When it comes to staying healthy and pain-free, chronic inflammation is pretty much your enemy. It plays a role in a host of conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and it also contributes to sore joints—the kind that’s associated with many forms of arthritis, including the osteo and rheumatoid types.
While medication (especially anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen) can ease everyday aches, lifestyle choices matter, too. Reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and staying active all help, but changing your diet is especially crucial (see exactly what you should be eating to get off your diabetes meds for good with Rodale’s The Natural Way To Beat Diabetes). To stop fanning the flames within, start loading up on whole, unprocessed foods, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and spices such as garlic, ginger, and turmeric. Meanwhile, you’ll want to cut way back on these 10 damaging items.
It’s hard to choose a side salad in the face of French fries, but your body will thank you every time you do. While you’re at it, skip the fried fish and chicken fingers. Research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai shows that when people cut out fried food, markers of inflammation in their body diminish, too.
“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. And while white bread is certainly a major source of refined flour in the American diet, it’s far from the only one. Most packaged snacks are loaded with it, which is why Drake and other experts urge a ditching them in favor of whole foods.
Whether your pleasure is hazelnut or French vanilla, you’re probably getting more than you bargained for when you pour that creamer into your coffee. The main problem here is trans fat—a known trigger of inflammation. And just because the label reads “zero grams trans fat” doesn’t mean you’re safe; food manufacturers are allowed to say that as long as the product contains less than half a gram of trans fat per (teeny tiny) serving. “No one ever measures how much coffee creamer they are taking,” says Lori Zanini, RDN, CDE, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. Always read the ingredients list; “partially hydrogenated oil” is code for trans fat.
Refined flour plus tons of sugar is a surefire way to spur your body to produce those pro-inflammatory signals, according to Drake. Watch out for other pastries, like cookies and cakes, as well.
While some research suggests that a little alcohol—no more than one serving a day for women—might quell inflammation a bit in some people, it’s clear that any extra booze will provoke it. So either strictly adhere to the recommend cut-off or don’t drink at all, says Alexandra Caspero, RD, founder of Delish Knowledge.
Often labeled with healthy-sounding but meaningless terms like “multigrain,” crackers tend to be highly-processed and loaded with refined flour, sugar, and trans fat. They also often have oils, like soybean, safflower, and corn oil, that are rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation, says Zanini.
“Some are healthy, but many are glorified dessert,” says Zanini. Look for a low-sugar option with whole grains and plenty of fiber—an important part of an anti-inflammatory diet, according to Caspero.