More than fifty million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis- and the frustrating truth is that there is still reliable no cure available. Anyone who suffers from the relentless soreness, swelling and stiffness knows that it can affect every aspect of your life: sleep, work and play. The good news is that there is more and more evidence that changing our diets can help ease inflammation, soothe the swelling and help you get on with your life.
So what do we need to eat? Unfortunately there’s no single magic ingredient, instead Arthritis Research UK recommends attacking your arthritis in a number of ways:
- Battle the bulge: the truth is that if you’re overweight, your joints have to take the strain. Getting down to a health BMI will help ease the burden and ease the pain.
- Eat a Mediterranean-style diet: this is a healthy balanced diet focusing on plenty of fish, pulses, nuts, olive oil and a rainbow assortment of fruit and veggies.
- Get more omega-3 fatty acids: these essential fatty acids, found in abundance in oily fish can help control inflammation in the body.(1)
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Are you picturing steaming bowls of pasta, slabs of pizza and baguettes laden with cheese? If so, you’re going to be disappointed. But don’t panic, the Mediterranean way of eating is not about punishing or depriving your body; instead it’s about nourishing it and enjoying the good things in life. It emphasises fresh seasonal produce, whole grains and healthy fats all washed down with a little red wine.
The Mediterranean diet has been consistently shown to be great for your health. Research shows that people who eat this way are slimmer, happier and have a decreased risk of heart disease. (2) And now scientists believe that the Mediterranean Diet may also fight inflammation and arthritis.(3)(4)
What should I eat?
Tuck into plant-based foods, such as fruits and veggies, pulses, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Use healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado and nuts. Eat fresh fish, seafood and poultry at least twice a week and fill up on eggs too.
Herbs and spices are sprinkled on liberally to inject extra flavor into foods and to add important micronutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Dairy produce, particularly made from cultured milk (kefir, yogurt, ricotta) is easy to digest and contains bacteria for healthier bowels. And of course drink red wine in moderation!
Opt for Omega 3’s
There’s a reason that your Grandma used to take a spoonful of cod liver oil every day. She knew what research has now confirmed; that fish oils can calm inflammation and decrease the pain and stiffness from arthritis. It’s all down to the Omega.
Omega 3 are a group of fatty acids that have a wide range of health benefits, including protecting against heart disease, lowering cholesterol and preventing cancer. But the good news for arthritis sufferers is that research shows that they can also improve the pain, stiffness and swelling of arthritis.
What should I eat?
Fish, and especially oily fish, is a rich source of Omega-3. Mackerel, salmon, tuna and crab will bump up your intake whether they’re fresh, frozen or tinned. Omega-3 can also be found in nuts and seeds such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds, vegetable oils like rapeseed, in green leafy vegetables and in soya and all soya products
Boost your levels
If you’re struggling to get enough Omega in your diet, then take a daily supplement. Experts believe that when it comes to fish oils, more may well be better. Taking higher levels of over 2,000 mg of omega 3 daily eases joint stiffness, tenderness, pain and swelling and can also decrease disease activity in people with rheumatoid arthritis (5) In fact, taking a simple supplement may mean that you need fewer painkillers, which means fewer unpleasant side-effects.(6)
Not just delicious and nutritious, nuts are also an important part of an anti-inflammatory diet. Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 showed that people who ate the most nuts had less than half the risk of dying from an inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis.(7)
They’re full of monounsaturated fat, which has inflammation-busting properties, so sprinkle them on your yoghurt or grab a handful for a protein punch on the go.
What should I eat?
Pick your favorite, whether it’s walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios or almonds. But remember, they’re incredible moreish and quite calorie dense, so when you’ve had a handful, put the packet away.
Often touted as a superfood, new research has added to broccoli’s healthy credentials. A study from the University of East Anglia in England found that a chemical found in the vegetable may help to slow down, or even prevent osteoarthritis. The research is at a very early stage but is potentially very exciting- and with all the other benefits of broccoli it’s definitely worth piling a few more greens on your plate.(8)
Most people with arthritis will rely on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to calm their joints and keep them comfortable. But did you know that olive oil contains a chemical called oleocanthal, which acts in a similar way? It works to dampen the body’s inflammatory response and reduce sensitivity to pain. All that, and it’s infinitely more delicious than naproxen when drizzled on your salad.
What should I eat?
Pick extra-virgin varieties, they’ve been processed less and have a more intense flavor and are packed with many more micronutrients.
It’s easy to feel helpless and frustrated when you’re suffering from constant pain but you can take control of your diet and your health. The great thinker Hippocrates said
‘let food be they medicine.’ By changing the way we eat and harnessing the incredible power of micronutrients we can fight inflammation, decrease pain and help heal our bodies.
- Scientific evidence of interventions using the Mediterranean diet: a systematic review (Nutr Rev. 2006 Feb;64(2 Pt 2):S27-47) Serra-Majem, Roman B, Estruch R.
- Mediterranean diet intervention in rheumatoid arthritis (Ann Rheum Dis 2003;62:193-195)
- An experimental study of a Mediterranean diet intervention for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (Ann Rheum Dis. 2003 Mar; 62(3): 208–214) L Skoldstam, L Hagfors, and G Johansson
- Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases (J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505) Simopoulos AP.
- Consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids, fish, and nuts and risk of inflammatory disease mortality (American Journal of Nutrition, May 2011) Bamini Gopinath, Anette E Buyken et al