When you want a quick bite and don’t want to undo any of your fitness goals, it can’t hurt reaching for a healthy snack. According to Harvard Medical School, whole-grain pretzels, varieties of nuts, and apple slices with peanut butter all serve as worthwhile options that can curb hunger while making sure you stay healthy. While these options prove worthwhile in the long run, other snacks can unknowingly increase the amount of inflammation in your body.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that certain fried foods, refined carbs, alcohol, and processed meats can spark unnecessary inflammation. While many snacks easily fall into these categories, some sneaky, bite-sized treats slip by and unknowingly cause extra inflammation. Keeping track of these foods can confuse anyone, but with some help from a handful of dietitians, we assembled a list of what snacks secretly cause inflammation flare-ups.
If you don’t want to give up snacking but don’t feel sure if your finger foods can cause inflammation, double check your items against 50 Healthy Snack Ideas to Keep You Slim.
Granola bars generally present a health-forward appearance but don’t get fooled by the marketing. Eating too many of these items can unknowingly spark some inflammation.
“Granola or granola bars may seem healthy, but can cause inflammation, depending on the ingredients,” says Amy Davis, RD, LDN. “Granolas and granola bars that are high in added sugar from sources such as corn syrup, chocolate chips, and cane sugar can contribute to inflammation. In addition to sugar, processed oils such as soybean and canola oil are commonly found in granola and granola bars, and can contribute to inflammation.”
Even if granola bars slip by your radar, don’t make the same mistake with frozen yogurt. Many of these products come loaded with refined sugar, and generally contain components that can cause some serious pain.
“Instead, look for [plain] frozen yogurts containing probiotics to help reduce inflammation,” says Kelsey Sackmann, MS, RD. “If you suffer from a dairy allergy or intolerance, try a frozen yogurt with no dairy that uses coconut milk.”
When you want to indulge a bit, make sure you choose the best-frozen yogurt around and check out We Taste-Tested Popular Store-Bought Frozen Yogurts—This One Was the Best.
“Animal proteins are known to be inflammatory, and similarly affect the G.I. tract, in a negative way, and increase circulating levels of IGF-I (insulin-like growth factor), and other inflammatory markers,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, and author of Recipe For Survival. “[If you] eat a primarily plant-based diet, those markers decrease and they are primarily anti-inflammatory.”
Finding a replacement for jerky proves difficult, but if you want the same nutritional components, Ellis Hunnes recommends a substitution such as “fruit and nuts like trail mix or edamame.”
“Chips, like potato chips, are inflammatory because they are highly processed and so they increase insulin response very quickly, which can be inflammatory,” continues Ellis Hunnes. “Instead, seaweed with hummus would be a good snack, or seaweed with avocado sort of like a hand roll would be a good snack because the seaweed has a lot of nutrients in it. Seaweed doesn’t have a lot of calories, is crunchy like chips, and the plant-based proteins from the hummus is always a nice and unexpected flavor mix.”
If you do reach for a bag of chips, make sure your snacks are on your side and select from the 11 Best Healthy Chips for Weight Loss.
Protein bars seem like they should effectively replace a meal and keep you moving without slowing you down, but be wary of the ingredients.
“Lots of protein bars and ladened with added sugars, making them really inflammatory,” says Marissa Meshulam, MS, RD, CDN.
Instead, Meshulam recommends reaching for fruit bars.
“Unlike many bars that are filled with inflammatory ingredients, these bars are made with just real fruit, which provides a ton of antioxidants that work to keep our cells healthy and fight inflammation. They are a perfect convenience item for days when you haven’t made it to the store yet but want to add some fruit to your snack or lunch bag.”
“Popcorn is a snack that a lot of people may think of as healthy since it’s a whole gain—a good source of fiber,” says Johna Burdeos, RD. “However, [some] packaged microwavable popcorn often contains hydrogenated fats and additives for example used in the packaging, which can trigger inflammation.”
“A healthier option would be to pop plain popcorn seeds in a popcorn maker machine or in a microwaveable popcorn popper. No oil is needed to pop the popcorn and you could add some healthy olive oil after it’s popped instead. These are quite inexpensive on the market and you may even save [money], considering the cost of bags of popcorn.”
READ MORE: The #1 Worst Drink For Inflammation, Says Dietitian