Best Foods for Arthritis
12 Best Foods For Arthritis
Although there is no diet cure for arthritis, certain foods have been shown to fight inflammation, strengthen bones and boost the immune system. Adding these foods to your balanced diet may help ease the symptoms of your arthritis. Find out how.
Fuel Up on Fish
Because certain types of fish are packed with inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, experts recommend at least 3 to 4 ounces of fish, twice a week. Omega-3-rich fish include salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring.
Great for: rheumatoid arthritis
Step Up to Soy
Not a fan of fish but still want the inflammation-busting benefits of omega-3 fatty acids? Try heart-healthy soybeans (tofu or edamame). Soybeans are also low in fat, high in protein and fiber and an all-around good-for-you food.
Great for: rheumatoid arthritis
Opt for Oils
Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy fats, as well as oleocanthal, which has properties similar to non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. But it’s not the only oil with health benefits. Avocado and safflower oils have shown cholesterol-lowering properties, while walnut oil has 10 times the omega-3s that olive oil has.
Great for: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis
Check Out Cherries
Studies have shown cherries help reduce the frequency of gout attacks. Research has shown that the anthocyanins found in cherries have an anti-inflammatory effect. Anthocyanins can also be found in other red and purple fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.
Great for: gout
Don’t Ditch the Dairy
Low-fat dairy products, like milk, yogurt and cheese are packed with calcium and vitamin D, both found to increase bone strength. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, and it has been shown to boost the immune system. If dairy doesn't agree with you, aim for other calcium and vitamin D-rich foods like leafy green vegetables.
Great for: osteoporosis, osteoarthritis
Bet on Broccoli
Rich in vitamins K and C, broccoli also contains a compound called sulforaphane, which researchers have found could help prevent or slow the progression of osteoarthritis (OA). Broccoli is also rich in calcium, which is known for its bone-building benefits.
Great for: osteoarthritis
Go Green (Tea)
Green tea is packed with polyphenols, antioxidants believed to reduce inflammation and slow cartilage destruction. Studies also show that another antioxidant in green tea called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) blocks the production of molecules that cause joint damage in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Great for: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
Sink Into Some Citrus
Citrus fruits – like oranges, grapefruits and limes – are rich in vitamin C. Research shows that getting the right amount of vitamin aids in preventing inflammatory arthritis and maintaining healthy joints with osteoarthritis (OA).
Great for: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis
Go With the Grain
Whole grains lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. CRP is a marker of inflammation associated with heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Foods like oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain cereals are excellent sources of whole grains.
Great for: rheumatoid arthritis
Break Out the Beans
Beans are packed with fiber, a nutrient that helps lower CRP. Beans are also an excellent – and inexpensive – source of protein, which is important for muscle health. Some beans are rich in folic acid, magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium, all known for their heart and immune system benefits. Look for red beans, kidney beans and pinto beans.
Great for: rheumatoid arthritis
Grab the Garlic
Studies have shown that people who regularly ate foods from the allium family – such as garlic, onions and leeks – showed fewer signs of early osteoarthritis (OA). Researchers believe the compound diallyl disulphine found in garlic may limit cartilage-damaging enzymes in human cells.
Great for: osteoarthritis
Nosh on Nuts
Nuts are rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and immune-boosting alpha linolenic acid (ALA), as well as filling protein and fiber. They are heart-healthy and beneficial for weight loss. Try walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds.
Great for: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
Best Beverages for Arthritis
There’s an old saying – you are what you eat. But what you drink can have an enormous effect on your body and health too.
“People don’t put enough thought into what they’re drinking,” says Sonya Angelone, a nutritionist in private practice in the San Francisco area and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “What you eat and drink is information to your body and if you are drinking well, it can definitely affect how you feel and the messages your body is getting.”
Angelone recommends starting every day with a glass of water before you eat any food, since many people wake up a bit dehydrated. She says you want to stick primarily with water the rest of the day too. The typical recommendation is eight glasses a day.
In general, nutritionists advise you to avoid soda since it’s full of sugar, aspartame and phosphoric acid. The latter negatively affects your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
But what should you be drinking?
Tea is one of the most-studied drinks when it comes to its benefits for arthritis patients. Green, black and white teas are all rich in polyphenols – compounds from plants that have strong anti-inflammatory effects.
You’ll find the highest polyphenol levels in green and white teas. Green tea is generally viewed as the most beneficial of all since it’s active ingredient is a polyphenol known as epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG). When it comes to antioxidant activity, EGCG has been shown to be as much as 100 times stronger than vitamins C and E. Studies have shown it also helps preserve cartilage and bone, although there are no widespread controlled trials of it in people with arthritis.
Research shows coffee also has antioxidant polyphenols. That means coffee can help fight free radicals in the body, which cause cell damage. Other research suggests coffee may have a protective effect against gout as well.
The jury is still out when it comes to the link between coffee and increased risk of RA or osteoporosis. Some studies say coffee increases the risk, others do not.
In general, the best rule of thumb with a cup of Joe is to drink it in moderation – no more than one or two cups a day. Watch your caffeine intake and be careful of fancy coffee drinks full of whipped cream and syrups that cause calories and sugar levels in the drink to skyrocket.
Some say you have to go dairy-free when diagnosed with arthritis, but there’s no research to suggest that’s actually the case. In fact, studies show no difference between RA patients on a dairy-free diet and those who still consume it.
Drinking milk may help prevent gout and fight the progression of osteoarthritis. Make sure you opt for low-fat milk to avoid consuming extra calories and saturated fat.
Orange, tomato, pineapple and carrot juices are all high in vitamin C, which means they have antioxidant properties, which can neutralize free radicals that lead to inflammation. Tart cherry juice has been shown to protect against gout flares and reduce osteoarthritis symptoms.
But be sensible when drinking juice: it’s delicious, but also high in sugar and calories. Check with your doctor if you’re a fan of grapefruit juice, because it can inactivate or alter the effect of many medications.
One nutritionist after another sings the praises of smoothies over juice. Instead of squeezing the juice of fruits and vegetables, you are putting whole items in – giving you the added bonus of fiber, which helps clean out arteries and fight constipation. Colorful fruits and vegetables are also high in antioxidants. Adding berries or leafy greens like spinach or kale can give you big doses of vitamins and nutrients.
Smoothies containing yogurt are full of good bacteria known as probiotics as well as lots of vitamins. Also consider exploring a fermented beverage like kefir as an alternative. It too is full of probiotics that can decrease inflammation in your body. Make sure you’re choosing a low- or no-sugar yogurt or kefir.
Red wine has a compound in it called resveratrol, which has well-established anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have shown wine consumption is associated with a reduced risk of knee OA, and moderate drinking is also associated with a reduced risk of RA. But many experts question the strength of these studies and argue it’s hard to distinguish confounding factors in this research. Other research shows alcohol’s detrimental effects on arthritis.
Overall, everyone agrees there aren’t enough health benefits in alcohol to start drinking if you don’t already do it. But if you do enjoy an occasional adult beverage, “drink it in moderation,” cautions Beth McDonald, a nutritionist at the Department of Integrative Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. “The general recommendation is one drink a day (of alcohol) for women, two for men. In excess of that you will lose the benefits and it becomes pro-inflammatory.”
If there’s a magical elixir to drink, it’s water. Hydration is vital for flushing toxins out of your body, which can help fight inflammation. Adequate water can help keep your joints well lubricated and can help prevent gout attacks. Drinking water before a meal can also help you eat less, promoting weight loss.
Experts say don’t bother wasting money on enhanced waters. The added amount of nutrients, electrolytes or antioxidants is generally miniscule.
Best Fruits for Arthritis
Pick these fruits for a bowlful of anti-inflammatory benefits.
Fruits are naturally sweet and many offer a substantial dose of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Some have components that may help lower the inflammation that often affects people with arthritis and is linked to other serious conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.
The vast variety of fruits means you have lots of great options for a healthful boost. Many berries, for example, are loaded with antioxidants, such ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C) and anthocyanins and carotenoids, which give soft berries their deep colors. These compounds help rid the body of free radicals that promote inflammation and they help prevent heart disease and certain cancers.
Whatever your favorite fruit, try to choose seasonal, locally grown produce, says Mitzi Dulan, a Kansas City-based dietician and team sports nutritionist for the Kansas City Royals. Although frozen fruits retain some of their nutrients, buy fresh for the best taste and highest concentration of beneficial compounds.
“Adding fresh fruit to the diet – five or more servings a day is the current recommendation – can help people manage their weight, as most are low in calories for their volume,” says Dulan.
Tart cherries. Tart cherries get their rich red color and many of their powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits from the flavonoid anthocyanin. These properties make tart cherries a popular research subject, and some investigators compare the effects to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Studies, which often use the concentrated juice of Montmorency cherries, have found tart cherries may relieve joint pain in people with osteoarthritis and lower the risk of flares in those with gout. In addition, Dulan notes, recent studies suggest tart cherries may improve the quality and duration of sleep.
Strawberries. Strawberries are naturally low in sugar and have more vitamin C per serving than an orange. Vitamin C can lower risk for gout, high blood pressure and cholesterol problems. Research has also shown that women who ate 16 or more strawberries a week had lower C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of body-wide inflammation linked to arthritis flares and heart disease.
As with cherries, scientists suspect it’s anthocyanin, along with other phytochemicals, that gives strawberries their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant health benefits. These berries are also a good source of folic acid, which the arthritis medication methotrexate can deplete. People taking the drug often need folic acid supplements to help prevent side effects. You may still need a capsule supplement, but strawberries help increase your intake while providing other benefits.
Red Raspberries. Like strawberries, these berries are among the highest in vitamin C and anthocyanin. Animal studies have shown extracts from the fruit reduce inflammation and osteoarthritis symptoms. Other research shows the fruit’s bioactive compounds lower system-wide inflammation and, when a regular part of the diet, help prevent a number of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes.
Avocado. The rich, creamy texture of this fruit comes in part from its high content of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fat. Avocados are also rich in the carotenoid lutein. Unlike most fruits, avocados are a good source of vitamin E, a micronutrient with anti-inflammatory effects. Diets high in these compounds are linked to decreased risk of the joint damage seen in early osteoarthritis.
Studies also show eating avocados daily increases “good” HDL cholesterol and lowers its “bad” LDL counterpart. Despite the fruit’s relatively high calorie content, research has found that regular avocado eaters tend to weigh less and have smaller waists. Their high fiber and fat content may help people control cravings, Dulan says.
Watermelon. Watermelon is another fruit with anti-inflammatory action; studies show it reduces CRP. It’s high in the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin, which can reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to studies that followed people’s dietary habits over time. It leads the fruit pack in lycopene, an antioxidant that may help protect against certain cancers and lower heart attack risk, says Dulan.
Once cup has about 40% more lycopene than raw tomatoes, the next richest raw food source. Watermelon is also ninety-two percent water, which makes it great for hydration and weight management. One cup of watermelon has about 40 calories – plus about a third of your recommended daily allowance of vitamins A and C.
Grapes. “Grapes, both white and darker-colored varieties, are a great source of beneficial antioxidants and other polyphenols,” says Dulan. “Fresh red and black grapes also contain resveratrol, the heart-healthy compound found in red wine that contributes to cardiovascular health by improving the function of blood vessels.”
Resveratrol is also a potent anti-inflammatory. Studies show this bioactive compound acts on the same cellular targets as NSAIDs. Researchers are studying its potential for improving symptoms of osteoarthritis, as well as for other chronic diseases linked to aging.
- How Cherries Help Fight Arthritis
- Research Shows Apples Can Cut Cholesterol and Inflammation
Best Vegetables for Arthritis
Going green – and yellow and orange – could be one of the best things you do for your joints.
When you have arthritis, the produce section is one of the most important stops you can make in the grocery store. Vegetables are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that protect against cell damage and lower inflammation throughout the body, including in your joints.
Which vegetables are best? “The more color the better. Eat the rainbow on your plate,” advises Kim Larson, a Seattle-based nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson. “Variety is the key.”
Here’s a guide to some of the vegetables that should color your plate every day.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Energy production and other metabolic processes in the body produce harmful byproducts called free radicals, which damage cells. Free radicals have been implicated in the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and in the inflammation that attacks joints. Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, Swiss chard and bok choy are packed with antioxidants like vitamins A, C and K, which protect cells from free-radical damage. These foods are also high in bone-preserving calcium.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and cauliflower) offer another benefit – a natural compound called sulforaphane. Research on mice shows sulforaphane blocks the inflammatory process and might slow cartilage damage in osteoarthritis (OA). And there’s some evidence diets high in this vegetable family could prevent RA from developing in the first place.
Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Red Peppers and Squash
These brightly orange- and red-hued vegetables get their distinctive color from carotenoids like beta-cryptoxanthin. Plant pigments also supply sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and red peppers with antioxidants. Some research suggests eating more foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin could reduce your risk of developing RA and other inflammatory conditions.
Red and Green Peppers
Peppers – no matter what their color or whether they’re mild or hot – are an abundant source of vitamin C, which preserves bone, and may protect cells in cartilage. Getting less than the recommended 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men daily may increase risk for OA of the knee. Just a half-cup of red bell pepper gives you a full day’s supply.
Onions, Garlic, Leeks and Shallots
These pungent vegetables are all members of the allium family, which are rich in a type of antioxidant called quercetin. Researchers are investigating quercetin’s potential ability to relieve inflammation in diseases like RA. Alliums also contain a compound called diallyl disulphine, which may reduce the enzymes that damage cartilage.
Though technically a fruit and not found in the produce aisle, olives and olive oil can be potent inflammation fighters. Extra-virgin olive oil contains the compound oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent that has properties similar to the NSAID drug, ibuprofen.
Should You Avoid Nightshade Vegetables?
Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes are all members of the nightshade family. These vegetables contain the chemical solanine, which some people claim aggravates arthritis pain and inflammation. Are nightshades worth avoiding?
“It is anecdotal, and it certainly might be true for some people, but there are no scientific studies done to prove that they actually cause inflammation or make symptoms worse,” Larson says. Nightshade vegetables are rich in nutrients, making them a worthy addition to your diet. But if you find they trigger arthritis pain, don’t eat them, Larson suggests.
Cooking Your Vegetables
Almost as important as which vegetables you choose is how you cook them. Steaming is preferable to boiling because it preserves the nutrients in the vegetables. “Don’t use a lot of water, because vitamins and antioxidants might leach out in the water,” Larson says. Also don’t overcook them – keep vegetables a little bit “al dente” to hold in the vitamins and minerals.
Skip the deep fryer, which adds a lot of extra fat and calories, but do sauté. “If you add oil, it actually releases the phytochemicals in vegetables and makes them more available,” Larson adds.
- Antioxidant-Loaded Veggies Help Fight Inflammation
- Add Color to Your Arthritis Diet
Best Fish for Arthritis
Adding more marine life to your meals could help calm inflammation
Arthritis is – for the most part – a disease of inflammation. When your joints swell, turn red and feel warm to the touch, what you’re witnessing and feeling are inflammatory processes in motion.
One way to calm inflammation is with medicine your doctor prescribes. Another way is to add a few key anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Among the most potent edible inflammation fighters are essential fatty acids called omega-3s – particularly the kinds of fatty acids found in fish.
Omega-3s and Inflammation
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are called marine fatty acids because they come from fish. What makes these omega-3 sources worthwhile menu additions for people with arthritis is their ability to inhibit inflammation. Omega-3s interfere with immune cells called leukocytes and enzymes known as cytokines, which are both key players in the body’s inflammatory response.
“The marine omega-3 fatty acids nip inflammation in the bud before it ignites. They really help to tamp down inflammation in the body on a cellular level,” says Kim Larson, a Seattle-based nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson.
Research finds that people who regularly eat fish high in omega-3s are less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA). And in those who already have the disease, marine omega-3s may help reduce joint swelling and pain.
The anti-inflammatory effects from omega-3s are helpful not just for relieving arthritis, but also for preventing other diseases linked to inflammation, such as heart disease. That’s important, considering these conditions are closely linked and often coexist. Omega-3s lower levels of unhealthy blood fats called triglycerides, reduce the growth of plaques that clog arteries, raise levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol and slightly lower blood pressure.
Which Fish are Best?
The best sources of marine omega-3s are fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Eating a 3- to 6-ounce serving of these fish two to four times a week is recommended for lowering inflammation and protecting the heart.
Many fish that are rich in omega-3s are also high in mercury, which can cause brain and nervous system damage when eaten in large enough quantities. “It’s important to choose the smaller fish that have less mercury,” Larson suggests. Smaller fish are lower in mercury simply by virtue of their position near the bottom of the food chain. When larger fish like swordfish, king mackerel, tuna and shark feed on large numbers of small fish, mercury from all of those fish accumulates in their bodies.
Not sure which fish to choose? Here are a few species that are high in omega-3s but relatively low in mercury:
|Fish||EPA + DHA*||Mercury**|
|Salmon||1.2 – 1.8||0.022|
|Herring||1.1 - 1.7||0.084|
*Grams of fatty acid per 3-ounce portion
**Mean (parts per million)
Farm-Raised, or Wild-Caught?
The next question many fish eaters want to know is whether it’s better to buy farm-raised or wild-caught. Some research has found farm-raised fish contain higher levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other contaminants that have been linked to cancer. These chemicals come from the diet of farm-raised fish, which is primarily made up of smaller fish.
Another concern is that farm-raised fish might contain fewer omega-3 fatty acids than wild. On this issue the research is conflicting, but both wild-caught and farm-raised fish are considered good sources of omega-3s.
Making Fish Affordable
Cost may be the biggest barrier to eating more fish. Depending on where you live – and shop – salmon can run $20 or even $30 per pound. To get all the health benefits of fish without spending a fortune, look for fish in the freezer section of your local supermarket. Or, buy canned tuna, sardines or salmon.
Are Fish-Oil Supplements As Helpful for Arthritis?
If you just can’t stomach salmon or sardines, you might want to consider a fish-oil supplement. Yet you may not get the same omega-3 benefits in a bottle. Although fish-oil supplements contain higher levels of EPA and DHA than you’d get from eating fish, that doesn’t mean your body will use those omega-3s as effectively. Some studies suggest our bodies don’t absorb omega-3 fatty acids as well from supplements as from fish.
And there are other reasons for choosing fish over pills. “We know that food has so many other things in it that we can’t get in a supplement,” Larson says. When you eat fish, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, you also get nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and selenium.
- The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Arthritis
Best Grains for Arthritis
Making smarter choices in the bread and pasta aisles might reduce inflammation.
Choosing which type of pasta to cook for dinner or what bread or cereal to have with breakfast doesn’t seem like a big decision, until you consider the effect certain grains can have on your body. Eating the wrong types can aggravate inflammation, potentially making your joints hurt more than they already do.
When contemplating your options in the bread, cereal and pasta aisles, you’ll want to avoid refined grains. Not only are these highly processed grains limited in nutrition, but they can also worsen inflammation throughout the body.
Grains are made up of three parts: The bran is the outer skin of the grain kernel, the germ is the innermost part that grows into a new plant, and the endosperm is the center part that provides food for the plant. Whole grains contain all three parts. Refined grains have removed the bran and germ, where most of the vitamins, minerals and protein are centered.
Examples of food made with refined grains are white bread, white rice, cookies and cakes. Because of their simple structure, these carbs break down in the body rapidly. “The body turns them into sugar more quickly and sugar is highly inflammatory,” says Barbara Olendzki, nutrition program director of the Center for Applied Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
Refined grains have been linked to higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. Inflammation throughout the body is not only bad for arthritis, but it can also increase your risk for other inflammatory conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Should You Avoid All Grains?
You might have read articles touting the paleo diet or similar eating plans for rheumatoid arthritis. The premise behind going grain-free is at least partially based on lectins – carbohydrate-binding proteins found in grains. Some research suggests lectins bind to carbohydrate-specific receptors on immune cells called lymphocytes, triggering an inflammatory response. The theory is that eliminating lectin-containing foods (notably grains) might reduce symptoms in certain people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Yet research hasn’t confirmed any connection between whole grains and inflammation, and there are many good reasons to keep this food group in your diet. Whole grains are rich in antioxidants, which protect cells from damage, and B vitamins. They are high in fiber, which binds to fatty acids like LDL cholesterol and carries them out of the body before they can clog arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke. Eating whole grains may your lower risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. “[Whole grains] are also food sources for beneficial bacteria, the microbiome in our gut,” Olendzki says. Eating whole grains helps “those good guys stay alive.”
Better Grain Choices
To maximize nutrition while minimizing inflammation, stick to whole grains when you shop or cook. Many of these grains are also gluten-free (labeled with a GF below), if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.
- Amaranth-GF: Although amaranth isn’t officially a grain, its nutrient composition makes it similar to cereal grains. Amaranth is high in protein, has a nutty flavor, and you can pop it like popcorn or turn it into porridge by boiling it in water.
- Barley: An ideal addition to soups, stews and risotto dishes, barley is loaded with 6 grams of fiber per cup.
- Brown rice-GF: Because it has not had its bran and germ stripped away during processing, brown rice is nutrient-rich. Use it as a replacement in any recipe that calls for white rice, but you’ll need to use more water and adjust cooking times.
- Buckwheat-GF: Another pseudo-cereal like amaranth, buckwheat is technically a fruit. Yet you can use this high-protein ingredient in noodles, crepes, pancakes and muffins.
- Bulgur: This nutty-tasting grain comes from whole-wheat that’s been partly cracked. Use it in recipes, just as you would rice or couscous.
- Millet-GF: Millet is a grass that’s similar to corn. It can be used as an alternative to rice, or added to bread and muffin recipes.
- Quinoa-GF: This versatile, high-protein seed is an ideal grain substitute. Research is finding quinoa might suppress the release of immune substances called cytokines, which could be helpful for both preventing and treating inflammation.
- Sorghum-GF: This cereal grain is rich in protein. Use sorghum flour instead of white flour in breads, cookies and other recipes.
- Rye: Often used to make rye bread, whole rye has been shown in research to suppress hunger, which might make it a useful weight-loss tool.
- Whole oats-GF: Steel-cut and other whole oats are high in protein and are naturally gluten free (although most commercially available oats are contaminated with wheat). Have them for breakfast or use them in recipes.
- Whole wheat: Swapping whole-wheat flour for white in your recipes will increase your nutrient intake and potentially lower inflammation.
When you buy pre-packaged foods with these grains, make sure they contain the real thing. Some breads and crackers have added brown coloring to make them look like whole grain, or use words like “multigrain” and “wheat” on the package. Look for ‘whole grain’ as the first ingredient on the label.
- Gluten-Free Grains for Your Arthritis Diet
Best Nuts and Seeds for Arthritis
Nuts and seeds come in small packages but can deliver big health benefits
Whether you snack on a handful, slip them into a stir-fry or sprinkle them on a salad, nuts and seeds are versatile additions to your diet and cooking repertoire. Most also offer a variety of health benefits for people with arthritis.
Many nuts and seeds are a good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which lower cholesterol and reduce the heart disease risks that are high in people with certain types of arthritis. They also are a good source of protein and antioxidant vitamins and minerals. In addition, says Marisa Moore, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian-nutritionist, some nuts and seeds are high in alpha linoleic acid (ALA), a type of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid.
Some nuts are rich in magnesium, l-arginine and vitamin E, which may play a role in keeping inflammation under control. Studies have shown that people who eat a diet high in these nutrients tend to have lower levels of some inflammation-causing molecules that circulate in the bloodstream and higher levels of the anti-inflammatory protein adiponectin compared with those who consumed less.
Ideally, you should reach for raw, unsalted nuts, says Moore. “However, if a little seasoning is going to help you swap nuts for buttery crackers, potato chips or other less healthy treats, it’s fine to grab some lightly salted nuts – unless you’re on a low sodium diet.” She cautions that all nuts and seeds are high in calories, so you can’t eat them mindlessly. One serving a day (about an ounce of nuts or 1 to 2 tablespoons of seeds) is all you need.
Here are nut and seed selections that Moore and the research say deliver the most health benefits.
With their high ALA content, walnuts head the nut pack in omega-3 content, and researchers studying their effects have found they lower C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Eating walnuts regularly can lower cholesterol, relax blood vessels to lessen stress on the heart, and reduce blood pressure.
Tips: Walnuts have a hefty texture that makes them a good centerpiece in meatless dishes. They can be pricey so Moore likes to combine them with other healthy foods. Try a simple stir-fry of broccoli, walnuts and chopped garlic with a few squeezes of lemon juice.
Technically a legume, peanuts are the “nut” with the most protein (about 7 grams per 1-ounce serving). “They’re also cheaper than most nuts, so for people with arthritis trying to managing their weight, for example, they make a filling, inexpensive snack,” says Moore. Peanuts are also a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and research shows adding them to your diet can help lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk. Peanuts deliver about 12% of your daily magnesium requirement, and may help keep blood sugar under control.
Tips: Use peanut butter in a creamy sauce for vegetables, pasta or chicken. Blend 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter, 1/3 cup of water or broth, 2 tablespoons each fresh lime juice and soy sauce and a dash of cayenne to taste. Look for peanut butters that list only one or two ingredients: peanuts or peanuts and salt.
Because almonds contain more fiber than most nuts, they’re a good choice for weight management, says Moore. “You’ll be more satisfied for longer, and you also get some cholesterol-reducing benefits from the healthy fats. They are also a good source of antioxidant vitamin E,” she says. Research suggests the monounsaturated fats from an almond-rich diet lower some markers of inflammation, including CRP.
Tips: Mix slivered almonds into rice and vegetable dishes to add crunch and subtle flavor. “Almonds also make a great snack – try pairing with apples and fresh cherries for a great complementary taste,” she says.
Snack on pistachios to help with weight loss. “Dealing with the shell slows down consumption, which is good for people with arthritis trying to lose a few pounds to take pressure off joints,” she says. Pistachios can also help lower LDL cholesterol and are high in potassium and antioxidants, including vitamins A and E and lutein – a compound also found in dark, leafy vegetables.
Tips: Sprinkle pistachios over Greek yogurt drizzled with honey for a high-protein, high-fiber snack or breakfast. Crushed pistachios also make a flavorful, crunchy coating for fish or chicken.
Flaxseed is one of the richest plant-based sources of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Studies show it may help lower overall and LDL cholesterol and reduce the complications of diabetes and heart disease risk. Crushing or milling the flaxseed make it easier for your body to digest and use the ALA, so choose these varieties over whole seeds.
Tips: Stir into yogurt along with some fruit or sprinkle onto cereal or salads.
Chia seeds are also an excellent source of anti-inflammatory ALA, but their biggest benefit is probably their high fiber content (about 10 grams per serving), says Moore. “The fiber fills people up, which can help control weight,” she says.
Tips: Chia seeds absorb liquid easily and take on a jelly-like consistency. Moore takes advantage of this by blending chia seeds with almond or coconut milk, fruit and vanilla extract then chilling the mixture in the refrigerator to create a chia pudding.
Best Spices for Arthritis
Season your food with anti-inflammatory spices
Often when prepping a meal, food is the primary focus and spices are, at best, an afterthought. But when following an anti-inflammatory diet to help reduce the pain and joint inflammation of arthritis, researchers say don’t forget about the potential benefits of the spices you use to season your meals.
“The more anti-inflammatory foods and spices you eat, the more you are tamping down chronic inflammation,” explains board certified sports dietitian Kim Larson, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “I think people are often surprised at what a great anti-inflammatory source spices can be.”
When you have arthritis, your joints and sometimes other parts of your body become inflamed, and many spices inhibit certain inflammatory pathways in the body. And although a dash of cinnamon on your oatmeal is somewhat infinitesimal, spices can pack a significant punch when you consume a number of them throughout the day.
“If you do a sprinkle of cinnamon in oatmeal or a smoothie, then have some ginger tea mid-morning and something with pepper and garlic for lunch and dinner it can certainly have an additive effect,” explains Beth McDonald, a nutritionist at The Center for Health and Healing in the Department of Integrative Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. “So with spices – experiment with new recipes and try to incorporate a spice with an anti -inflammatory benefit with every meal.”
With that in mind…here are some spices to consider the next time you are in the kitchen.
Garlic is a tasty addition to just about any savory dish. Like onions and leeks, it contains diallyl disulfide, an anti-inflammatory compound that limits the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Garlic, therefore can help fight the pain, inflammation and cartilage damage of arthritis.
Opt for fresh garlic from the produce section of your market because preservatives may be added to bottled garlic and processing may decrease some of its strength.
Curcumin is the active chemical in turmeric root it blocks inflammatory cytokines and enzymes in two inflammatory pathways. Several human trials have shown an anti-inflammatory benefit, which can translate to reduced joint pain and swelling. The yellow spice is popular in curries and other Indian dishes. It is most effective in combination with black pepper, which helps the body absorb it better – so eat the two together when possible.
Gingerol and shogaol are the chemicals in ginger that block inflammation pathways in the body. Along with its anti-inflammatory properties, some studies have shown ginger can also reduce osteoarthritis symptoms, although other studies did not find such benefit.
Ginger is a versatile spice and can go in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s best to use it in its fresh form. A great way to add ginger to your diet is to boil it into a tea: Put a one- to two-inch piece of fresh ginger root in boiling water for 30 to 60 minutes.
Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid, both of which have antioxidant properties that help inhibit cell damage caused by free radicals. Studies say more research is needed to make formal recommendations about its use, however.
Cinnamon is delicious mixed with oatmeal or added to smoothies, but it’s not strong enough on its own to offer a therapeutic effect. Used in combination with other foods and spices, it may offer a cumulative anti-inflammatory effect over the course of the day.
Chili peppers contain natural compounds called capsaicinoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Cayenne and other dried chilies spice up sauces, marinades and rubs. Chilies can be hot, so start with just a dash or two.
When trying a new spice, start small and add more after you’ve taste-tested your dish. Anywhere from a half teaspoon to a full teaspoon is generally a good place to start for most spices, except cayenne (start with a ¼ tsp or less of cayenne).
A good rule of thumb with spices is “fresh is best.” But experts say bottled spices can pack a punch too. “Spices are already dehydrated so the antioxidants are concentrated in a small, powerful amount,” Larson explains.
And remember the wide variety of foods you can spice up. They are wonderful in rubs, marinades and sauces; on steamed or roasted vegetables; mixed into pasta, potatoes, rice, couscous and quinoa; and in soups and stews.
Best Oils for Arthritis
The oil you put on your salad can add to your anti-inflammatory arsenal.
Among the myriad bottles of oils lining grocery store shelves are some that offer a dose of anti-inflammatory action and other health perks for people with arthritis. When part of a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins, certain oils can help stave off heart disease, stroke and diabetes, for which many people with arthritis have an increased risk.
Some may also help prevent inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as certain cancers, says Sara Haas, a Chicago-based dietitian, chef and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
All oils are a mixture of fatty acids – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated –and it’s the ratio of these acids that determine whether an oil or fat is healthful or harmful.
“Healthy oils and fats have a higher amount of unsaturated fatty acids and a lower amount of saturated fatty acids than their less-healthy counterparts,” says Haas. “Unsaturated fats – mono and poly – have unique health benefits. Monounsaturated fats can help lower your blood LDL [bad cholesterol] level and raise HDL [good] cholesterol, which in turn can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Polyunsaturated fats may lower total blood cholesterol, which also helps prevent heart disease.”
At the other end of the spectrum are saturated fats, such as butter, which are solid at room temperature and are linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels and heart disease. This is a type of fat you should limit in your diet.
Squeeze the most health benefits out of your oils by understanding their best uses, which often depend on their smoke point. This is the temperature at which different oils begin to smoke and break down, which destroys the compounds that give them their health benefits.
“Finer oils with low smoke points are not good for most cooking applications because cooking destroys their nutritive value,” Haas says. She advises reserving oils with low smoke points for dishes that don’t involve high heat or for drizzling on soups and vegetables just before serving.
Storing oils properly will keep their taste and beneficial compounds intact. Air, heat and light speed up deterioration, and most should be kept on a cool, dark shelf. Some oils, particularly those high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, go rancid quickly and are best stored in the refrigerator and brought to room temperature before using. If oil has an unpleasant taste or odor, it’s time for a new bottle.
Here are Haas’s top picks for healthy oils.
High in monounsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, olive oils are among the best-studied fats, with many known health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil, the least refined type, is pressed mechanically rather than processed with heat or chemicals that change its chemical properties. It contains biologically active compounds – such as the polyphenols oleocanthal, oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol and lignans – that have been linked to reduced joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis.
Kitchen tips: “Extra virgin oil has a low smoke point, so it’s best for finishing foods or for dressings,” Haas says. “The smoke point of virgin olive oil is a little higher, making it a better choice for cooking.” Olive oil doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but lasts longer away from heat and fluctuating temperatures and even longer in the fridge. Once opened, it will keep for about six months on the shelf and up to a year in the refrigerator.
This winemaking byproduct, which is pressed from the seeds of grapes, is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and is a good source of vitamin E.
Kitchen tips: “This is a versatile oil with a neutral flavor profile,” says Haas. “Its medium-high smoke point makes it good for salad dressings, sautéing and baking.” Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to six months.
This oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, including alpha-linoleic acid, that have cardiovascular and cholesterol-lowering benefits. These fatty acids can also lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of body-wide inflammation.
Kitchen tips: To preserve its health benefits and nutty taste, it’s best not to heat this delicate oil, Haas says. Walnut oil can go bad in less than three months, so keep it in the refrigerator.
This pale green oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can lower heart disease and stroke risks. Research also suggests avocado oil has an anti-inflammatory effect, reducing CRP. It’s also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E.
Kitchen tips: Avocado oil has mild flavor and a higher smoke point than most plant oils, so it performs well for high-heat cooking such as stir-frying. Keep in the refrigerator, where it will last about six months.
This oil is low in saturated fatty acids and is a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Research shows it helps lower cholesterol and heart disease risk.
Kitchen tips: Canola oil’s high smoke point works well for high-heat cooking applications like sautéing. Store in a dark, cool cabinet, where it has a shelf life of four to six months.
Surprisingly Healthy Foods
Four foods that fly under the nutrition radar but shouldn’t.
| By Sandra Gordon
Eating right doesn’t have to mean all veggies, all the time. Here are four everyday foods that fly under the good-nutrition radar. Adding these good guys in disguise to your diet may offer arthritis pain relief, fight inflammation or reduce your risk of related conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
“White” bread. Whole wheat and whole-grains are typically higher in fiber and other nutrients than refined grains. “But don’t diss white flour,” says Julie Miller Jones, PhD, professor emeritus at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. White flour is fortified with folic acid, which helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood that may promote atherosclerosis – the build-up of artery-clogging plaque, which can be common in those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Even better news for white-bread fans: Some manufacturers, like Pepperidge Farm, are now using a variety of whole-wheat flour that’s softer in texture and, yes, white in color. And because white whole wheat isn’t refined, it’s a whole grain – offering more fiber and nutrients than its processed counterpart. Look for “whole grain white” on bread labels. King Arthur also sells whole-grain white flour for baking.
Mushrooms. Think of them as more than a salad garnish. They’re are a great source of key dietary nutrients – including copper, which helps the body produce red blood cells, and potassium, which benefits the heart, muscles and nerves. Some mushrooms – those exposed to UVB light during processing – are also a decent source of vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium to build and maintain strong bones. Studies suggest that ample vitamin D may play a role in overall health as well.
Commercially-grown mushrooms exposed to UVB light for just 15 to 20 seconds pack as much as 100 percent of your daily value per 3-ounce serving. To find the D-lightful fungi, look for packaged mushrooms labeled “high in vitamin D.” Mushrooms sold in bulk aren’t treated with UV light because they can’t be labeled as such.
Chocolate. This crowd-pleaser is not only rich in flavor, but also in flavanols – antioxidants that may help keep arteries clear, reduce the stickiness of blood platelets to reduce the risk of heart attack and lower blood pressure by improving blood vessel elasticity. But chocolate isn’t just heart healthy.
A 2012 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who consumed any type of chocolate more frequently – an average of two times per week – had a lower body mass index than those who consumed chocolate less often. Researchers say that from this study, you can’t infer that eating chocolate leads to weight loss – but they add that something about chocolate may play a role, and the sweet stuff warrants further study.
Get recipes with heart-healthy cocoa powder here.
Popcorn. The savory whole-grain snack offers more inflammation-fighting antioxidants, known as polyphenols, per ounce than fruits and vegetables – up to 300 mg per 4-cup serving, according to Joe Vinson, PhD, an antioxidant researcher and chemistry professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
“Popcorn is also a good source of fiber, which can help relieve the gastric issues often associated with rheumatoid arthritis,” says Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor in the department of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Fiber is also linked to lower inflammation and may add years to your life. But make sure it’s air-popped – and not doused in butter – to keep tabs on fats and calories.