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Foods That Cause Inflammation

illustrating inflammation in the knee

For many of us who exercise (especially runners), inflammation is a common issue and can really wreak havoc with our workouts and even daily lives. Inflammation contributes to a wide array of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. And of course, inflammation can make our joints quite sore and is associated with many forms of arthritis, including the rheumatoid and osteo varieties.

Medication can help—especially anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, but daily use can be bad for some of your organs. Instead, you may want to consider lifestyle changes like reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and exercising. But did you know that what you eat can really worsen inflammation?  By making dietary changes like focusing on whole, unprocessed foods, and getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, you can lessen the severity of inflammation. Spices like ginger, garlic, and turmeric have also been found to be helpful. There are also foods that can worsen inflammation. Here are some that you should probably cut way back on-

French Fries
French fries are so yummy but it’s a much better idea to choose a side salad instead. In fact, you should skip chicken nuggets, fried fish, and pretty much any fried food. Research conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has shown that when people take fried food out of their diets, the markers of inflammation in their bodies diminish. Instead, try baked fries or oven fried chicken as a healthier alternative.

White Bread
Going gluten free is not just a fad and many professional athletes are avoiding gluten because it helps to reduce inflammation. “Foods that are high in refined flour produce pro-inflammatory signals like cytokines,” says Victoria J. Drake, PhD, manager of the micronutrient information center at the Linus Pauling Institute. White bread is a major source of refined flour in American diets but there are many other culprits as well. You should also avoid most packaged snacks since they are full of refined flour. Many nutrition experts recommend whole foods instead.

Coffee Creamer
Unfortunately, coffee creamer is full of trans fat and trans fat is a known trigger of inflammation. And even though the label on your French Vanilla creamer says, “zero grams trans fat”, that doesn’t mean you’re safe. Manufacturers are allowed to label their creamer like that as long as the product contains less than half a gram of trans fat per serving.  And of course, a serving is usually much smaller than we think. “No one ever measures how much coffee creamer they are taking,” says Lori Zanini, RDN, CDE, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. When you look at the ingredient list make sure that you look for “partially hydrogenated oil” which is code for trans fat.

Doughnuts of course, are chock full of refined flour and huge amounts of sugar. Both of which will encourage your body to produce pro-inflammatory signals. Look out for goodies like cakes and cookies too.

A Second Glass of Wine
There is research that suggests that a moderate amount of alcohol can help quell inflammation in some people (and that it may even be good for dieting), other studies show that too many adult beverages can provoke it. So make sure to limit your alcohol intake or even avoid the wine and beer if inflammation is a problem for you.

The labeling on boxes of crackers is often so tricky! Sure, “multigrain” sounds really healthy but the term is basically meaningless. Crackers are usually highly-processed and packed with refined flour, sugar, and trans fat. You will also find oils like soybean, safflower, and corn oil on the ingredients list. These oils are rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which in turn, can worsen inflammation.

Breakfast Cereal
While there are healthy cereals, most are just dessert in a box. You need to look for cereals that are low in sugar and made with whole grains. You also want to choose cereals that have plenty of fiber, as studies have shown that fiber is an important part of an anti-inflammatory diet.

Lately we have been hearing that saturated fat is not actually that bad. However, that doesn’t mean you should binge on bacon. It is important to stay away from processed saturated fat, the like the kind in bacon, many lunch meats, and hot dogs, and bologna. Processed saturated fat can worsen inflammation.

Granola Bars
Granola bars are another packaged food that claim to be good for you. In fact, be careful when comes to most kinds of packaged bars like “meal-replacement” bars or “nutrition bars. Many of these bars have even more sugar than a doughnut! The best thing to do to avoid inflammation is to choose bars that have less than 8 grams of sugar. Also, make sure that you can actually understand the ingredients list.

Sweetened Yogurt
Many dieticians approve of plain yogurt but try to stay away from the fruity flavored kind.  All yogurt, plain or flavored, has lactose which is a kind of milk sugar. Unfortunately, many flavored yogurts have an additional amount of added sugar. This can show up on the ingredients list as molasses, agave, or brown rice syrup. In fact, many manufacturers use a many different types of sugars so that no one kind of sweetener appears too high on the list. All of these sugars can cause inflammation to flair up. The best thing to do is eat plain yogurt with fresh fruit added in.

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