They are not pimples as they cannot be popped are not red and do not hurt. I suspected the increase in carbs as I was prone to pimples in the past. I lowered carbs to under 50 grams and within a week my two spots were smooth.

What could it be?

When you say “spots”, are they bumps or holes (i.e. Enlarged pores)?


So, if one were to eat a large amount of fast acting carbs 200-250g in one sitting when would be the best time to do it? Before a training session, cardio…? What would be best to eat after/later in the day? Keep it low fat, higher fat…?

I would suggest splitting them into 2 portions and having them pre and post workout with fat as low as possible <10g combined with protein. I do cereal with whey isolate shake. This is just what I’m doing while shedding body fat and currently I’m sub 10%bf and it works for me and for people i took advice from. Actually I was skeptical about fast burning carbs on the cut, as been eating, dieting clean for more then a decade, but right now i see that they even have benefits when consumed while being in caloric deficit. In a surplus well its another story. I guess @mertdawg might explain all this a lot better as he has strong understand about all this stuff. Just my 2 cents:)

BTW its a nice thread and like the info here and only now ive noticed i’ve posted 2 years after the last post lol