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  • Writer's picturethegoodfoodclinic

Is Dairy and Gluten inflammatory?

Updated: Jul 29, 2018

If you were to type the word "Inflammatory" into Google, you would be eyeballing a list of foods that you probably eat often, whilst leaving you feeling petrified you’re doing to die... The end result often ends up being that the public typically shy away and avoid breads, dairy and BLT's ect.

So, what is inflammation, can food cause inflammation and is it bad for the body?


Inflammation is an immune response that works hard to protect us. It is also important for wound healing, injury, and fighting off pathogens.

A great example would be an ingrown toe nail! Swollen, infected and bloody painful. This is an acute/short-term response of which inflammation plays an important role, with the aim of protecting the body and keeping us alive. However, if untreated the long-term effects could result in a chopped off toe…(worst case scenario).

Inflammation has received bad press mainly due to its chronic/long-term affects. Some examples of chronic inflammation are evident in autoimmune disorders (Coeliac Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohns Disease), respiratory conditions (acquired or genetic) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,arthritis…. The list can go on. Other lifestyle factors such as smoking, inactivity, poor diet and alcohol consumption can also contribute to chronic inflammation and adverse outcomes.

The relentless diet culture gurus are now shouting from the roof tops of their boho, open plan studio apartment with immaculate (OCD) food pantries, that we must now ‘avoid inflammatory foods’. What is the evidence, and can food be inflammatory? Read on as I talk you through food allergies, intolerances and specifically if dairy and gluten cause inflammation.

Diet culture gurus are shouting from the roof tops of their boho studio apartment, with immaculate (OCD) food pantries, that we must avoid inflammatory food

Is inflammatory food a thing?

Let’s get to the point. Inflammation occurs if a person consumes a food they are allergic to or have an autoimmune disease (some listed above). If a person does not have either of these conditions, food cannot cause inflammation. You may experience some nasty side-effects from food eaten however, this may be due to a food intolerance or a 7 day old curry that was left in the fridge.

Inflammation occur if a person consumes a food they are allergic to or have an autoimmune disorder (some listed above). If a person does not have either of these conditions, food cannot cause inflammation.

What makes food inflammatory or not?

As mentioned previously inflammation is an immune response. Food allergies are immune-mediated, meaning they wake up the immune system causing the immune cells to attack the ‘invader’. The reaction can be immediate e.g. anaphylaxis (IgE-immune mediated) or the symptoms may not arise for several hours after the food has been consumed. These are the typical signs of a ‘non IgE - immune mediated’ or mix-immune mediated’ response. The individuals won’t suffer such an acute reaction (dependent on dose) but both allergies (IgE, non and mixed – immune mediated) should be treated seriously.

Food allergy and food intolerance are commonly confused as the symptoms of food intolerance occasionally resemble those of food allergy. However, there is a difference. Food intolerance does not involve the immune system. It does not cause severe allergic reactions (known as anaphylaxis) and does not show on allergy testing.

Because there is no specific testing for food intolerance I can’t stress enough how important it is to work with a Dietitian who will run an elimination diet to find the culprit/s. This will help prevent unnecessary restrictions, development of food aversions, deficiencies and alleviate stress. In addition, there are dodgy or put more professionally, unreliable testing kits you can purchase online. PLEASE save your money and do not buy these tests, instead go to your Doctor, followed up with a Dietitian if any concerns.

Let's talk about the cow's and the grains. I'm not going to beat around the bush, so lets get to it!


It’s a yes and no from me. Yes, if you’re allergic, no if you either are or aren’t lactose intolerance (lacking the enzyme lactase to breakdown lactose a natural sugar).

To further back this up I’ve done the leg work for you. A systematic review (the best evidence of research you can rely on) showed that consumption of 3.5 servings of dairy/day compared to <0.5/day indicated significant anti-inflammatory effects. This study used overweight and obese patients, but this information can be used for the rest of the population, excluding food allergies and intolerances.

I’m going to assume if you’re lactose intolerant the uncomfortable gas, bloating and diarrhoea has caused you to reduce your dairy intake so here is a little information for you


Hard cheeses have minimal lactose in them, also the number of dairy products consumed without causing symptoms is individual. You do not need to completely avoid dairy but eat intuitively by listening and understanding what works for you and supplement/substitute dairy wisely so you are not missing out on calcium.


The same can be said for gluten. Coeliac Disease (technically not an allergy) does provoke an immune response whereas gluten intolerance does not. One study showed that compared to the Coeliac group, the nonceliac gluten-sensitive group did not express inflammatory markers when consuming gluten. Symptoms such as gas and bloating may be evident, but this does not mean there is inflammation.

Gluten is not unhealthy and should only be avoided if a person has coeliac disease to reduce chronic inflammation and health risks. If an individual is gluten intolerant/sensitive I would advise the same individual approach as above with lactose.


Because bread is life, I’m going to list of why it is part of a healthy diet.

1. YUM

2. YUM

3. Ok I’ll stop messing around…YUM

4. Fibre, protein, carbohydrates, small amount of health fats (from seeds) - choose grainy breads

5. Full of Vitamins and Minerals

6. Source of carbohydrate (no carbs are not the enemy)

Can we prevent inflammation through our diet?

It is not a question of what we should avoid but what we can include in our diets. There is extensive research to show a diet that includes a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish (omega-3 fatty acids), Vitamin C, E, A may protect against low-grade systemic inflammation.

But my nutrition guru said…..

Okay, people don’t just make things up, or I would hope they don’t. Nutrition information comes from somewhere, down the track it is misinterpreted and that’s when diet culture likes to take a piece of the pie and wack some money on top of it and sprinkle it with a little bit of food fear.

Everyone responds differently to food but not a single one of us should be fearful of it.

So, heres the other half of the pie…

The link between ‘inflammatory foods’ is indirect and cannot avert a dangerous inflammatory effect by consumption alone. An example of this would be of a diet high in saturated fats (fried foods, animal fats, butter, full cream, confectionary foods, baked goods), all these foods have a place in a balanced diet but can contribute to atherosclerosis.

This is when the arteries that carry your blood around the body become narrowed due to the fat circulating in the blood which sticks to the walls of the artery, becoming hard and causing damage and inflammation to the wall.

If these aforementioned foods are consumed in excess without the nutritious examples listed above whilst excluding healthy lifestyle behaviours this will have obvious negative impacts on a persons health.

See how this is an indirect relationship? So, the point I am trying to make is that food is safe, it is not inflammatory if you are not allergic or have an autoimmune condition, you may want to substitute or adjust consumption of particular foods if they do not agree with you. Everyone responds differently to food but not a single one of us should be fearful of it.

Key points

Variety, diversity, texture, cultural foods, experiences and enjoyment are above all the most important aspects of a diet. Inclusion instead of exclusion is key to gaining a healthy relationship with food and feeling your best

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