Arthritis Awareness Month:
Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Arthritis is the No. 1 cause of disability in the US, affecting 54 million people with chronic joint inflammation and pain.
May is National Arthritis Awareness Month
Arthritis is the No. 1 cause of disability in the United States, affecting 54 million people (about 1 in every 4 adults) with chronic joint inflammation and pain. It can’t be cured, but its symptoms can be mitigated with medication, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery. Joint pain can also be reduced with anti-inflammatory foods like nuts, seeds, beans, and vegetables.
5 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Add to Your Meals
The below foods contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants to combat or mitigate arthritis. Consult your doctor before making major changes to your diet, as certain anti-inflammatory foods can reduce the effectiveness of certain medications.
Keep your kitchen stocked with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Berries are high in antioxidants and contain anthocyanins, two powerful properties that fight and reduce inflammation. They can easily be added to your regular meals as a side or topping or blended into a heart-healthy smoothie with other fruits and vegetables.
The American Heart Association and other health authorities recommend you eat at least 3-4 ounces of cold-water fish twice a week. This is because cold-water fish is a healthy source of Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
If you’re not into fish, you can opt for supplements per your doctor’s approval, but otherwise, incorporate the following into your meal plans: anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, scallops, tuna, etc.
Dark Green Vegetables
Bulk up your diet with dark greens like broccoli, kale, lettuce, and spinach to increase your Vitamin C and E levels. The former helps to produce collagen, which promotes cartilage and joint health, while the latter protects your body from inflammatory molecules. The richer and darker the vegetable’s color, the more antioxidants it contains.
This is one of the most researched drinks for arthritis sufferers because it contains epigallocatechin 3-gallate (EGCG), an active ingredient with potent anti-inflammatory effects. In some cases, its antioxidant strength is 100 times stronger than that of Vitamin E and C, making it an anti-inflammatory powerhouse.
Try to have a cup of tea each morning, but if you’re on medication, ask your doctor if it’s an okay addition to your diet. Green tea notably affects some medications, including blood thinners and beta blockers.
Multiple studies have confirmed the benefit of consuming nuts to combat arthritis. In one study, people with nut-heavy diets had a significantly lower risk of dying from an inflammatory disease than those who ate few nuts.
In another study, people with lower levels of Vitamin B6, which is found in most nuts, had higher levels of inflammation. Popular anti-inflammatory nuts include almonds, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts, which can be mixed into a healthy trail mix for on-the-go snacking.
2 Inflammatory Ingredients to Avoid
In addition to avoiding processed foods and sweets, you should strike out pro-inflammatory ingredients sprinkled from your diet. The ingredients below are especially harmful to your health, and sometimes can only be spotted through a careful scan of your food labeling.
Refined sugar has a bad reputation that is rightfully earned. It doesn’t have any nutritional value and when ingested triggers the release of cytokines, a protein that causes inflammation.
Sugar goes by many names on food labels, typically ending with “ose,” such as fructose, maltose, and sucrose. Before reaching for a sugar substitute, note that substitutes can trigger inflammatory responses. It’s healthier to ditch all refined and substitute sugars.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid (EFA) that the human body can’t produce thus must be consumed. They aren’t strictly unhealthy, but if consumed in large amounts, they can cause an overproduction of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. Unfortunately, the average American consumes more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, which helps balance the body’s chemistry.
If your diet is heavy with oils and meats, you could be triggering an inflammatory response. Moderate your intake of corn oil, sunflower oil, peanut and vegetable oil, and canola oil. Also cut down your consumption of meat (chicken, beef, pork).
According to the National Cancer Institute, the two biggest sources of saturated fats in America are pizza and cheese. Saturated fats should account for less than 10% of your daily calorie intake, as they trigger inflammation in your fat tissue. Other sources of saturated fat include pasta and full-fat dairy products.
Scientists created trans fats by adding hydrogen molecules to vegetable oil, creating an ingredient that helps prolong the shelf life of food. Trans fats are abundant in fast foods, and chip away at your health by raising your levels of “bad” cholesterol and reducing your levels of “good” cholesterol. Though the food industry is moving away from trans fats, keep an eye on your food labels for partially hydrogenated oils.
Though there isn’t an official diet for people with arthritis, the Mediterranean diet is lauded for its anti-inflammatory foods.
The Mediterranean diet, based on the traditional eating habits of countries around the Mediterranean Sea, is rich with foods that combat inflammation, aging, and myriad diseases. It emphasizes fish, nuts, fruits and veggies, whole grain, and low- or fat-free dairy.
It’s important to note that while researchers find dairy beneficial, it's not a traditional part of the Mediterranean diet. In some people, dairy products can cause inflammation. If you or the person you’re caring for is sensitive to dairy, substitute it with unsweetened almond or soy milk.
Someone on the Mediterranean diet might have a meal plan including the following:
Muesli with berries
Oatmeal topped with Greek yogurt, blueberries, and pecans
Fruit & veggie smoothies (typically with berries)
Chia pudding with berries
Lemon chicken soup
Parmesan chicken with zucchini noodles
Avocado caprese wrap
Chicken gyros with tzatziki sauce
Grilled vegetable bowl with farro
Greek turkey burgers
Pan-seared citrus shrimp
Between meals, a Mediterranean dieter might eat plums, raspberries, cucumbers with salt & pepper, and other low-calorie options.
Always consult your doctor before changing your diet
If you’re making small adjustments to your diet, such as increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, you might not need to check in with your doctor. But if you’re thinking about shifting to a Mediterranean diet or adding new foods to your meals, consult your doctor. You might be advised to make slow changes or use substitutes.
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