[caption id="attachment_37" align="alignright" width="300"] Time to spring clean your pantry![/caption] With spring on the horizon, do you feel like making a fresh start? You may feel your energy surging, and yearn to let the sunshine in. But sometimes….spring showers also trigger achy joints, and the throbbing you feel when the humidity rises. Contrary to what you may believe, achy and stiff joints are not “just part of life” or a normal sign of aging. They are a sign of inflammation. The food you eat on a daily basis plays a big role in inflammation, which contributes to achy joints. So why not take a few minutes to spring clean your pantry, and replace foods that irritate your joints with ones that nourish you? “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina 5 Steps to Spring Clean Your Pantry First, let’s take a moment to discuss what inflammation is, and how it causes joint pain and stiffness. Inflammation is an immune response. When you are injured or come in contact with a virus or toxin, your body creates an inflammatory response to prevent invaders from attacking. For example, if you bump your knee hard or get a cut, your body reacts with pain, swelling, and redness. The blood rushes to the injured area to repair the damage. This is a good thing. The problem comes when our defense systems are turned on by the wrong things: sugars, hydrogenated oils, environmental toxins, and additives and pesticides in food. When you eat something that your body doesn’t recognize, such as processed food that has been chemically altered (common to most packaged foods), your immune system virtually asks, “What do I do with this?” Your body knows how to deal with a carrot or an apple. It’s dealt with fruits, vegetables and animal nutrients for millennium. But it doesn’t know how to deal with YELLOWS 5 & 6, and BLUE 1 in Captain Crunch cereal, which we added to our foods in the last 70 or so years. So you eat Captain Crunch for breakfast and your body launches an immune response by defending itself against these chemical invaders. For some people, the response might be a skin breakout. For others it might be a digestive problem. For you, it might be joint pain. Everyone is different, but inflammation causes problems in the short term, and can cause serious harm in the long term. So which foods cause the most inflammation, and how do you substitute better ones? Here are 5 types of foods to toss from your pantry, and the steps to better options: 1. Take-out food: Almost all fast food has hydrogenated oils, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and food that causes sensitivities to many people. The most common irritants are corn, wheat and dairy. People expect to pay low prices for fast food, so manufacturers look for the cheapest, most readily available ingredients. Step one: Try to eat less fast food. Even cooking or preparing just one more meal a week at home will benefit your health. The simplest healthy meal you can make is a salad – no cooking required! Mix some leafy greens with some protein such as hard-boiled eggs, chicken or tuna, and you have a quick meal that’s much healthier than any take-out fare. 2. Highly processed foods: Most cereals and packaged foods are basically chemical concoctions. If you try to read the label, you’ll be stumped after the few (bad) ingredients you recognize, such as sugar. In fact, studies show that eating the box can be more nutritious than the ingredients inside! Step two: Swap one packaged snack or breakfast food for a real one. Instead of cereal, have some yogurt or an egg. For a snack, eat an apple, pear or banana instead of a bag of chips. 3. Sugar: More and more evidence shows that we eat far too much sugar. This is contributing to an epidemic of diabetes, and also affects your arteries, joints, and heart. Step 3: Instead of a cookie or doughnut, try dark chocolate, with at least 70% cacao. Cacao is an antioxidant, so it’s actually good for you. Plus chocolate lights up the pleasure center of your brain, so a small square can satisfy your sweet tooth without spiking your blood sugar. 4. Hydrogenated oils (trans fats): These oils are toxic, and harm your heart, arteries and joints. They are found in many packaged foods, so read the labels carefully. Step 4: Avoid all vegetable and corn oils, which are highly processed. Stick to heart-healthy olive oils, or try sesame or nut oils which are good for you. 5. Soda, including diet soda: Do you grab a quick soda for energy or to quench your thirst? Studies show that the chemicals in diet soda make you crave more, and the sugar in regular soda contributes to diabetes and joint pain. Step 5: Instead of a soft drink, look for a beverage that supports your health. Water is ideal, and every health book tells you to drink more. But some people just don’t like plain water. Try herbal tea, iced tea or coconut water. Check the sugar content, so you are not adding more sugar. Drinks made with Stevia, an herbal, non-caloric sweetener, are a better option. So there you have it, 5 steps to spring clean your pantry that will help you eliminate joint pain. If they seem overwhelming to you, don’t try to tackle everything at once. Take one baby step at a time. Once you start to feel better, you’ll want to take the next step. Added bonus: If you want to lose weight, these changes will help you shed pounds without even trying!