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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are painful, disruptive, and all-too-common: more than half of adult women have had a UTI, and many women have several recurrences every year. It happens when bacteria travel into the urethra, the duct through which urine passes. Women are more susceptible because the urethra is shorter than in men, but guys can get them too.
Left untreated, UTIs can have serious complications, including recurrent infections, urethral narrowing, and kidney damage. While UTIs may not be completely avoidable, dietary choices can reduce your risk. Drink plenty of water, and try these seven anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and immune-boosting foods to protect your insides.
1. Cranberry Juice
May help prevent UTIs by keeping bacteria from adhering to the lining of the urinary tract. Though study findings are mixed, many studies show that cranberry juice can decrease the recurrence of UTIs. And a meta-analysis of seven clinical trials published in the Journal of Nutrition found that cranberry reduced the risk of developing a UTI by 26 percent in healthy women. Because most cranberry juice drinks are loaded with sugar, stick to cranberry concentrates mixed with water or use the whole fruit.
- Sweeten cranberry juice concentrate with a little honey or stevia, then mix with cherry juice, sparkling water, and a squeeze of lime.
- Chop whole cranberries with a food processor, then combine with minced red onion, mango cubes, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime for a zesty salsa.
- Add chopped cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and garlic to cooked brown rice.
Has long been used for its antibacterial properties. It’s rich in compounds that reduce inflammation and hamper the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. Some studies show that cinnamon compounds prevent the colonization of E. coli, the bacteria responsible for most UTIs, in the bladder and urethra. Because it’s also an anti-inflammatory and can help relieve pain, cinnamon may also ease some of the discomfort associated with UTIs.
- Combine cinnamon sticks, sliced ginger, cardamom pods, and vanilla bean in a pot of water, then simmer for 10 minutes and strain for a caffeine-free chai.
- Mix cinnamon powder into raw honey and coconut oil and use instead of butter on pancakes or toast.
- Cook thickly-sliced carrots in orange juice, then toss with cinnamon, minced garlic, and olive oil.
A beverage made from fermented milk, is rich in probiotics, beneficial bacteria that may help prevent UTIs by keeping harmful bacteria from growing in the vagina, where they can migrate to the urinary tract and cause infections. Studies suggest that probiotics help protect against UTIs and prevent their recurrence. They’ve also been shown to reduce inflammation and support the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Other good sources of probiotics: yogurt, miso paste, sauerkraut, and kim chi.
- Purée kefir, papaya, cardamom, and honey in a blender for a traditional lassi.
- Combine kefir, quick oats, chia seeds, vanilla, and cinnamon and let stand until thick for easy, no-cook oats.
- Strain kefir through a cheesecloth set over a bowl and let stand overnight, then stir in chives and minced garlic for a thick, creamy spread.
Like broccoli, is loaded with vitamin C to support immune function and increase the acidity of urine. It’s also rich in beta carotene and lycopene, antioxidant carotenoids with powerful immune-boosting properties. Some studies also show carotenoids from papaya are easily absorbed by the body and are three times more bioavailable than carotenoids from carrots or tomatoes. Sweet potatoes, mangos, leafy greens, apricots, plums, and squash are also high in carotenoids.
- Halve a papaya, remove seeds, and scoop out flesh, then chop flesh, combine with pineapple, coconut, and mint, and refill papaya skins for an easy tropical salad.
- Toss papaya cubes with baby spinach, sliced red onion, and cashews, then drizzle with olive oil, lime juice, and garlic.
- Cook papayas, onions, garlic, and curry powder in coconut milk, then purée into a creamy soup and top with chopped basil.
Is high in allicin and other compounds that have antibacterial and antimicrobial activities and enhance immune function. Garlic has been shown to protect against a variety of bacteria, including E. coli, and studies suggest that it can be a safe and effective treatment for recurring UTIs. In a study from Case Reports in Medicine, garlic extract (combined with parsley, L-arginine, probiotics, and cranberry tablets) had more antibacterial activity against UTI pathogens than commonly used drugs. Because allicin is easily damaged by heat, raw garlic is best.
- Press whole garlic cloves in a garlic press, add to olive oil and drizzle over cooked vegetables or grains.
- Finely mince garlic and whisk with minced ginger, miso paste, rice vinegar, and sesame oil for an easy Asian dressing.
- Mix mashed garlic cloves with apple cider vinegar, raw honey, and a dash of cayenne pepper, and take a spoonful for a powerful antibacterial tincture.
Is high in vitamin C, which helps make urine more acidic and hampers the growth of bacteria that cause UTIs. In one study published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, pregnant women who took vitamin C had a significantly lower risk of developing a UTI. Vitamin C also boosts overall immune function, helping the body’s resistance to infection. Other vitamin C-rich foods include bell peppers, leafy greens, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and oranges.
- Grate broccoli stems and combine with shredded carrots and red cabbage, thinly sliced scallions, and a dressing of yogurt, honey, and apple cider vinegar.
- Roast broccoli florets tossed with olive oil, garlic, and Kalamata olives.
- Cook broccoli, potatoes, onions, and garlic in stock, then purée until creamy.
Contain D-mannose, a simple sugar that naturally occurs in fruits and many vegetables. It’s thought to work by preventing E. coli from adhering to and invading the urinary tract (cranberries are also high in D-mannose). Some research suggests that D-mannose may help protect against recurrent UTIs. In a study published in World Journal of Urology, D-mannose was more effective in preventing UTIs than the antibiotic Nitrofurantoin.
- Halve peaches, remove pits, brush with olive oil, and grill until tender.
- Purée peaches, coconut milk, and pistachios in a blender until smooth, then freeze in an ice cream maker.
- Combine peaches, yellow tomatoes, yellow peppers, sweet onions, garlic, and lime juice in a food processor, process until mostly smooth, and top with minced basil for a fresh, summery gazpacho.
Try our Grilled Cinnamon Peaches recipe.