If you suffer from arthritis, your inflamed joints can cause you pain and stiffness, preventing you from getting the most out of your day and fully enjoying your life. You’ve likely developed a pain management routine in order to help you alleviate your suffering. But have you ever considered that what foods you put into your body could help to keep your arthritic symptoms at bay?
The age-old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is usually said right before sinking your teeth into a big juicy apple. However, this expression serves us as a powerful reminder that the food we eat actually has a large impact on our health. And, arthritis is no exception.
In this case, the apple is an overarching symbol of healthy and/or “healing” foods. It’s the most common aphorism in expressing the idea that with proper nutrition, you can prevent illness and disease, and of course, that unwanted visit to the doctor. In the coming article, we’ll explore the link between arthritis and nutrition and how you can utilize nutrition to help in your pain management strategy.
Arthritis and inflammation
If you suffer from a form of inflammatory arthritis, including Rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriatic arthritis, then you are overly familiar with the aches and pains associated with inflammation of the joints.
Unlike osteoarthritis, in which inflammation is the result of reduced protective cartilage at a single joint, these conditions are autoimmune diseases that produces inflammatory joint symptoms throughout the body. The exact cause of these autoimmune diseases is unknown, but it is the body's own natural defense system that attacks the joints and causes inflammation.
Much academic, governmental and private research (and likely even more self-experimentation) has been done on how to reduce inflammation within the body and alleviate arthritic symptoms. Everything from medications, manual therapies and extra sleep to cold therapy and diet can all be part of one’s pain management strategy. For now, we’ll focus on how foods can cause or reduce inflammation in the body.
Inflammation from foods
We’ve already stated that when you have arthritis, your body is in an inflammatory state. There is substantial scientific evidence that demonstrates that people with inflammatory arthritis may benefit from dietary interventions, specifically the elimination of “inflammatory foods” from their diet and moving toward an “anti-inflammatory diet.”
But which foods cause inflammation and which are anti-inflammatory? And, how can you successfully eliminate or incorporate them into your existing diet?
Inflammatory foods to avoid
One of the number one food ingredients to reduce in your diet is processed sugar or any food or beverage that has an abnormally high level of sugar. Sure, eat a ripe banana or have an orange with breakfast, but stick with foods that list having 5g or less per 100g of sugar on the nutritional label. But pastries, chocolate bars, sodas, candy, and even natural fruit juices contain high levels of sugar that trigger the release of inflammatory messengers within the body and cause your arthritic condition to worsen.
While omega 6 fatty acid is one of three essential fatty acids we must consume through our diet, our bodies need a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, the western diet includes excessive amounts of omega-6 (with little omega-3 consumption), which can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals. Try to reduce your consumption of oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, peanut, and vegetable.
Other inflammatory foods, beverages, and ingredients to reduce or remove from your diet in order to help manage your disease include:
- Gluten and casein
- Saturated and trans fats
- Refined carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, corn and rice cereals)
- Sugary foods (sweets, cookies, fruit juice)
- Red meat
If you removing foods from your diet, what should you be replacing them with? The anti-inflammatory diet involves eating more high fiber foods, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, berries, complex carbohydrates, fish, and green leafy vegetables. The following foods will help reduce inflammation markers in the body:
- Spinach, kale, and collards
- Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds
- Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
- Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, apples
- Olive oil
- Tomatoes, red peppers, beets, broccoli
- Green tea
- Turmeric, ginger, garlic
- Whole grains
- Miso and other probiotics
Building a diet that lowers inflammation
If you’re trying to change your diet to one that helps manage your arthritis, it can be difficult to do. Changing your diet takes effort, experimentation, and commitment. The silver lining for pain sufferers is that you can use pain relief as your motivator to eat a healthier diet. Here are two tips to eat you started on a diet that will help manage the pain from your arthritis.
#1 How to eat more vegetables: One of the biggest struggles for most people is to start eating more leafy greens and vegetables, especially if your palate isn’t used to eating them. Try balancing out the bitterness found in most vegetables by using complementary flavors.
#2 How to eat less junk food: If you absolutely love eating inflammatory foods, like donuts, cookies or chocolate, giving them up cold turkey can be mega difficult and result in an eating binge in a few weeks’ time. The best approach is to reduce the amount you eat little by little. For example, if you eat chocolate 4 times per week, try only eating it 3 times per week. When that becomes easy, try 2 times. When that becomes easy, try 1.
In conclusion, dietary intervention, as an adjunct to other management strategies, can be very useful in modifying the inflammatory response characteristic of arthritis. If you’d like further information on how to prevent inflammation or want other strategies to help manage your arthritis, please get in touch with Banner CORE Center for Orthopedics.