Why suffer when you can do something about it? Learn how changing your diet can greatly reduce the painful symptoms of arthritis. People don’t realise how much the pain they are in is hugely related to their food choices.
In Ireland around 915,000 people, including 1,100 children, are currently living with arthritis and most don’t realise how much a healthy eating plan can dramatically improve the way they feel.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is inflammation in the body in one or more joints such as in the knees, wrists, hands, fingers, elbows, feet, and toes.
It can cause excruciating pain and stiffness, swelling, deformity, and immobility. Many sufferers develop bone growths in the affected joints, increasing the pain and suffering. You can hear cracking or grating noises when moving the joints.
There are many types of arthritis: Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and there are many other related conditions, including fibromyalgia, gout and lupus. Osteoarthritis can wear down the knees. Rheumatoid arthritis may twist and deform the fingers.
- Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the cartilage covering the end of the bone deteriorates, causing pain and swelling when bones rub against each other. In some people, the damage can be so extensive that the joint may have to be replaced. OA is due to a combination of factors, including genetics, past injury, joint use and overuse, and the aging process in general. We can’t help our genetics, past injuries, or the aging process and overuse; however, stress caused by excess weight can be reduced by losing weight. Every pound of weight you lose equates to four pounds less stress and pressure on your knees.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the joint capsule — the synovial membrane. Early in the disease process, affected joints can feel swollen, painful, hot, and tender to the touch. As the disease progresses, the synovial membrane begins to release enzymes that can dissolve bone and cartilage inside the joint. If these enzymes eat away enough tissue, the joint can become deformed — and the pain can be excruciating. Scientists don’t know what triggers the process, why it goes into remission, or why it flares up periodically. Genetics plays at least some role. Hormones are also believed to play a part, as RA affects women more often than it affects men and because flares often occur after a pregnancy. RA cannot be cured, but it can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes.
How Food Affects Arthritis
Arthritis is a disease of inflammation, therefore eat foods that will fight inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet can go a long way toward reducing painful symptoms.
Start taking care of your body today and eat more anti-inflammatory foods.
Importance of Losing Weight
Being overweight puts extra stress on the joints and this escalates the risk of wear and tear. Body fat is metabolically active, it is capable of producing hormones and chemicals that actually increase levels of inflammation. Lose weight and avoid excess calories and you will automatically reduce inflammation in your body.
What are the best anti-inflammatory foods to pick? What foods should you avoid?
Eat more sulfur-containing foods, such as asparagus, eggs, garlic, and onions. Other beneficial foods include fresh vegetables (especially green leafy veg), fresh fruits, whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, fish and avocados. Red cherries can relieve pain and inflammation. Eat about 20 cherries each day. If you can’t find fresh cherries try Cherry Active juice (buy in health store)
Eat fresh pineapple frequently. To be effective, the pineapple must be fresh, as freezing and canning destroy enzymes. Eat some form of fibre, such as ground flaxseeds, oat bran, or ricebran, daily.
Foods & Drinks To Avoid
Reduce the amount of fat in your diet. Do not consume milk, dairy products, or red meat. Also avoid caffeine, citrus fruits, paprika, salt, tobacco, and everything containing sugar. Avoid the nightshade vegetables (peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes). Avoid coffee and tea. They contain tannic acids that will aggravate arthritis. Drink Nettle tea. Pick fresh and add to hot water add some lemon and lime and refrigerate before drinking.
Foods That Cause Inflammation
Saturated Fats: This category includes fats in and from animal products, such as fatty beef or pork, poultry skin, and full fat dairy foods. Saturated fats are also found in palm oil and palm-kernel oil, which you may find in the ingredient lists of any number of items on your shelves, including crackers, biscuits, bars, non dairy creamers, and other packaged baked goods. Try to dramatically limit your intake. In addition to carefully reading labels, choose lean cuts of beef and pork, and skinless chicken and turkey.
Trans Fats: Trans fats give baked goods a longer shelf life. Trans fats cause inflammation and other health problems. Please read the nutrition label and avoid anything that has hydrogenated fats or trans fatty acids.
Simple and Refined Carbs: No white foods such as bread, rice, pasta, sugary foods, crackers, and any other processed foods.
Foods You Should Eat More Of
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The healthiest of fats for people with arthritis or other inflammatory disorders are omega-3 fatty acids. More than a dozen studies have demonstrated that omega-3 fish oils can drastically reduce symptoms of RA. I recommend an omega-3-rich diet (and in some instances, fish-oil supplements) to all my clients with arthritis. I’ve seen some amazing success stories. Some of the best foods for omega-3 fatty acids include salmon (wild, fresh, or canned), herring, mackerel (not king), sardines, anchovies, rainbow trout, Pacific oysters, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, seaweed, and soybeans (edamame).
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: In addition to healthy monounsaturated fats, olive oil contains a natural compound called oleocanthal which may help prevent arthritis-related inflammation.. These compounds block the same inflammatory pathways as ibuprofen and aspirin, medications commonly used to fight arthritis pain. I recommend using olive oil when cooking instead of vegetable oil or butter (substitute in equal or lesser amounts). For the highest antioxidant content, choose “extra virgin” olive oil; the stronger the taste, the higher the amounts of oleocanthal the oil is likely to have.
Antioxidants — vitamin C, carotenes, bioflavonoids: Antioxidants protect the body from the effects of cell-damaging free radicals and are a critical part of an anti-inflammation diet. Research has also demonstrated that certain antioxidants may help prevent arthritis, slow its progression, and relieve pain. The best are: Vitamin C — found in guava, bell peppers, oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, pineapples, kohlrabi, papayas, lemons, broccoli, kale, potatoes, and brussels sprouts. Beta-carotene — found in sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, butternut squash, turnip greens, pumpkins, mustard greens, cantaloupes, sweet red peppers, apricots, and spinach. Beta-cryptoxanthin — found in winter squash, pumpkins, persimmons, papayas, tangerines, peppers (red chili and red bell), corn, oranges, apricots, carrots, nectarines, and watermelon. Quercetin — found in onions, kale, leeks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, blueberries, black currants, elderberries, lingonberries, apricots, red apples with skin, and red/purple/black grapes. Anthocyanins — found in blackberries, black currents, blueberries, eggplant, elderberries, raspberries, cherries, boysenberries, red/black/purple grapes, strawberries, plums, cranberries, rhubarb, red onions, and apples.
Vitamin D: Studies have shown that getting adequate amounts of vitamin D reduces the risk of both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Among people who already have osteoarthritis, those who have a vitamin D deficiency are more likely to develop worsening disability over time. Getting even the basic daily requirement of vitamin D (at least 600 IU until age 70, and at least 800 IU for folks 70 and older) leads to greater muscle strength, improvement in physical functioning, and preservation of cartilage. Some of the best foods for vitamin D include wild salmon, mackerel (not king), sardines, herring, milk (skim or 1 percent low-fat), soy milk, egg yolks, and UV-treated mushrooms.
Spices — ginger and turmeric: Certain spices seem to have anti-inflammatory effects and therefore should be considered for arthritis treatment. Among the most promising are ginger and turmeric. Ginger has been shown to lessen the pain of knee osteoarthritis when taken in highly purified, standardized supplement form. Scientific studies have shown that turmeric may help arthritis by suppressing inflammatory body chemicals. The research isn’t strong enough yet to support taking ginger or turmeric in supplement form, but I highly encourage adding generous amounts of these spices to food (they’ll add delicious flavor, too!).
7 Ingredients to Ease Arthritis Pain
If you suffer from arthritis, ease your painful symptoms by eating plenty of foods and ingredients that naturally reduce inflammation, such as these.
Green Tea, Arthritis, Food Cures
Green tea has been the subject of much health buzz in recent years, and with good reason. Compared with regular black tea, green tea looks weak and insubstantial. But this mild-mannered drink contains a natural antioxidant called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) not found in black tea. Studies suggest that EGCG works to stop the production of certain inflammatory chemicals in the body, including those involved in arthritis. Preliminary research suggests that EGCG and other catechins in tea may prevent cartilage from breaking down, possibly helping to preserve joints longer.
The healthiest of fats for people with arthritis or other inflammatory disorders are omega-3 fats. While other foods increase levels of inflammation in the body, omega-3s actually work to decrease inflammation by suppressing the production of enzymes that erode cartilage. A host of studies have demonstrated that omega-3 fish oils can reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Study participants reported greater strength, less fatigue, reduced joint swelling and tenderness, less joint stiffness, and less overall pain. The best foods for omega-3 fatty acids are salmon (wild, fresh or canned), herring, mackerel (not king), sardines, anchovies, rainbow trout, Pacific oysters, flaxseeds (ground and oil), chia seeds, and walnuts
In addition to healthy monounsaturated fats, olive oil contains a natural compound called oleocanthal which may help prevent arthritis-related inflammation. This compound blocks the same inflammatory pathways as ibuprofen and aspirin, medications commonly used to fight arthritis pain. I recommend using olive oil when cooking instead of vegetable oil or butter (substitute in equal or lesser amounts). If you’re also trying to lose weight to manage your arthritis, incorporate olive oil but be stingy with the amounts since all fat (including healthy fat like olive oil) is high in calories. For the highest antioxidant content, choose “extra virgin” olive oil; and note that the stronger the taste, the higher the amounts of oleocanthal the oil is likely to have.
The carotenoids are a group of powerful antioxidant nutrients found in many fruits and vegetables. The best known is beta carotene (found in foods like cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, kale, butternut squash, and spinach), but its sister carotenoid, beta-cryptoxanthin, may also reduce the risk of developing inflammation-related disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers have found that people who ate diets high in beta-cryptoxanthin were half as likely to develop a form of inflammatory arthritis as those who ate very few; in fact, adding just one additional serving each day of a food high in beta-cryptoxanthin helped reduce the risk. Some of the best foods for beta cryptoxanthin include winter squash, pumpkin, persimmons, papaya, tangerines, red peppers, corn, oranges and apricots.
Vitamin C is one of the nutrients most responsible for the health of collagen, a major component of cartilage. In addition, research suggests that people who eat a diet low in vitamin C may have a greater risk of developing some kinds of arthritis. For those reasons, it is important to make vitamin C-rich foods — such as guava, bell peppers (yellow, red, orange, and green), oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, pineapple, broccoli, kidney beans, kiwi, and cauliflower — a part of your daily diet. (High-dose vitamin C supplements can actually be harmful for osteoarthritis sufferers, so talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.)
Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that help reduce inflammation by inhibiting production of certain inflammatory chemicals. These compounds contribute to the health of connective tissue, and are even more powerful than vitamin C for defusing dangerous free radicals that can irritate body tissues and cause inflammation. Some of the best foods for anthocyanins include cherries, blackberries, black currents, blueberries, eggplant, elderberries, raspberries, boysenberries, red and black grapes, strawberries, and plums.
Spices: Ginger and Turmeric
Like fruits and vegetables, spices contain beneficial phytonutrients that can have powerful effects on health. Certain spices seem to have anti–inflammatory effects, and therefore should be considered for arthritis treatment. Among the most promising are turmeric — the Asian mustard–yellow spice found in curry — and ginger. Because ginger contains chemicals that work similarly to some anti–inflammatory medications, the benefits of ginger for arthritis pain are not surprising. Get creative: grate fresh ginger into stir fries, steep ginger with tea, or bake healthy ginger muffins.
Wondering which foods you should avoid? See my list of the Worst Foods for Arthritis.
Dining-Out Tips for Arthritis
If you have arthritis, making smarter menu choices is key to dining out without triggering joint pain.
It can be difficult at first, but after a few weeks, making smart food choices will become second nature. I recommend the following menu selections for these favorite restaurant categories:
• Grilled fish or skinless chicken breast in olive oil and seasonings — with brown rice or a baked potato or sweet potato and lots of grilled, roasted, or steamed vegetables.
• Salad entrées: variety of vegetables (request extra red peppers) with grilled chicken, shrimp, turkey breast, or lean ham. For dressing, use vinaigrette or request olive oil and vinegar on the side.
• Sandwiches: turkey breast, lean ham, or grilled chicken breast on whole-grain bread, in a whole-wheat pita, or rolled in a whole-grain wrap. Optional avocado, roasted peppers, onion, tomato, and other vegetables.
• Soups: gazpacho, black bean, lentil, vegetable, and low-fat butternut squash.
• Edamame, seaweed salad, California rolls (take advantage of sliced ginger!), and steamed vegetables.
• Chicken or salmon teriyaki with steamed or sautéed vegetables and brown rice.
• Steamed whole fish with ginger — plus steamed brown rice and sautéed or steamed vegetables.
• Steamed chicken, shrimp, or tofu with any vegetable combination — request “with ginger” and black bean or garlic sauce on the side) — use 1 to 2 tablespoons of the sauce on your entrée and enjoy with steamed brown rice.
• Chicken/fish/tofu tikka (no masala), tandoori, or vindaloo with curried vegetables.
• Dal (made with lentils) with side of curried vegetables.
The Benefits of Ginger for Arthritis
There are multiple benefits of ginger for arthritis. Ginger is a versatile spice that has anti-inflammatory properties, and early research shows it may be helpful in alleviating arthritis pain, making it one of the best foods for arthritis. This potent flavoring agent can be used in any course, from appetizers to dessert. Look for fresh ginger in the produce section of most grocery stores it is a tan root about the size of very fat fingers. Powdered ginger, found in the spice aisle, is used most often in baking and gives a stronger taste to foods so don’t substitute the same amount of powdered ginger for fresh ginger or it will be overpowering! Candied or crystallised ginger is sweet and can be enjoyed as an occasional treat or added to muffin and pancake batters. A common accompaniment to sushi, pickled ginger (also called gari) is made by soaking thin slices of fresh ginger in rice vinegar and sugar for a week or longer. Another health benefit of ginger: it’s touted as a digestive aid, helping nausea and stomach upset; and, when sliced and steeped in hot water, it makes a delicious ginger green
The Worst Foods for Arthritis
The most effective eating plan for arthritis includes avoiding inflammatory foods. Here are five of the worst offenders, please keep them far from your plate!
This category includes fats primarily found in animal products, such as fatty beef, pork, and lamb, poultry skin, ice cream, butter, whole or 2 percent milk, regular cheese, bacon, bologna, salami, pepperoni, and beef sausage. Saturated fats are also found in palm oil and palm-kernel oil you probably won’t find bottles of those oils in your cupboard, but you will find them in the ingredient list of any number of items on your shelves, including crackers, cookies, and nondairy creamers. To limit your intake of saturated fats, choose reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean cuts of beef and pork, and skinless chicken and turkey. As for packaged foods, you can find the saturated fat content listed on the Nutrition Facts panel and I advise choosing snack foods with no more than 2 grams saturated fat per serving and meal items with no more than 4.5 grams per serving.
In an effort to give baked goods a longer shelf life, scientists took common vegetable oil and added hydrogen molecules in the right places. The result was that the liquid oil turned solid and dangerous: Trans fats found in some baked goods, fast-food items, processed snack foods, and most stick margarines are thought to be at least as damaging (and maybe even worse) as saturated fats in terms of inflammation, heart disease, and other health problems. Food producers are well aware of both the dangers of these ingredients and the growing public awareness of them, so many companies have now reformulated their products to remove all trans fats. Manufacturers are now required to list the amount of trans fats, right after the listing for saturated fats on the nutrition label. Choose only products that have 0 grams trans fats and do not contain any partially hydrogenated oils.
Caloric, high-fat foods like fried chicken, French fries, donuts, and deep-fried appetizers should be avoided by anyone who has arthritis. When eaten in excess, these foods can increase body fat, which puts extra stress on the joints and amplifies the risk of wear and tear. Plus, body fat is not an inert substance; it is metabolically active, capable of producing hormones and chemicals that actually increase levels of inflammation. To make matters worse, some restaurants fry their foods in hydrogenated oils, which means you may also be getting a dose of dangerous trans fats. Instead of frying, choose a healthier way to prepare your foods; grilling, steaming, roasting, and baking are all tasty, waistline-friendly methods.
Refined carbohydrates are found in anything baked with white flour, such as white bread, rolls, crackers, and most baked goods as well as white rice and junky cereals. They’re all made by milling whole grains and removing the bran and germ the two parts of the grain that contain the most nutrients. Refined carbs produce a state of inflammation in the body, causing increases in cytokines and other pro-inflammatory compounds, which makes arthritis worse. Limit foods made with refined grains if you want the best chance of reducing arthritis pain and progression, and switch to much healthier whole-grain options: whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereal, whole-wheat pasta, and brown and wild rice should be staples on your weekly grocery shopping list.
Simple sugars found in foods like cookies, fruit juice, soft drinks, and candy are also refined carbohydrates, they send your blood-sugar levels soaring and set off an inflammatory response in the body, making arthritis and its symptoms worse. If you crave sweets, stick to a piece of fresh, fiber-rich fruit (paired with a handful of nuts or sunflower seeds to blunt blood sugar spikes) or see my list of low–sugar snacks for more options.