The Ultimate Arthritis Diet
Mediterranean Staples Fight Pain And Inflammation
By Amy Paturel
One of the most common questions people with any form of arthritis have is, “Is there an arthritis diet?” Or more to the point, “What can I eat to help my joints?”
The answer, fortunately, is that many foods can help. Following a diet low in processed foods and saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans is great for your body. If this advice looks familiar, it’s because these are the principles of the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is frequently touted for its anti-aging, disease-fighting powers.
There’s good science behind the hype. Studies confirm eating these foods lowers blood pressure and protects against chronic conditions ranging from cancer to stroke. It helps arthritis by curbing inflammation – which benefits your joints as well as your heart. Another bonus: Eating more healthy, whole foods commonly found in Mediterranean cuisine – and fewer packaged foods – can also lead to weight loss, which makes a huge difference in managing joint pain.
Whether you call it a Mediterranean diet, an anti-inflammatory diet or simply an arthritis diet, here’s a look at the key foods and a breakdown of why they’re so good for joint health.
How much: Health authorities like the American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend three to four ounces of fish twice a week. Arthritis experts say more is better.
Why: Some types of fish are good sources of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. A study of 727 postmenopausal women, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found those who had the highest consumption of omega-3s had lower levels of two inflammatory proteins, C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6.
More recently, researchers have shown that taking fish oil supplements helps reduce joint swelling and pain, duration of morning stiffness and disease activity among people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Some of these patients even discontinued using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) without experiencing a disease flare.
Why are omega-3s such a hot commodity? Because most Americans aren’t getting enough. “Our ancestors consumed a balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. Today, people often ingest 10 to 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s,” says Tanya Edwards, M.D., medical director of the Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. A glut of inexpensive omega-6-rich vegetable oils have infiltrated packaged, processed foods and restaurant kitchens, and too many omega-6s could trigger inflammation and exacerbate disease. Research has shown that increasing our ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids – eating more fish and less fast-food, for example – helps mitigate chronic diseases, including RA.
Best sources: Salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, anchovies, scallops and other cold-water fish. Hate fish? Take a supplement. Studies show that taking 600 to 1,000 mg of fish oil daily eases joint stiffness, tenderness, pain and swelling.
Nuts and Seeds
How much: Eat 1.5 ounces of nuts daily (one ounce is about one handful).
Why: “Multiple studies confirm the role of nuts in an anti-inflammatory diet,” explains José M. Ordovás, Ph.D., director of nutrition and genomics at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that over a 15-year period, men and women who consumed the most nuts had a 51 percent lower risk of dying from an inflammatory disease (like RA) compared with those who ate the fewest nuts. Another study, published in the journal Circulation, found that subjects with lower levels of vitamin B6 – found in most nuts – had higher levels of CRP and oxidative damage.
More good news: Nuts are jam-packed with inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat.
In addition to taste and texture, nuts boast protein and fiber. Even though they’re relatively high in fat and calories, studies show that noshing on nuts promotes weight loss, because their protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats are satiating. “Just keep in mind that more is not always better,” says Ordovás.
Best sources: Walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds. In towns along the Mediterranean, you’ll see these nuts mixed into everything from salads and pilafs to main dishes and desserts.
Fruits & Veggies
How much: Aim for nine or more servings daily.
Why: Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants. These potent chemicals act as the body’s natural defense system, helping to neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals that can damage cells.
“Our bodies produce 10 to 15 different oxidants every day,” says Edwards. “That oxidation process produces inflammation, which in turn produces more oxidants in the body.” Fruits and vegetables can defuse those rogue molecules. “The darker, more brilliant the fruit or vegetable, the more antioxidants it has.”
Just be sure your plate sports many colors of the rainbow, since different colors neutralize different oxidants. “The anthocyanins in cherries, for example, contain enzymes that [appear to] mimic the effects of [NSAIDs] without the side effects,” says weight loss coach and nutritionist Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., author of “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.” A compound in the allium family of vegetables (onions, garlic, leeks and shallots) called diallyl- disulphide also appears to fend off degrading protein enzymes present in people with osteoarthritis.
Other research suggests that eating vitamin K-rich veggies like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale and cabbage dramatically reduces inflammatory markers in the blood.
Best Sources: Colorful fruits and veggies like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, spinach, kale, broccoli, eggplant and bell peppers.
How much: Two to three tablespoons daily.
Why: Olive oil is made up largely of healthful, monounsaturated fat. It’s anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy and tasty. But having the right type of fat isn’t the oil’s only value. In fact, experts claim at least half of its health benefits come from the olives, not the oil.
“What makes olive oil so healthy is that it’s a delivery system for antioxidant compounds called polyphenols in the olives,” says Bowden.
Ever notice a scratchy sensation in the back of your throat after dipping your bread in olive oil? That’s the phenolic compound, oleocanthal, one of the most concentrated anti-inflammatory compounds in olive oil. “This compound inhibits activity of COX enzymes, with a pharmacological action similar to ibuprofen,” says Ordovás. Inhibiting these enzymes dampens the body’s inflammatory processes and reduces pain sensitivity. So it’s no wonder this oil has been linked with a reduced risk of a variety of chronic diseases.
Best sources: Extra virgin olive oil. It goes through less refining and processing, so it retains more nutrients than standard varieties.
How much: About one cup, twice a week (or more).
Why: Beans are loaded with fiber, a nutrient that helps lower CRP, an indicator of inflammation found in the blood. At high levels, CRP could indicate anything from an infection to RA.
But fiber isn’t the only reason beans help fight inflammation. In a study recently published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, scientists analyzed the nutrient content of 10 common bean varieties in southern Italy and identified a host of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, including quercetin, genistein, soysapogenin and oleanolic acid.
Copyright 2015 Arthritis Foundation
The Ultimate Arthritis Diet