Arthritis encompasses a group of more than 100 different diseases. The most common types include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In the case of RA, joints and connective tissue become inflamed, while in at least one type of inflammatory osteoarthritis, inflammation also plays a role. People with arthritis benefit by avoiding foods that tend to increase inflammation in the body. Arthritis researchers also continue to focus on the foods that are best at reducing that inflammation. Limit those same foods that are linked with health problems in the general population. Start with reducing your intake of saturated and trans-fats, processed grains and foods high in sodium. Stick with plant-based foods, low-fat dairy products and lean protein, and you will be off to a good start.
Swap Dietary Fats
Dietary fat is important for essential brain and body functions, but not all fats are created equal. Research that supports the elimination or reduction of saturated and trans-fats in the diet is plentiful – think butter, whole fat dairy products and red meat as well as the hydrogenated oils found in packaged crackers, cookies and other processed foods. Not only do these fats increase cholesterol levels, but they have also been proved to increase inflammation in the body. They trigger heart disease and arthritis pain as well. Plant-based fats tend to be better choices, especially extra-virgin olive oil. Olive oil’s abundance of health properties includes a substance that reduces inflammation. Add flavor to salads, breads and vegetables with olive oil whenever you can.
Fish – especially those high in omega-3 fats, like salmon, herring, tuna and trout – have a multitude of health benefits, including reduced inflammation. A 2013 study published in the “Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases” found that long-term consumption of omega-3 fats resulted in up to a 52 percent decreased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women. If you choose to try fish oil supplements, check with your doctor first, as they can interfere with certain other medications. Other sources of omega-3 fats include walnuts, canola oil and ground flax seeds.
Limit Refined Grains
When choosing cereals, breads, pastas and other grains, limit those that are processed, like white bread, white rice or white pasta. Instead, look for whole grains on the label, or cook with oats, barley, brown rice, quinoa and other grains in their original form. A 2008 study of obese adults published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that individuals who replaced all grain servings with whole grains had a significant reduction of C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation in the body. In that study, the group that consumed only refined grains maintained a higher abdominal body fat percentage, regardless of a similar weight loss.
Another Broccoli Benefit
The benefits of consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are bountiful – and they extend to those suffering with arthritis. An extensive 2013 study published in “Arthritis and Rheumatism” found that mice consuming broccoli had less cartilage damage, possibly resulting from reduced inflammation in the cartilage. Similar anti-inflammatory effects were found in cow and human cells, and research is ongoing. If you needed another good reason to consume broccoli, this is it. And don't forget those cruciferous cousins, cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts, which contain the same beneficial sulfur compound.
Incorporating more foods with anti-inflammatory properties can make a difference in terms of pain reduction, slowing the progression of your arthritis and postponing – or in some cases eliminating – the need for surgery. Make it a habit to switch out processed foods for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Weight loss may also help arthritis sufferers. According to a 2013 “Arthritis Care and Research” study, obese patients were more likely to have further progression of rheumatoid arthritis and associated pain. Make gradual changes to your diet so that they become positive lifestyle habits. The resulting health benefits will extend well beyond their effect on arthritis pain.
- Arthritis Foundation: Nutrition Guidelines for People With Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Annals of Rheumatic Diseases: Long-Term Intake of Dietary Long-Chain n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Prospective Cohort Study of Women
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The Effects of a Whole Grain-Enriched Hypocaloric Diet on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Men and Women with Metabolic Syndrome.
- Time Magazine: Broccoli’s Benefits in Preventing Arthritis
- Arthritis Care & Research: Association of Obesity With Worse Disease Severity in Rheumatoid Arthritis as Well as With Comorbidities: A Long-Term Follow-Up from Disease Onset.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Inflammation and Diet
- Arthritis Foundation: Inflammatory Osteoarthritis: An Oxymoron
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Dietary Intake of Trans Fatty Acids and Systemic Inflammation in Women
Registered Dietitian Kendra Gutschow combines her communications and nutrition expertise by translating scientific research for consumer media, most recently for the communications department of the American Diabetes Association. Gutschow completed the coordinated program in dietetics at the University of Texas and holds a Bachelor of Science from Vanderbilt University.